Just say the two words: “Burbank” and “Burroughs” to anyone who lives in the city and the first thought that will come to mind is the rivalry between the Bulldogs and the Bears.
While the competitive spirit that exists between local high school athletes on the gridiron, the diamond, the track, or in the gym represents a strong thread in the fabric of Burbank, when it comes to the stage, competition gives way to collaborative harmony.
That was clear this past week as the Burbank Unified School District and the Musicians at Play Foundation presented the fifth Music is Instrumental benefit concert.
Staged as “An Evening of Music from Film and Television,” the performance featured musicians and vocalists from both Burbank and Burroughs high schools.
The Musicians at Play Foundation was founded by April Williams and her husband Don Williams, who is the younger brother of legendary Oscar-winning composer and conductor John Williams who has composed some of the most well-known scores in film history, including “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “E.T.” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
“Between Burbank’s two high schools there are some exceptional musicians, and the choirs are fantastic — as good as you will find at any high school anywhere in the country,” said Don Williams, who is a conductor, arranger, composer and percussionist whose resume includes major films, Broadway shows and appearances with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera, the Pennsylvania Ballet Company, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the Pasadena Symphony and the Pacific Symphony.
“Tonight, the audience will see, with the athletic rivalry between the schools taken away, students coming together to form a truly great jazz band, symphony orchestra and choir,” Williams said just prior to the performance, which took place at Burbank High School’s Wolfson Auditorium.
Williams went on to say that, along with providing instruments, one of the most important programs the foundation provides is bringing in professional musicians with prestigious credentials to serve as mentors who work side-by-side with students.
At last week’s performance, 41 mentors were in attendance including violist Sharon Ray who has played and recorded with Kool & The Gang, Teddy Pendergrass and Kazumi Watanabe.
“I first met Don Williams when we were in school in Philadelphia. He invited me to get involved with the Music is Instrumental mentor program and, over the years, I have seen the value it has to students,” added Ray, who has been a part of every performance since the program’s inception.
Among the many parents, committee members, community volunteers and district staff who made this year’s benefit concert a success were those who held leadership roles including the event’s Managing Director Cindy Pease, Program Director David Perryman and BUSD’s Career and Technical Education Coordinator Peggy Flynn, who co-chaired the event along with April Williams.
Audience members who attended the concert were treated to performances by the wind ensembles and jazz bands from both high schools; Burbank High School’s Chamber Orchestra; In Sync, the show choir from Burbank High School that has won numerous national awards and appeared in the pilot for the television series “Glee;” and the Burroughs Vocal Music Association’s show choir Powerhouse that has been internationally recognized and featured on “America’s Got Talent,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “The Voice” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” The evening also featured three soloists, Makabe Ganey and Emerson Riley of JBHS and Mauricio Lara of BHS.
The highlight of last week’s concert was a performance by the Burbank All-District Symphony Orchestra and Choir which, under the direction of Angel Velez, performed a tribute to the music of John Williams and the second movement of Giuseppe Verdi’s requiem, “Dies Irae.”
The funds raised from the Music Is Instrumental benefit concert goes toward instrument repair and replacement, auditorium lighting and sound equipment that serves all of the performing arts in Burbank public schools. Along with ticket and concession sales the foundation also relies on a variety of corporate and private donations and sponsorships.
During last week’s concert it was announced that television producer Chuck Lorre, best-known for his CBS sitcoms “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory,” will continue his long-standing partnership with BUSD, Musicians at Play and Music Is Instrumental. Along with their generous support, the Chuck Lorre Family Foundation will also match all donations received up to $10,000.
If you would like to financially support the music programs at Burbank’s public schools, text BUSDMUSIC at (855) 575-7888.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.
First published in the February 3 print issue of the Burbank Leader.