In a Cinderella-esque transformation, Conte Forum changed from a rowdy sports arena into a decadent gala for the 30th annual Pops on the Heights. Twinkling lights hung from the ceiling, and the stage was rimmed with flowers for the event, bringing Boston College students and their families together for an evening of BC spirit.
Pops, also called the Barbara and Jim Cleary Scholarship Gala, is BC’s largest fundraiser that goes toward providing financial aid for BC students. Since 1993, the Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted by Keith Lockhart, and a special guest have performed at the gala for the extended BC community during Family Weekend.
This year, Grammy and Oscar-winning musician Jon Batiste performed at the sold-out gala. Past years’ stars included singer-songwriter Lionel Richie, Broadway performer Kristin Chenoweth, and the band Train.
In a recorded video, Patti and Jonathan Kraft announced that the event broke its fundraising record this year, raising more than $14.5 million. According to the event’s website, the gala has raised more than $115 million for financial aid over the course of 30 years.
The BC Screaming Eagles Marching Band warmed up the crowd. The student musicians played from seats at the back of the stage with their uniforms and polished instruments illuminated under the lights.
More student talent was on display as the University Chorale of BC, sitting behind the Pops Orchestra and led by director of Chorale John Finney, performed John Williams’ “Call of the Champions.”
The crowd then welcomed conductor Keith Lockhart to the stage with a round of applause. The Pops Orchestra played “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” originally by Duke Ellington, as dramatic lights shone on the walls of Conte Forum. Illuminated orbs floated over the crowd as the dramatic brass crescendos filled the arena, adding a magical feel to the evening.
Lockhart then welcomed the night’s student soloist Maxwell Korman, MCAS ’23, to the stage to perform “Corner of the Sky” from the musical Pippin. Korman let his powerful voice and expressive movements shine. The crowd exploded into applause when Korman hit the final high note and gave him a standing ovation.
The magical aura of the evening continued as the Pops moved on to play selections from the Harry Potter films. Shots of Gasson Hall and Bapst Library—two of BC’s most Potter-esque buildings—appeared on large screens as the Pops played.
Lockhart recognized Finney for his decades of work at BC. Finney, who will retire at the end of the spring semester, has been a part of Pops on the Heights since it first started.
Finney then conducted both the chorale and the Pops for a rendition of “O Fortuna.” When the final note rang out, Finney took a deep bow and the audience gave him a standing ovation.
After the Pops played “Sing, Sing, Sing,” Lockhart welcomed Batiste to the stage, noting the singer’s many accolades. Batiste strolled out in a striking red suit and waved to the cheering crowd.
Batiste took a seat at the grand piano in the center of the stage and jumped into a jazz piece. An overhead shot of the piano allowed the crowd to watch the musician’s hands command the keys.
After performing the song “Higher & Higher” by Jackie Wilson, Batiste took a moment to recognize the BC community.
“At this moment, we have become a family,” Batiste said.
Batiste performed original songs, including “FREEDOM” from his Grammy-winning album We Are, along with a medley of covers. The crowd got up from their seats to dance when Batiste performed “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift.
To close out the night, Batiste crooned Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” after he walked through the crowd. As balloons fell from the ceiling, the marching band played “For Boston” to finish out the night.