December 19, 2013

Teen Reviewers Break Bread With OEBS

By Students From the Oakland School for the Arts

OEBS Michael MorganStudents in Omid Zoufonoun’s class at the Oakland School for the Arts found themselves busy as Santa’s elves, in a WriteOn! Workshop last week with veteran SFCV contributor Jeff Kaliss. After learning about the process of active observation and the form and function of music reviewing, the kids joined Jeff and their teacher at Sunday’s performance of the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s annual “Let Us Break Bread Together” concert, at the Paramount Theatre. With their reviews in progress, the kids checked in with Jeff again on Tuesday, and then enjoyed an informative give-and-take with the OEBS’s Maestro Michael Morgan. What you’ll read here is fresh evidence of the expression of our next generation of trained musicians. Do feel free to comment on their efforts.

Jeff Kaliss, SFCV Write On! Workshop Leader



Oliver Palmer

 Central to our image of the holidays is the idea of “breaking bread” — people setting differences aside in order to partake in celebrations of the holidays. Oakland East Bay Symphony’s Let Us Break Bread Together concert wonderfully embraces and expands this idea, incorporating an expansive range of musical styles into a public setting to create a celebration of diverse, tradition-rich cultures, and also that which unites us as humans.

SFCV's Jeff Kaliss leads the WriteOn! workshop at the Oakland School for the Arts, while Maestro Michael Morgan, whose concert was reviewed by the kids, looks onThe concert is an annual tradition of the OEBS, providing a more unorthodox experience for the average concert-goer. It involves a multitude of choirs, bands, and orchestral arrangements. Featured in this 2013 concert were the Oakland Symphony Chorus, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, the Mt. Eden High School Concert Choir, the Crystal Children’s Choir, Linda Tillery’s Cultural Heritage Choir, klezmer band Kugelplex, and soloists Terrance Kelly, Rhonda Benin, Faisal Zedan, and Tamala Brown. The diversity was clear and welcome, as twenty songs with styles from klezmer to Chinese folk to gospel were performed side by side, and in some cases, together.

The gospel/spiritual pieces were plentiful throughout the concert, evoking enthusiasm no other music could match. Most notable were Rhonda Benin and the Cultural Heritage Choir’s performance of “Tree of Life” by Linda Tillery, and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir’s performance of Kurt Carr’s setting of Psalm 150. “Tree of Life” is a traditional spiritual, with a call-and-response feel to it. The passion conveyed in their singing was just as powerful as the full orchestra. Psalm 150 took me by surprise. It wasn’t a simple hymn, as its non-imposing name might suggest, but instead a captivating, powerful gospel song, full of passion and feeling. All of the gospel/spirituals were performed with a genuineness and power that usurped the others.

The gospel/spiritual pieces were plentiful throughout the concert, evoking enthusiasm no other music could match — Oliver Palmer

The second style, of eastern contemporary music, was divided between the Chinese Crystal Children’s Choir and the klezmer Kugelplex group. In Ko Matsushita’s Tosaka Mimasaka (The Fox on the Hill), the Crystal Children’s Choir performed unaccompanied by the orchestra, and belted out a choreographed and contrapuntal song, in which groups singing a melody would turn about independently of each other. It intertwined simple music and dance to achieve a strange, modern result.

Dan Cantrell and Aaron Davidman’s “Sophie’s Dream” mixed narrative and musical styles, like Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. It told the story of Sophie, a young girl who was moving to Poland with her family. Argumentative at first, Sophie objects. But when she falls asleep, she goes on a journey, experiencing the cultures of Eastern Europe through music, as she is an avid violinist. She finds herself captivated by the music of Poland, and wakes up content with the move. The music, performed by klezmer group Kugelplex, played as if it were a film score for an animated film. It conveyed exaggerated feelings ranging from awe and wonder, to silliness and absurdity, and everything in between.

The final style was the classical and traditional one. It had the advantage of being familiar and well-liked. F. Pablo Tosti’s “Sogno” presented soft and beautiful melodies; the audience lulled by its sweetness. Handel’s iconic Hallelujah Chorus warranted quite a bit of audience. It had a rich and jubilant power, as the combined orchestra, choirs, and audience filled the concert hall with song.

