K-12 performing arts students shine at in-person Big Assembly Day


Alena Suleiman

Richard Zhang (11) plays with the orchestra during the Big Assembly Day opening number, “Sleigh Ride.” Big Assembly Day occurred on Friday, Dec. 9.


Heads turn, and the audience erupts into peals of laughter. 

The infamous slapstick, two wooden boards that upper school orchestra percussionist Yejin Song (12) clapped together to imitate the comedic whip crack, made a return in orchestra’s rendition of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” the opening number for Big Assembly Day (BAD).

“It’s just so out of the blue and unexpected for this huge slapstick sound to come out of nowhere, especially for freshmen and sophomores who haven’t heard our performance before,” Yejin said. “My favorite part is when people hear it for the first time–the reaction is always so funny.”

The Harker School’s annual holiday concert, known as BAD, occurred on Friday, Dec. 9. In previous years, the upper, middle and lower school performing arts groups toured the three campuses to perform, but due to ongoing COVID-19 protocols, all performances occurred at the Rothschild Performing Arts Center at the upper school. Performances were video recorded and live streamed to the other campuses, and each group performed twice. 

“[Everything] had been pretty cookie cutter prior to COVID, but we had to rethink everything,” Director of Performing Arts Laura Lang-Ree said. “The most difficult thing was everybody remembering how to do a show. It’s been a really long time, but it’s also just fun teaching and learning.”

According to Lang-Ree, performing arts teachers started picking music in the spring, finalizing pieces in September and teaching the students during October. 

Orchestra plays “Sleigh Ride” every BAD as per tradition, according to Yejin. Since most returning members already knew the piece, orchestra only began practicing “Sleigh Ride” around a month before the performance. Decked out in reindeer ears and other festive holiday adornments, the near 100-person group also jumped up and turned at the “neigh” in the middle of the song to the amusement of the audience. 

Some students, especially freshmen, had the opportunity to perform in front of live audiences again for the first time since the start of the pandemic, like Alex Zhong (9), a violinist in the orchestra. 

“For me, [this first in-person performance] was pretty exciting and fun,” Alex said. “I just thought that everyone did a very fantastic job, and I love all the effort everybody put in.”

Bel Canto–a larger, mixed choir–and Camerata–a smaller choral group–joined forces on a Hanukkah piece, with upper school vocal teacher Susan Nace accompanying the vocalists on piano. Camerata returned later in the assembly to perform “Alleluia, Alleluia” by Amy F. Bernon. Both Bel Canto and Camerata are choral groups with soprano, alto, treble and bass (SATB) voices, and Bel Canto is directed by upper school vocal instructors Jennifer Sandusky while Camerata is directed by Nace.

Performers in light-up headbands entered the stage next and formed a semi-circle, bearing faux candles. Traditionally known as the women’s choir or the treble voice choir, Cantilena, the most advanced choral group that is also conducted by Nace, sang an acapella version of “Frozen’s” opening theme “Eatnemen Vuelie.” The group also added elements of choreography to their entrance and exit from the stage. 

“The community aspect, actually being able to sing with other people, all the effort that went through, both preparing the music as well as staging it, which props we decided to use, [was my favorite part],” Cantilena member Ava Arasan (11) said. “Just all of those elements together and singing and performing are just the most enjoyable parts.”

Kinetic Krew, the upper school’s boys dance team, followed with a lively routine to a medley of pop songs called “A Hip Hop Christmas,” dancing in candy cane onesies and carrying large gold boxes as props. The group previously performed the same number at the Santana Row “Spirit of The Row” performance on Dec. 7. 

“Before our routine, I was hyperventilating backstage because of how nervous I was, but as soon as the curtains opened and the music started it all went away and I remembered how fun it was to perform in front of hundreds of people,” Luke Mehta (10) said. 

Alysa Suleiman

Cheers rippled across the audience as the lights onstage slowly turned back on to welcome the Harker Dance Company (HDC), the upper school’s girls dance troupe. HDC performed to “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt in their traditional sparkly green uniforms, but with red gloves and hair bows as a festive touch. The dance featured an all-member kick line, in which the dancers lined up across the stage and kicked to the beat as they held onto each others’ shoulders. 

“It was my first BAD assembly as an official high schooler, and I was really excited to perform,” Callie Yuan (10), a member of HDC, said. “Even though during the dance it was hard to breathe with the mask and with our choreography, we were all proud that we pushed through it.”

Closing out the upper school performances, Downbeat, decked out in their classic gold sequined dresses and blue dress shirts, pranced onto stage. The group performed two medleys: “Twelve Days of Christmas Confusion” and “Swing into Christmas,” which also made an appearance during the holiday tour the week before and at Santana Row. 

“It was quite busy, but I think Downbeat overall had many bonding experiences,” Shareen Chahal (10) said. “I have [performed in BAD] in middle school for a couple of choirs, but I feel like we had more of a role in it [this year].”

In addition to the upper school groups, middle school and lower school groups Concert Choir, Showstoppers, High Voltage, Harmonics and Dance Fusion traveled to the upper school to perform in the concert. 

“Regardless of COVID, I hear from people that [BAD is] their favorite thing of the year because we don’t get that many opportunities to show that we are a K-12 family,” Lang-Ree said. “The message is to just bring a little bit of joy and love to the community in a uniquely K-12 way and for them to remember in the audience that you’re part of the bigger family.”

Alysa Suleiman

Additional reporting by Alena Suleiman and Ananya Sriram.