During this Christmas season, some members of the Randolph-Macon Academy Band and Chorus received some unexpected, special gifts that came in the form of opportunities.
On Thursday, December 3rd, R-MA Chorus Director Michael DeMato and nine members of the R-MA Chorus traveled to George Mason University's Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, VA to perform in the Swing Machine's Fourth Annual Big Band Christmas Extravaganza. The Swing Machine Big Band is an all-star big band comprised of many former members of the Air Force Airmen of Note, Army Blues, Navy Commodores, Glenn Miller Orchestra, and other professional musicians from the Washington D.C. area. As DeMato noted, this gig, to say the least, was filled with top-notch performers. R-MA's singers joined forces with singers from Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas and Osbourn Park High School to perform four combined numbers with the Swing Machine.
DeMato said that he was impressed with the magnitude of the event as well as what it meant for the students. "Not only was this event an experience in the world of professional music, but it was also a ton of fun," he observed. “Because they were part of the act, students were able to tour back stage, work with professional sound and lighting engineers, and have their own dressing rooms!”
For Tamunoemi “Tammy” Georgewill, a senior at R-MA, it was an amazing experience. She said that although she is experienced in singing for smaller audiences, she had never before performed in this type of venue. “It was my first time singing in front of that many people,” she said. “I was scared at first, then I became more confident. It made me want to do more performances like that.” She said she was very impressed with the band. “They were amazing to hear them and to hear the other kids, how our voices blended even though we didn’t know each other.”
The Chorus' next performance will be in the new year at the Junior Ring Ceremony.
On December 16th, Ezra Embrey and Christian “Finn” Wiley, both juniors at R-MA, performed with the 42nd Annual Merry TubaChristmas at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Accompanying them was Middle School Dorm Counselor Dan Warlick (a tuba player himself), who has participated in approximately ten TubaChristmas events since 1989, although this year he was content to watch the performance.
“Tubas almost never get to play the melody and are relegated to the ooms and the pahs as backup,” he explained. “Daily practices are incredibly boring as it feels like playing random notes with no particular song. This event opens young players to a whole new level of possibilities and will hopefully keep them interested in music longer.”
At the event, the players and their instruments are on the main stage and on the balcony level throughout the theater, with the audience on the main floor. Because the R-MA players were on sousaphones, which are too large for the box seats, they were invited to go up onstage.
Wiley, a natural musician who plays banjo, violin, cello, guitar, and bass trombone, picked up the tuba last February. When the R-MA Band Director, Ed Richards, told him about the TubaChristmas, Wiley was intrigued and decided to try it.
“It was pretty amazing seeing so many tubas and baritone players come together in one place,” he said. He did not have the music beforehand and therefore had to sight-read the pieces, but he didn’t find it difficult. “I thought [the whole event] was pretty fun,” he said. “I’d do it again.”
Although Wiley was matter-of-fact about the size of the venue and the crowd—“It was pretty much what Mr. Richards said to expect,” he explained—Warlick pointed out that this was truly a special opportunity. “Few can say they’ve performed at the Kennedy Center before a standing-room-only crowd,” he commented.
Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational day and boarding school for students in grades 6 through 12. Students in grades 9-12 participate in R-MA’s 91st Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and have the option to participate in a flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.