All in all, this was an incredible experience. The departure from the norm allowed for a shared cultural interaction that was amazing to be a part of. The only issue was with the venue. The setup of audience facing the stage inhibited a sense of intimacy. However, the sheer number of those “breaking the bread” together made it an absolutely wonderful concert, unlike any other. This annual holiday celebration of diversity and unity through music is not to be missed!


Jasmine Stade

The Paramount Theatre, cheerily decorated for the holidays, was warm and inviting. I stepped into this historic building gazing up at its Christmas tree and carpeted double staircase. The concert hall itself was intricate in gold detail and seated an enormous crowd of predominantly grey heads. While I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb as a sixteen-year-old, I also felt unspoken appreciation from the older folk for my unconventional music choices, given my age.

The OEBS’ “Let Us Break Bread Together” was an inspiring combination of celebratory music from a variety of cultures. I enjoyed the warmth of the strings and big volume from the orchestra in the first piece, appropriately titled, “Let Us Break Bread Together”. A clear, ringing solo voice had perfect balance with the piano, choruses, and orchestra and the lyrics of coming together set the tone for the evening.

The klezmer group Kugelplex, which changed the direction of the show with “Sophie’s Dream,” had a jubilant amount of energy Aaron Davidman’s narration of Sophie’s inner mayhem on finding out her family is going to move to Poland lined up flawlessly with a musical backdrop. This mix of art mediums was groundbreaking for me, as I could tell what Sophie’s “dream” was going to be like before a word was spoken, just based on the picture painted by the music.

Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir also enlivened the evening with their exuberant performance, especially in the spiritual “Tree of Life.” The grooving percussion and call and response were engaging, but the clincher for this song was soloist Rhonda Benin’s joyous dance break.

My favorite piece of the evening was “The Awakening.” It began with a sweet yet nostalgic repetition of “I dreamed a dream, a silent dream” and transitioned into a more turbulent and dark section. The piece dropped down to little more than the word “silent”, whispered harshly by the choir, and built up in intensity with the words “awake, awake.” Mt. Eden High School Concert Choir and the OEBS were impressive and acute with their dynamics for this performance.

“Let Us Break Bread Together” got me into the holiday spirit, not for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Yuletide, or for anything else specific, but simply for the reason that this time of year is filled with celebration for every culture under the sun. — Jasmine Stade

The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir created layers of powerful cluster chords in “Wade In The Water.” I’m familiar with it, but I enjoyed this arrangement, as each repetition added more dissonance and the way the choir ended their final note was so cleanly executed.

The encore of “America the Beautiful,” done as a sing-along with the audience, was a wonderful way to end the concert, bringing together people from all different.

“Let Us Break Bread Together” got me into the holiday spirit, not for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Yuletide, or for anything else specific, but simply for the reason that this time of year is filled with celebration for every culture under the sun.


Liam Hardison

A beautiful venue, an appreciative audience, and more talented musicians in one place than I had ever seen before — what could be better? The Oakland East Bay Symphony’s “Let Us Break Bread Together” concert is a defining feature of Oakland’s classical scene. The celebration of the diversity of cultures and music in the concert gives an inside perspective of the welcoming vibe that Oakland possesses.

I came away from it with awe and appreciation for many styles of music that I had not previously been familiar with. Before even a single note was played, the sheer number of people onstage undoubtedly made an impression on everyone in the audience, and made me feel like I was about to witness and participate in a memorable event.

The concert began, appropriately, with “Let Us Break Bread Together.” The orchestra guided the audience and seemed to persuade the music to move along with them in a gradual motion. In “O Clap Your Hands,” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, the choir’s harmonies were impressive when the orchestra went into subtle accompaniment, with the strings playing with light tremolo. Whereas every individual choir was taken advantage of in the opening piece, this one used only about a third as many vocalists, creating an imbalance in volume between choir and orchestra and making it sound as if they were competing to be heard.

Later on, the Crystal Children’s Choir performed Tosti’s “Sogno” with the orchestra. I was astonished at how great these children sounded. This choir, though extremely young, was as professional as any other, and sounded truly spectacular alongside the orchestra.

