It was apparent from the start that this was an event that everyone enjoyed and cherished, a once-a-year opportunity to play and listen to music not usually present at Samo’s other concert venues.
The highlight of the concert was unquestionably when the choir and orchestra, along with Venice and Glen Philips, played The Beatles’ song, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” After the few seconds it took them to recognize the opening notes, the audience let out a cry of excitement as many rose out of their seats, dancing and singing along.
The students’ enthusiasm was impossible to miss as well, as lucky orchestra and choir students danced behind microphones. Many of the orchestra students were even singing along with the choir, albeit not as finely tuned.
The concert is run by the non-profit organization AFTA, in association with The Education Foundation, where professional musicians are requested to donate their time. To the members of the Samo ensembles participating, the concert is one of the most exciting events of the year.
“Usually, first-time student performers don’t like the AFTA concert until they get up on stage,” orchestra director Joni Swenson said. “Once they realize how much fun it is to be in a profession setting and get to see what it’s like to really work with professional musicians on a stage with all the lighting and sound equipment making it really come alive, they get super excited.”
The tickets to the concert ranged from the moderate price of $35 to a relatively expensive $175, depending on how close audience members wanted to sit near the rock royalty. The festivity’s cost was well worth it, with 100 percent of the profits going to the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD)to help improve local music education.
“We usually raise over $75,000, all of which goes to the school district through the Education Foundation,” Executive Director of the Education Foundation Linda Gross said.
“The artists donate their time free of charge, meaning that all the money minus minor expenses goes to the school district. This concert funds third grade general music classes, the Olympic High guitar program, Dream Winds and Dream Strings, the hiring of music coaches and a long list of other programs.”
The audience showed their support for the performers and students by giving nearly every performance a standing ovation. However, the effort to learn that crowd rousing music quickly was a demanding one.
“We only got the music on Monday[before the performance], so we worked hard to learn it in time,” Swenson said.“The concert is a combined effort of Malibu, Samo and Olympic. It’s a great experience for the students from the different schools because they get to know each other and become friends over the long rehearsal hours.”
Sophomore cellist Taylor Safrit said the event was unlike anything he had ever performed in before.
“I’ve never performed at an AFTA concert before, so it was all new to me,” Safrit said. “I really enjoyed it because all the artists are well-known and fun to listen to – the same goes for the music. It was a hassle working after school to put on this performance, but it was worth it.”
Junior Caitlin Kerwin, who sang with the choir at the concert, said that after years of hearing about the concert from upperclassmen, being able to participate was an exciting opportunity.
“Although the majority of the songs we performed were older rock classics, I knew almost all of them, turning the night into a sort of karaoke experience for me,” Kerwin said.
“When we got to put our back-up vocals with the orchestra and band, the whole thing came together and so many enthusiastic parents were gushing after the concert had ended.”
However, the concert would not have been nearly as successful or amazing without Glen Phillips and Jackson Browne donating large amounts of their time.
“I think it’s really important to say that we’re grateful to the artists who donate their time to help the music program to raise more money,” Gross said.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without our wonderful non-profit organization and the artists who gave us their time.”