JFK produces Winter Concert for first time since COVID pandemic shutdown


The John F. Kennedy choir performing “Stars I shall Find,” conducted by Bryan Stroh at JFK Auditorium on Dec. 22. Photo by Kaili Jiang, JFK High School.

Kaili Jiang, John F. Kennedy High School

After two years of virtual practice and delayed videos, John F. Kennedy High School’s music program was able to come together to hold an event for itself and the program’s loyal community – the Winter Concert of 2022.

“The feedback that I got from our community members was that they really enjoyed the concert,” said Bryan Stroh, the choir and band director at JFK. “And people were excited to be back in the auditorium, actually having a winter concert, since this was the first one since 2019, so it’s been a minute.”

Because of the pandemic, teaching turned to videos, online calls, and homework that was done through various classroom websites. While math, science, and history classes could manage fine through screens, music, which is a social and interaction-based activity, faltered as students were unable to practice together, lacked equipment and just could not come together to create melodies, and relationships, through laptop microphones.

“Music connects you with a whole bunch of people, whether it’s listening or playing,” said 2022 graduate and band member Alexa Santiago. “So allowing yourself to have multiple ways of expressing yourself through music allows you to have more connection to people.”

These connections were also strengthened through trips and activities the musicians took part in pre-COVID.

“My favorite memory was definitely when I went to Disneyland, to play band, and play in a concert there,” said Togo Kurosaki, an alto saxophone jazz band performer.  

The relationships built through music also enhance the high school experience.

“I got to go on a lot more field trips, I got to hang out with my friends a lot more, and you spend a lot of time with them, so even before school starts, you make friends,” Santiago said. “And then going to a new school just allows you to have a little safety net when you’re a little nervous.”

To establish these friendships and traveling possibilities, high school music programs give musicians the chance to take their instruments more seriously.

“I started piano when I was young, probably around 7, but started taking it seriously in seventh grade,” said T Luo, the choir’s pianist. 

Or, as some students do, just pick up an instrument for the first time. 

“This is my first year in the marching band, and I started playing the trumpet in the summer,” said Chikaze Lion, a member of the jazz and concert band. 

Starting brand new instruments in high school poses some challenges as well.

“Picking up a new instrument where these people have played for a very long time, compared to someone who started like six months ago,” Lion said, “it’s just really hard to start new pieces of music.”

Most musicians feel the same way, even if they’ve been playing for a long time, or if they sing and don’t play any instruments.

“Memorizing the lyrics, y’know, especially with our latest song, ‘Christmas in About 3 Minutes,’ 90% of it I did not know,” said Talen Hollowell, a member of the choir. “I knew some of the songs, but unfortunately I had been saying the lyrics wrong all my life and so that did not help at all.”

Others just struggle with getting used to new experiences.

“For me, it’s probably the solos,” Kurasaki said. “I’ve been taking a lot of solos, and I currently have solos in every song.”

Despite these challenges, everyone fought through their personal and shared worries to produce works of music.

“Altos, basses, sopranos, each of them have their own individual part, and I don’t know what I was thinking when I picked all of this like, ‘Oh this is hard’, but they have risen to the challenge, truly risen to the challenge,” Stroh said as the choir took the stage for the winter concert. “They asked if we could have after-school rehearsals, so we’ve been doing that the past two weeks, they’ve asked for extra, they’ve asked for more, and I’ve given everything I could, and you’re going to see it (in the performance), truly.” 

The final challenge for the performers is always the nervousness and jitters before the first concerts, but friends and family help ease those feelings.

“I like watching them, just because I like supporting my friends and seeing them do well,” Santiago said. “And if they’re nervous then still cheering them on and helping them out.”

And luckily, they help, as most feel much more comfortable when the next concert rolls around. 

“I feel like everybody had their style they would add and our composure was better,” said Hollowell. “At the first concert, everybody was a little nervous, but this time everyone knew what was going on.”

Even from the director’s perspective, the progress made from one concert to the next is noticeable. 

“The exciting part for me is the first one, the one where you have the most jitters and the most nervous energy,” Stroh said. “The second concert, the winter concert, is the one where people are a little more comfortable on stage, they know the music a little better, and they’re used to the routine.”

As the winter concert was a generally popular event before COVID struck, the audience was filled with returning students, teachers, parents, and alumni enjoying pieces such as “Stars I Shall Find” sung by the choir, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the jazz band,“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by the concert band featuring John F. Kennedy’s principal, Reginald Brown as well as the popular “Sleigh Ride,” and others arrangements.

Although the winter season for music ends as quickly as it starts, preparations and expectations can be set for the next concert in the spring of the new year, where audience members can return or come out for the first time. 

“We’re going to get more growth as we get to the next concert in the spring. I’ve got some different music picked for it that I think is going to be really exciting to get a hold of and sink into,” Stroh said. “We also have a longer stretch from coming back from winter break to the next concert – it’s almost two months instead of four weeks, so it’ll be really exciting to have that extra time to really define and polish everything that we want to do.”

With the new pieces of music and more time to perfect them, the music program is looking forward to performing again, as well as honing their skills, on and off stage.

“I’m just looking forward to the day I can play a whole piece,” Luo said, “without making a single mistake.”