Another highlight of the concert was definitely the Cultural Heritage Choir performing “Tree of Life, a traditional Gullah spiritual. In contrast to the previous easy-to-listen-to pieces, this required the audience’s undivided attention, and demanded participation. Demonstrating the beautiful quality of variety that this concert entailed, this was one of the first pieces that came to my mind while recalling the concert later.


Dana Gold

The Paramount carries sound well: the chitter chatter before the show, the music itself, the applause after. The high ornate ceilings and three levels of seats allow for the sound to bounce off in wonderful ways.

Kugelplex, the klezmer group, was … interesting, to say the least (but in a fantastically brilliant way). They are made up of an accordion, fiddle, clarinet, upright bass, and a bass drum. They performed two songs in the concert. The first had a narrator telling a story as Kugelplex and OEBS played music together. I’d never experienced anything like this, and it was great. In the second half of the show, Kugelplex came back and performed “Peace Song,” my favorite song of the night. Soothing and calming, it incorporated Middle Eastern and Turkish sounds. It began slowly and peacefully, but grew into somewhat of a rock song. The woman in front of me started dancing in her seat.

The Crystal Children’s Choir was truly impressive, both visually and vocally. The choreography incorporated into the song was amazing, especially considering that the members of this chorus appeared to be elementary and middle school-aged kids. The dancing reminded me of water, and it was a nice way to keep the audience engaged. I noticed that their conductor and Michael Morgan were conducting their own groups, but miraculously the two stayed together the entire time.

The second half of the show began with a holiday favorite, “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson. Everyone around me was singing and humming along. It was a fun way to get the attention of the audience after the intermission. These performances and groups are what made the “Let Us Break Bread Together” concert so special.


Joe Lahrs

As I walked through the doors of the Paramount, I was amazed at the size of the theater, and how many people were there. I’ve never been there before but it made you feel like you were in a huge golden box with the most beautiful designs on the walls. It was a great feeling.

As we took our seats, Michael Morgan appeared and spoke about the history of “Let Us Break Bread Together,” cracking a few jokes along the way. He also introduced some of the groups, including the OEBS, Mt. Eden High School Choir, Crystal Children’s Choir, Kugelplex, Oakland Symphony Chorus, Cultural Heritage Choir, and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir.

In the first half of the show I really liked “Sophie’s Dream,” “Tree of Life,” and the Hallelujah Chorus. “Sophie’s Dream” had a narrative part, which was interesting and unique. The orchestra did a good job of playing the unusual, non-classical.

Then there was the Cultural Heritage Choir, which was one of my favorite groups. They did “Tree of Life,” a Gullah spiritual, showing African roots. It also had a twist of folk, too. The music was lively and their voices took over the theater. One of the last pieces, Psalm 150, sung by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir was the most exciting and so much fun to watch. Everybody joined in for the last performance, “America the Beautiful.”


Max Bowers

The “Let Us Break Bread Together” concert is quite a spectacle, with a huge number of performers waiting for their opportunity to spread joy to the audience from the stage. Michael Morgan, the conductor, mic in hand, introduced the eponymous first song, a joyous tune that put everyone in a good mood and set the tone for the entire show. Each song was meant to get everyone into the holiday spirit; however, each song was in a very different and unique style.

I particularly enjoyed the group Kugelplex, a somewhat ragtag group of musicians who played klezmer, with some spoken word, and an overall comedic and less formal tone. Their spoken word piece was mildly humorous, and a nice change of pace after some of the more serious, and religiously charged, classical pieces.

Of course it wouldn’t be a holiday set if the Hallelujah Chorus wasn’t included, and it was a great way to close out the first half of the set. Every chorus was used and this gave the song more meaning and power, with every voice used to its full potential. Many people sang along, further adding on to the festive spirit.

After intermission, the orchestra went right into “Sleigh Ride.” Like Hallelujah before it, “Sleigh Ride” was familiar to the audience, making it more enjoyable. Later on, the chorus sang a big, powerful piece that aimed to touch the listener with its haunting melodies and grandiose style. It was truly beautiful, a mind numbing experience. The show closed with some gospel, in a joyous performance by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir. It was spiritual and uplifting, and I enjoyed it immensely.

