Band, strings ensemble not afraid to have fun

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It's been a busy year for Paul VI Catholic High School's music program. In addition to a Star Wars-inspired winter concert and a strings ensemble performance at the Volunteer Fairfax Awards Gala in April, the program looks forward to entertaining runners in the Army 10-miler race in October.

Between great conductors and enthusiastic musicians, it is easy to see why the music program is so respected at Paul VI. Under the direction of Jan Siegfried, the band and strings ensemble have played a multitude of events, ranging from competitions at Disney World to Volunteer Recognition Galas.

While Siegfried works to shape dedicated and disciplined musicians, they're not afraid to have a little fun with their music. In honor of the "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" movie premiere last December, the band performed iconic songs from the original Star Wars trilogy.

"I've been an avid Star Wars fan ever since the original film was released in 1977, so that night was really special to me," said Siegfried.

The band even invited the NoVa Homeschool Winds to join the performance.

"The performance included a choreographed lightsaber duel in front of the stage," said Siegfried. "We had over 90 players and two duelists between the audience and the stage battling in costumes with custom replica lightsabers. The sabers even had speakers in the hilts generating sound effects timed with the action, everything from idle hums to grand clashes," Siegfried said about the performance. "The ensemble did a great job and the audience absolutely loved it. We're looking forward to coming up with more fun things to do like that in the coming years."

Another big event, the annual Volunteer Fairfax Breakfast Gala, took place at the Springfield Waterford in April and showcased the talented Paul VI Strings Ensemble.

"Much of the service that PVI musicians provide to the community is of a volunteer status, so it feels right for our strings to serve as featured musicians for such a big celebration of volunteerism," said Siegfried, adding that although the focus is on the volunteers in the community, the musicians never feel underappreciated.

One of the most anticipated events of 2016 for Paul VI musicians is the Army 10-mile race that takes place in October. Paul VI has offered their musical support for the event for more than 10 years, earning the honor of being the "Official High School Band" and only non-professional music ensemble to play at the race. Despite the familiarity with the event, players and vocalists work hard each year to match the energy of the runners.

"Our goal is to provide just as high a level of energy and musicianship as the other groups," said Siegfrie. "And even though we set out annually to encourage the 35,000 runners, ultimately we each find personal inspiration in the struggles that these athletes endure."

Senior Brendan Henry, a performer in four Army 10-miler races, said the satisfaction the musicians feel in supporting the racers more than makes up for the early wake-up call.

"We complain about getting up at 4:30 a.m. for the 10-miler, but we are always inspired when we see those first runners, the wounded warriors, fly past us in their racing wheelchairs," he said. "We're reminded of the sacrifices they made for us, and we're proud to be there cheering them on."

Though these high school musicians give up their study hall for their music, their commitment to school never wavers.

"They know they are trading a study hall to be in PVI ensembles, yet their GPAs are some of the highest in the school. Many students even take a summer class to give themselves increased flexibility in the schedule," said Siegfried.

Even after how busy this past year has been, the two musical groups are looking forward to what is to come.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016