The Wonderful Whirlwind of Winterfest

Students rehearse for Winterfest, taking place Dec. 21 and 22.

By Colleen Meosky

What is a full-blown Winterfest like? Ask a senior. They’re in the only class that already knows. For the first time since 2019, the music wing will be performing in front of a full audience for about two hours and sections are playing all together instead of six feet apart. To say that East’s musicians are excited to take the stage is quite the understatement. “Treat it like a Bills tailgate and you might get a seat! In all seriousness, show up early if you have a bigger group of folks!” suggested Mr. Lanighan.

This concert is an incredible showcase for all of the ensembles, in addition to numerous chamber groups after about fifty acts auditioned. Students have been diligently practicing every day for six weeks in rehearsals, sectionals, lessons, and at home. Teachers have been arriving early and staying late to allow their students the additional practice time and guidance they need to put the extravagant show together in limited time. With Thanksgiving break, college applications, tests, sports seasons, and more, Winterfest always sneaks up.

If you venture into the music wing, it won’t take long before the Winterfest spirit hits you like a locomotive. Kids fill the practice rooms, practicing their runs and planning their outfits. Mr. McCluskey offered his decorating insight as students hung up garland in the band room, and Mr. Lanighan started drinking coffee again.

It’s a busy week for the musicians with a dress rehearsal on Monday, assembly for Transit students on Tuesday, and their two concerts on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Adrenaline, sugar, caffeine, and the promise of a week off are popular energizers for the young musicians. Perhaps their effects are best demonstrated by one Simon Li. “Sometimes I feel a little Santa dancing in my head,” says the violinist.

During one of East’s most highly-anticipated events, alumni can be found reconnecting with friends and teachers during intermission and after the show. Graduates recall their own memories made in the music wing as they watch younger siblings perform. Beyond the spectacular performances, the most remarkable aspect of the week is watching how Winterfest brings the community together.

As both an alum and now a teacher, Mr. Lanighan provided a unique perspective. On his favorite Winterfest memories that stand out to him from his time as a student, he said, “There are so many! I’ll share three. My first Winterfest experience just on the whole was incredible for me. I was probably in half of the acts, doing all sorts of different things, from Motown to Leroy Anderson. Bouncing around the aud like that was an absolute blast! I couldn’t believe how fun playing music could be. It was the first time I ever thought about the idea of playing music all the time for a career. The second memory that is very special to me is of a solo performance I did of “Amazing Grace” for piano and trombone with toilet plunger (yep, a plunger). My Grandma and Granddad were both there that night, and they both loved that performance so much! I couldn’t believe it! A toilet plunger! They are sadly no longer with us, but I had the honor of recreating that performance at both of their memorials. I miss them dearly, but luckily they both live on in that song because of that memory. The third memory I will never forget was the first time East ever did the Grinch! I think I was in my second year, and I think the first Grinch ever was a kid named Drew Hannah. We all knew the concert had just gone to a whole new level of energy and hype. It was hilarious and the perfect addition. We all had a ball!”

When asked what his favorite part of Winterfest is, Mr. Lanighan replied, “I would say it’s the moment on the first night when you feel the buzzing energy of every person in the aud. There’s so much love in the room! That’s the moment when you realize how connected we are. It’s the moment when you realize how desperately we need things like music in our lives to remind us of our connection to each other and our humanity.”

Amidst the 7 AM sectionals and late-night practicing (sorry Mom), it’s easy to lose track of time as you get caught up in the whirlwind. Somehow, kids end up being seniors playing their last Sleigh Ride, astounded at how there truly never is enough time in the music wing.