British Columbia

Behind the scenes at one school's holiday concert

Mounting a school-wide performance can take weeks — or even months — of preparation.

Mounting a school-wide performance can take weeks, or even months, of preparation

Members of Nootka Elementary School's music club rehearse for their holiday concert. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Recorders, bucket drums, marimbas and the sweet sounds of children's voices have been echoing through school gymnasiums this month. 

But parents and grandparents enjoying the season's holiday concerts might not know just how much work goes into mounting such productions. 

That hour-long spectacle of cuteness is often the result of weeks — or even months — of preparation. 

Students at Nootka Elementary School rehearse their ukulele performance. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Nootka Elementary School in East Vancouver takes on the challenge every year. The school has a fine arts focus, and primary music teacher Josephine Shiu says the entire school gets involved in the event. 

From decorating, to choosing MCs and ushers, to setting up the gym for the big day, there's a huge amount of work for students, staff and administrators. The planning started back in October, Shiu says. But the music selection started even earlier. 

"We started choosing our songs back in September when school first started," she says. Shiu evaluates each class and chooses music she thinks will bring out the best in the students.

This year's repertoire included a few Christmas songs, as well as pop songs, classical music, traditional folk songs and nursery rhymes. The kindergarten kids opened the show with a rousing rendition of Baby Shark on xylophones.

"We wanted music that celebrated different traditions and cultures," says Shiu. "At our school we have a very wide range of backgrounds. And we just want to be able to make everybody feel included."

Olivia Tsang, 11, rehearses her class's marimba piece for the holiday concert at Nootka Elementary School in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Nootka's elementary music teacher Guillén Fàbregas says a school-wide concert is an opportunity for students to stretch themselves musically.

"I wanted to expose them to complexity, to rich musical experience, because they have such huge potential. I really believe that elementary kids can do a lot in music class," she says.

This fall, Guillén Fàbregas borrowed a set of marimbas from another school and taught students in grades four through seven to play songs such as Tchaikovsky's Russian Dance and Coldplay's Clocks.

Marimba technique is easy, says Guillén Fàbregas, which means students can learn to play complex, multi-part harmonies and express themselves musically.

"It feels like adult music to their ears, so they're really into it immediately," she says.

Students at Nootka Elementary School in East Vancouver rehearse for a holiday concert. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Coordinating 420 students to put on a school-wide performance is a massive undertaking, says Guillén Fàbregas. But she and Shiu believe it's important to give kids a chance to perform. 

"This is what music is about — about sharing it, about playing together, feeling you're a big part of a team and it's like you're creating something bigger than yourself," she says.

Nootka's vice-principal, Geri Gruft, says the impact of performing is evident on students' faces after the big show. 

"They glow," she says. "There's a sense of wonder from performing, from what it feels like to be in the spotlight, and to be part of a group working collaboratively to make people in the audience smile."

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