An Assembly to Remember: The 2022 Fine Arts Assembly


West High band under the direction of Kirby Kauffman. Photo by: Lakaelynn Price.

Zoe Springsteen, Reporter

The auditorium was buzzing with chatter and excitement as students filed in on September 30 for West High’s first all-school Fine Arts Assembly since 2019. This was not any ordinary Arts Assembly; this assembly was particularly special because West was set to receive national recognition for our exemplary Fine Arts programs. 

After performances from dance, choir, band, orchestra, DDF and IB Visual Arts, Principal Sven Gustafson welcomed National Federation of State High School (NFHS) officials to the stage to surprise staff and students with the Performing Arts School of Excellence Award.

The prestigious award, which goes out to only one high school in the United States each year, was given to West for its “exemplary commitment to performing arts programs,” according to an article on the NFHS website. 

The association had been “researching [West] since July,” said James Weaver, Director of Performing Arts and Sports for NFHS. According to the NFHS website, West exhibits not only outstanding performing arts but also “the dedication, diligence, teamwork and other valuable traits students develop throughout the process.”

Science teacher and theatre alum Rees Miller MC’d the event, reminding audience members to turn their phones off and ears on before the colors were presented by the JROTC. Choir teacher James Fryer then sounded the pitch pipe for the Concert Choir to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” not from their usual place on the stage, but from the front three rows of seats.

First up on the stage was the West High Orchestra, directed by Gabrielle Whitfield. Excited students’ shouts and conversations faded as the lively rendition of “Dead Man’s Chest”  from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” began. The stage, decorated with rocks, nets, and artificial tropical plants for the school play “Moana JR.”, doubled as a fitting backdrop for the orchestra’s chosen piece.

Students couldn’t contain their enthusiasm, prematurely clapping and cheering as the orchestra’s performance closed. “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do that,” Miller said as the glitzy red and gold curtains lowered following the orchestra.

After the orchestra performance, an enormous image of Bill Gates appeared on the blank wall beside the stage. Students were puzzled for a moment, before learning the image was part of an IB art project.

The picture was the first frame of a StopMotion animation film the IB Visual Arts Class of 2021 drew, painted, and created, with senior Maxim Ischuk editing the video into its final form.

The song “Midnight City” by M83 played over the compilation of illustrated cars, space scenes, insects, eyes, food, and even a small boy in a raincoat animated through a series of perspective transitions, with one image leading into the next.

As the collection of graphic artwork came to a close, Miller reminded students in the audience to “talk to Ms. Spiker and Ms. Henry” if they would like to get involved with the Visual Arts. 

Director Kirby Kauffman directed the West High Band in a performance of “Epic Gaming Themes” for the assembly’s third number. The band, winning top soloist and multiple command performances during the previous years’ Alaska Solo & Ensemble, also plays for West High Theatre shows. Many students in the group go on to study music in college with partial or full music scholarships.

JROTC presents the colors as the choir sings the National Anthem at the beginning of the assembly. Photo by: Lakaelynn Price

As the piece closed out, the crowd erupted once again, and the red and gold curtains fell over the stage.

The West High Choir, who won all choral sections of the 2021 Chicago World Strides Music Festival under the direction of Gabrielle Pierle, has a new director this year. JT Fryer, a choral director from New Jersey, now teaches and conducts West High’s vocal groups, including a new A Cappella group called Fermata Nowhere. 

As Fryer sounded the pitch pipe, the choir rang out in a spiritual piece, a classic choice for West Concert Choir, titled “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord”.

As the curtains rose once again, Dance West’s Intermediate Group performed a piece choreographed by Director Irenerose Castillo, titled “Do Your Thang”. The hip-hop number was well-liked by the student body, who hooted and cheered on the dancers throughout their performance.

The West High Theatre performed a popular song and dance number titled “You’re Welcome” from the Disney musical “Moana JR”. Lucianne Yvon Ubasa as Moana and Calvin Kline as Maui delighted the audience with their interactive performance and Kline’s strong vocals.

The performance concluded as Miller reminded students to give a round of applause for the backstage crew and technicians for West High’s Theatre group.

West High’s Drama, Debate, and Forensics Team performed the spoken-word piece “The Codependent-Goats Gruff”, a 21st-century take on the nursery rhyme “The Three Billy-Goats Gruff”.

The audience was entertained by the piece, laughing as Harrison Steeves-Little, playing the role of Troll, yelled out “Yeehaw!” and as Dane Lester, playing the role of Most Chronologically and Physically Accomplished Goat, asked the Troll to eat him. 

West High’s DDF Team also placed 2nd of seven teams with the “The Codependent-Goats Gruff” at a tournament on October 7-8 at Bettye Davis East High School. 

To conclude the assembly’s performances, DanceWest’s Advanced Group performed a flowy, dramatic piece titled “Breath Underwater”, also choreographed by Castillo. The audience cheered for the lifts, turns, and jumps that punctuated the emotional performance.

Many students and staff expressed their delight after the assembly, which showcased the hard work of our talented students and staff. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another three years to see our talented artists come together again!