However, this was not all, as every musician began to play “America the Beautiful” as a grand finale. It left me feeling good about myself.Every aspect of the performance felt like it had its place, and made a lot of sense. It was a supremely entertaining experience that I would go back to in a heartbeat.


Hana McGuire

This concert brought family and friends together to listen to varieties music and get everyone in the holiday spirit. The first piece was “Let Us Break Bread Together,” arranged by Jazz pianist Ellen Hoffman. The soloist, Terrence Kell,y had a deep, soothing voice and every time he sang, your whole body and your soul was touched.

In Tosti’s “Sogno,” the Crystal Children Choir made you feel as if you were listening to the sounds of angels. When the symphony played the melody with the xylophone in the background, it gave off the feeling as if you were in a pleasant dream.

The “Tree of Life” was the first piece that got the audience involved. This song was a traditional Gullah spiritual, arranged by Linda Tillery. The performers were into the music and had high energy. The pounding of the drums and the sounds of the tambourine along with the singing made you want to get out of your seat and dance. The audience sang along with the performers repeating “you got the right to the tree of life”. One of the performers did a traditional spiritual dance that got the audience, chorus, and even maestro Michel Morgan riled up and clapping. The concert was entertaining and educating. The different types of music gave the audience a sense of the cultural histories behind those pieces of music. Kugelplex, a band that performed in the concert, were playing in the lobby, and instead of audience members exiting the theatre, they danced their way out.


Alex Ehmer

As soon as you walked in you could feel the warmth and holiday cheer with all the excited people jumping around to find their seats. The beautiful gold and art-deco style of the building added only more excitement sitting down looking at the orchestra and four choirs standing ready to perform.

The concert started off with “Let us Break Bread Together” filling the theater with joy and light. As the program went on some of my personal favorites were the Crystal Children’s Choir, with their song “Tosaka Mimasaka” involving not only vocals but movements as well; and “Sophie’s Dream” by Kugelplex, which had a narration about a young girl who moved to Poland and then had a dream about playing various kinds of music on her violin.

The second half of the concert was just as impressive as the first, starting off with the orchestra playing “Sleigh Ride,” getting us even more into the holiday spirit. The Cultural Heritage Choir sang amazing songs such as “Down the line” and “We shall not be moved,” featuring some traditional African music. This choir, in particular, had the whole audience clapping and sometimes singing as one.

The “Let us Break Bread Together” concert was something anyone could, even people who have never been to a concert in their whole life.


Elisa Minoue

What a performance! The varieties of songs and styles made the concert complete. I enjoyed “Peace Song,” written and arranged by Dan Cantrell and Faisal Zedan, played by Kugelplex, with Faisal Zedan on percussion. The music starts off with heavy emotion as if you were going to war. The pounding drum makes you push on. Suddenly the music becomes joyful and happy. It’s as if everything was just a big misunderstanding. You are dancing to the music: The dynamics are all over the place, loud and bold. Then you wake up and fine yourself back to war, pushing forward to the drumbeat.

This great musical composition was not the only one that caught my eye and ear. Also fantastic was “Tosaka Mimasaka” done by the Crystal Children’s Choir. They had added choreography, which brought a whole other perspective to the program.

Although the concert was good, I it wasn’t very kid friendly. Overall, it had too many religious or spiritual songs. But it was a great idea to encourage people to sing along to songs such as the Hallelujah Chorus.


David Pyle

The audience was singing at the Paramount Theater last Sunday: “Let us Break Bread Together” was completely sold-out. The performance started the entire orchestra playing and the choirs singing with a soloist.

Some of the songs were your standard everyday Christmas songs but there was so much more. One of the more interesting performances, by the Crystal Children’s Choir, had kids turn in different directions to change the way their voices sounded to the audience.

This was one of the most diverse concerts I have ever been to. The songs were all played well, with an engaged audience and a warm conductor who participated with the audience. At the end the choirs invited the audience to get up and start singing. It was like nothing I had ever seen before — I had never been to a concert where the performers actually wanted the audience to sing and participate.