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Trans-Siberian Bulldogs: Classical music meets rock and roll for annual Christmas concert

Posted Date: 12/15/2017

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Credit: Standard Democrat

Roll over Beethoven!

It’s Christmas with Mozart and Liszt with a twist.

When the Sikeston High School orchestra takes the stage for their annual Christmas concert at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Sikeston Field House, it will be rock and roll meets classical symphony, said Megan Heithaus, the orchestra’s director. This year students are creating a performance reminiscent of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, complete with electric instruments, a light show and even a fog machine.

“We are going to pull out all the stops,” explained Heithaus. “We will have the regular orchestra performing along with Dr. (Sophia) Han from SEMO. She is going to be playing electric violin. We are going to have students performing on electric guitar, electric bass, drum set and keyboard as well. It is going to be lots of fun.”

The idea for the concert began as a challenge. Heithaus said a principal told her she needed a rock and roll orchestra. That got her thinking about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, an American progressive band known for combining classical and rock music. She soon found enough music for a Christmas concert.

Throughout the fall, Heithaus’ 40 orchestra students have worked to master the music with rehearsals and by listening to recordings by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

“It is fun for them and gets them motivated so I was able to give them slightly harder music to push them a little bit further than they are used to going. They are learning more techniques on their instruments and also having a good time at the same time,” she said.

She is learning as well. Heithaus said Sunday’s concert has required more preparation on her part.

She recruited SHS students who played electric guitar, bass guitar and drums.

“For the light show, I had to go out and figure that out myself. Then if we wanted the light show to be visible, I needed some stand lights, so I had to contact the Sikeston Little Theatre and see if we could borrow those from them. That worked out,” Heithaus said.

“And figuring out if we have all the equipment we need — bass guitar, amps, having everything set up on the stage instead of how we normally set it up on the gym floor. Just making sure I can get the kids able to rehearse together,” she continued. “It has been a lot more work but it will be very rewarding and I am excited.”

While it won’t be the typical “Jingle Bells,” the director said it does have music associated with Christmas. Many of the pieces were made famous by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra which tours during the Christmas season.

The orchestra’s playlist on Sunday will include “Overture,” which she described as a mashup of Beethoven and Mozart mixed with rock and roll. Concertgoers will hear strains of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” his “Ninth Symphony” and it ends with part of Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony.”

They will perform “Dreams of Fireflies” which is a mix of Vivaldi’s “Winter Violin Concerto” and Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria, along with “Christmas Eve/ Sarajevo,” which is a play on the Ukrainian Bell Carol. Other pieces include “Siberian Sleigh Ride,” “Appalachian Snowfall” and “Faith Noel.”

But the orchestra hasn’t thrown all traditions out the door. Heithaus pointed out the ending piece, as always, will be “Silent Night.”

The director and her students emphasized the fun they are having in performing the music.

Senior Evan Irwin, who will perform on electric guitar with the orchestra, said he has enjoyed playing the music.

“I’m getting to make music with people I have never gotten to experience it with before so it is a pretty cool experience,” he said. “It is going to be a fun experience for everybody who gets to see it. They will have a good time.”

Senior viola player Angelina Mendoza said Christmas is her favorite time of year and this year’s concert offers lots of upbeat, fast music.

“I love it,” she said. “I’m really excited and I hope a lot of people come out because it is going to be different from anything we have ever done, especially for Christmas.”

Micah Wallace, a senior viola player in the orchestra, will also perform on bass guitar for three pieces. He said while it is the first time for him to play music like this, he has enjoyed the challenge.

If the concert goes like their rehearsals, Wallace said the audience should love it.

“This is something new and it is a really good experience because it is branching outside of the normal romantic-type music that we play,” he said.

Freshman Kaitlyn Sullivan agreed the music is fun and a challenge. The violinist said it isn’t always easy keeping up with the music’s pace.

“You think a song is too fast but it is never too fast, you can always speed up what ever you do.

The fact that you are moving your fingers fast enough to hit the notes is hard for me and the shifting is difficult as well,” Sullivan explained.

Former orchestra teacher Gay French was also recruited by Heithaus to assist with the concert. French said she had always planned on doing something similar but never got around to it during her teaching career. Now she is enjoying it with a new generation of orchestra students.

“They are getting an appreciation for the classical stuff that is inside the music plus experimenting with all of the loudness and the lights. They are learning a lot,” she said.

The former orchestra director and the current one agreed it should be a concert the public will enjoy.

“It is not going to be a regular concert,” French said. “It is going to have something changing all the time — all the way straight through while celebrating Christmas.”

“This is something fun,” Heithaus added. “The audience will enjoy a very energetic and exhilarating Christmas concert.”