CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
Before launching into the last series of the performance, conductor Yaniv Dinur turned back to the Pius XI High School students assembled in the field house and, like an entertaining story-teller, said, “It’s very dramatic,” as he launched the orchestra baton-first into “Duel of the Fates” from The Phantom Menace by John Williams.
Captivated, the high school students, 250 community members and a handful of elementary students who had bused in for the concert on Thursday, Oct. 10, gave a standing ovation for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra when Dinur’s baton fell silent for the final time.
Throughout the concert, Dinur explained each upcoming piece and conceded the excellent sound quality in the field house, saying, “I think we’ll move in.”
Early in the performance, Dinur asked if any of the students were graduating, and one emphatic yes bellowed from the bleachers, initiating wide grins from the adults, and a sprinkling of hands shooting up throughout the stands.
When he described the origins of the song American Salute by Gould, Dinur said, “the composer did what every great composer would do — procrastinate.” The crowd responded with a chorus of chuckles, his method familiar to students and teachers alike.
After playing the opening songs by Aaron Copland, a founding father of American music, Dinur gestured to the choir and said to the students sitting in the bleachers, “Today, we are accompanied by a great chorus. You might know them. They are very famous.”
The appreciative laughter filled Dinur’s silence until he announced, “The Pius High School Choir” and dove into the next piece inspired by poet Robert Frost, and later highlighted the choir’s impressive chords with songs from West Side Story.
The song “America” from the musical, Dinur explained, embodies the tension between the American and Latin American cultures clashing in 1950s New York — historically specific tension emblematic of the tension inherent in modern Catholic education: teaching faith in a culture that often contradicts it.
Dinur concluded the performance with a spectacular whip of his baton, to the delight of the elementary students and parents of choral performers. Schools such as St. Mary’s Visitation in Elm Grove, St. Camillus, St. Matthias and others sent students to the performance. Pius alumni and the School Sisters of St. Francis were also invited.
Principal Mark Ostap thanked Dinur and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra after the performance. “The school was very supportive and excited about this idea,” said Rebecca Whitney, director of education for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and a Pius XI alumna.
The performance was made possible by an anonymous donor who approached the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and expressed a desire to donate, though they wanted to do a project that would be more than a financial gift. The donor wanted to make a greater impact on the community.
They presented a list of organizations to Whitney and Pius XI was selected as one of the recipients.
The Pius XI High School choir, directed by Thomas Ajack, previously participated in teen competitions hosted by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, so singing with the orchestra was an incredible offer for the high school choir.
The school hosted a dress-up day to honor the orchestra, complete with a homeroom competition to see who could be most dressed, and cleared classes for the performance.
In a space filled with sports achievement banners, basketball rims and bleachers, the orchestra breathed a different art form, a different human display of excellence, in the field house with their robust horns, deep percussions and enchanting strings — and of course accompanied by Pius XI’s own choir.
“To essentially have the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra as your back up band is something incredible,” Whitney said.
“For the Pius XI choir, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”