On Feb. 5, the choral and the instrumental departments of Van Nuys High School (VNHS) collaborated to celebrate Black History Month with a concert imbued with the African-American culture. The auditorium was soon filled with excitement as the students, friends, and family members poured in.
The audience first encountered the instrumentals as they performed the national anthem, “Star Spangled Banner,” which was then promptly followed by an acapella duet from two members of the vocal ensemble that told the audience to “lift every voice and sing.”
After the two opening performances, Mr. Eisenhart, the instrumental music program director, spoke about the history and the importance of African influence to modern music today. “[After the Civil War,] influenced by African culture, jazz and improvisational music coming out of New Orleans, the heart began to beat,” stated Eisenhart. “The Mississippi River was the artery, and the music moved up from New Orleans across it throughout America.”
As the evening progressed, there were multiple readings of famous prose and poems, read by fellow expressive, eloquent students from the choral department. For example, Kayla Brown, a member of the Vocal Ensemble, recited the words of the poem, “The Sounds of Blackness” by Latorial Faison, and Olivia Rodriguez passionately rendered the words of Lucille Clifton in the poem “The Lost Baby.” Each poem signified the sacrifices and tribulations suffered to achieve freedom.
The show progressed as each of the choral ensembles performed: Vocal Ensemble presented several songs with the accompaniment of drums, which allowed the audience to feel the frican-style beat.
“The concert was very insightful to our cultural background and how it ties to the present day,” said Vocal Ensemble member Elizabeth Ortiz.
The Vannaires also sang several songs that included acapella and a piece that specifically represented a mother, most likely enslaved, looking relentlessly for her lost child. The Women’s Ensemble sang two songs: “Bora Maisha” and “Nigra Sum.” “Bora Maisha” was a Kenyan crowd pleaser that incorporated the Swahili language. “Nigra Sum,” a Biblical Latin song, was sung acapella.
In collaboration with the various music departments, the dance department also made its first appearance on VNHS stage. The dancers played a substantial role in the visualization of the various twists on traditional African dances. Along with drums, the dance team wore African headbands and projected various forms of the sun to give the audience the full experience as they danced along to “Zoulou Bou Zelaba” by Adama Dramé. As usual, Mrs. Brianne Arevalo and Mr. Eisenhart didn’t fail to impress as the performances all ended successfully.