music

An Evening of Wild Harmony: Meridian’s 5th Annual Music Night

By Division 3 student Jamie

Every year, the entire Meridian community comes together on one night in March to hear the fruits of all of the hard work that the music department has put in over the second trimester. This year, we got to hear songs performed by the school band – “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, “Animal Spirits” by Vulfpeck, “Breed” by Nirvana, and “Teenagers” by My Chemical Romance – as well as the songs that each of the music classes had prepared. In a grand culmination of all of their efforts, Division 4 ukulele, Division 4 drumming, Division 3 guitar, and Division 3 singing all came together in Meridian’s largest-ever arrangement to perform what we called “Clockshkago,” a medley of Coldplay’s “Clocks” and Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” Many thanks, also, to Jesse, Merrick, and Lila who gave a fantastic performance of “Best Friend” by Rex Orange County.

Other pieces included the traditional Irish hymn “Wild Mountain Thyme,” 12th grader Dani’s original song, “As Far as it Will Go,” a traditional African celebratory drumming song called “Bembe,” and a quirky vocal arrangement of “She Said”  by The Beatles. The highlight of the night came when our fabulous music teacher, Laura Grill Jaye, carried out the annual tradition of handing out framed “grill-as” – photographs of the chalk gorilla who presides over Laura’s classroom – to the graduating class. Two teachers who will be leaving next year – Jon Cannon and Kevin Hong – also received the prized work of art. (Owing only to personal restraint, I will keep my personal feelings about the school losing two of the most fantastically talented faculty musicians ever out of this blog-post). The night was topped off by selections from the music Winterim group, which performed selections from Nirvana’s “Nevermind.”

One of my favorite moments in this year’s music night was the performance of a song that I had written for Pay It No Mind, a musical that I am in the process of writing with Laura’s help. The musical follows the life of Marsha P. Johnson, an activist who led the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the 1960s and 70s. This particular song is titled “Welcome to the Stonewall.” It featured faculty musicians Catherine Epstein (vocals), Kevin Hong (keys), and the aforementioned Laura Grill Jaye (drums), as well as 9th grader Rhys Boyd on the bass and sophomore Cameron Smith on vocals. The audience’s participation in the performance made me incredibly happy, and I am endlessly grateful for all of the spectacular musicians who helped me perform this song that I had worked so hard to create.

By the end of the night, everyone was exhausted. But because of all of our efforts Meridian’s 5th music night was a success!

Check out some of the songs on our Vimeo page!

Jazz is the Ultimate Team Sport: Students Design Music for the Fall Play

Since she began work as a music teacher at Meridian, almost every theater production at the school has featured some element of Laura Jaye’s work. A few highlights include the fairy lullaby she wrote for A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the creepy Puritan-era hymns she arranged in harmony for The Crucible; Artemis in the Parking Lot, a musical she co-wrote with Misha Chowdhury; and a long-form jingle she arranged for the Italian farce The Servant of Two Masters.

This fall, Laura’s involvement reached new heights with Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day. The play takes place in Berlin during the early 1930s, and Laura said she felt inspired by Kushner’s emphasis on music. The script specifically calls for standards like “Memories of You” along with Bach’s Unaccompanied Violin Concerto in G Minor and Mahler’s Second Symphony, The Resurrection. “Music was clearly an important part of the play for Kushner,” she said, describing the potential she saw in these diverse references. “I could imagine a production where they just used recorded music,” she explained, “but I knew at Meridian we had the talent and resources to take it to” — here she adopted a Terminator-esque voice — “the next level.”

That next level took the shape of a weekly music class devoted to designing and performing music for the play. Students read the script and studied jazz standards from 1930 and 1931, specifically focusing on music that the characters would already know. They held music production meetings to identify the play’s dramatic arc and worked together to create a parallel arc with music. After selecting songs, the students practiced and practiced and practiced. “Because of all of the improvisation involved in jazz,” Laura said, “the only way to stay tight in performance is to play together a lot and learn each other’s style.”

The class — led by Laura and comprised of 10th and 11th grade students Jacob, Luke, Max, and Naomi — included jazz guitar, mandolin, violin, percussion, bass, and vocals. The band played as the audience took their seats, performed the songs — including those Bach and Mahler pieces — that Kushner called for, and also served as a live musical soundtrack that the actors controlled onstage. With the turn of the knob on an old radio positioned in front of the band, the musicians came to life, changing songs and volume as characters adjusted the switches. The effect was both lively and mesmerizing.

Many audience members described the invaluable presence of the band in the production, and Laura knows that the experience also had a meaningful impact on the student musicians. Following this experience, she said, “they can all sit down and play a standard together. They’re not scared of jazz. They’ve cultivated an appreciation of that music and how cool it is to make it up on the spot.” In addition, the band fostered a deep and trusting collaboration. “You need to know that others are supporting you when you’re improvising, and vice versa,” Laura explained. “Jazz is the ultimate team sport.”

While Laura created the jazz class specifically to support A Bright Room Called Day, she aspires for musicians to be just as deeply involved in future plays. As it turns out, she’s not the only one looking ahead. Before the production had completed, several of the musicians turned to Laura and asked, “What’s the show next year?”