Arts, On Campus, Featured Story, Arts Features

The Pops Just Keep on Coming: 24 Years of ‘Pops on the Heights’

The excitement inside the 8,606-seat arena builds with rapidly increasing intensity, almost as if to test the sturdiness of the building’s concrete foundation. The pure, unadulterated elation contained within the four walls of Conte Forum on this particular evening is unlike that generated by any other on-campus event. This time, the Heights plays host not to its usual crowd of heckling hockey lovers or college football fanatics, but to an audience enjoying an entirely different type of talent. It is not the shouts of cheering students the walls struggle to contain, but rather all the scintillating sounds that accompany a grand concert performance by the Boston Pops Orchestra in conjunction with the University Chorale of Boston College and the Screaming Eagles Marching Band.

Instead of playing at one of the orchestra’s traditional venues like Boston Symphony Hall or the iconic outdoor Hatch Shell, the Boston Pops will assemble at Conte this Friday for another highly anticipated evening of Pops on the Heights: The Barbara and Jim Cleary Scholarship Gala.

Celebrating its 24th year as one of BC’s most prominent on-campus arts events, Pops on the Heights will continue its well-established legacy as the University’s single largest fundraising event of the year. For this year’s Pops on the Heights, all 5,300 tickets were sold. The event traditionally sells out every year. In an attempt to provide as much scholarship support to current and prospective students in need of financial aid as possible—previous years have accrued several million dollars from the one event alone—the Gala hopes to meet and exceed its fundraising goals by promising a truly unforgettable guest performance from a woman who is certainly no stranger to the stage.

This promises to be a big year for BC’s Pops performance, as the announcement of a stellar special guest has kept the BC community buzzing. Decorated Broadway star-turned-TV and movie actress Kristin Chenoweth has prepared a selection of songs that is expected to make for a memorable performance.

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Also celebrating his 24th year is a man whose tremendous contributions to the gala cannot be overlooked. Over the course of his 24 years at BC, John Finney—longtime director of the University Chorale—has watched the gala grow in size and scope with every passing year since its inception in 1993.

At the start of each fall semester, Finney works to prepare the Chorale for a performance that differs greatly from the group’s typical concerts, which are held in the intimate venues of either St. Ignatius Church or Trinity Chapel on BC’s Newton Campus. Ensuring that the singers can readily adapt their technique to fill a vastly different concert space poses a challenge for the group’s director. According to Finney, though, the solution is simple—it’s all about fostering confidence.

“For any concert that the Chorale performs, my job is to make sure that all the Chorale members know the music so thoroughly that they can sing with total confidence,” he said. “Each singer needs to know the music so well that they could sing it as a soloist.”

Acknowledging the added challenge of factoring in Conte Forum’s odd kind of acoustics, Finney said that the singers of the Chorale have to project even more than usual because of the distance between them and the conductor.

Finney describes the efforts of the sound engineers who transform the hockey rink into a makeshift concert hall as “nothing short of miraculous:” the acoustics in Conte are carefully manipulated using a complex speaker system and series of microphones.

“We are very grateful that the sound that comes out of the speakers is very much like the sound we make in Trinity Chapel, where we use no amplification system,” he said.

This year’s Pops attendees will be treated to a wonderful selection of pieces that have been carefully selected by the Boston Pops Orchestra in close consultation with members of University administration. The Chorale will perform Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” in addition to an ode to the 1980s in the form of a medley of popular songs.

A special arrangement of the song “I Was Here” was created by Mary Mitchell Campbell, one of Broadway’s most prominent musicians, for the University Chorale to perform with Chenoweth, Finney said.

Aligning with the University’s Parents’ Weekend, the 2016 Pops Gala offers BC students and their parents an exciting opportunity to experience the merging of very different music makers—orchestra members, chorale singers, and Broadway-style soloists.

Finney predicts a successful Pops Night.

“One of the great joys of working with the University Chorale is seeing the consistently high level of excellence that the Chorale maintains from year to year,” he says. As far as the Chorale’s role in the Gala is concerned, Finney feels honored that the University Chorale contributes to its benevolent cause.

The end of the event is always a spectacle. Trumpets blare triumphantly while the wind instruments emit a flurry of feverish notes. The percussionists pick up speed, and the familiar marriage of bass drum and cymbal culminate in a delicious, deafening rumble. Conductor Keith Lockhart’s hand gestures increase in speed until the final note. Immediately, the musicians and accompanying singers are met with deafening applause as gigantic BC-themed balloons descend from the rafters, bouncing gaily around the enlivened arena.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

September 29, 2016

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