By Jillian Haguisan
On Saturday, April 13th, the Oyster Bay High School Wind Ensemble departed to Commack Middle School. At 4:00 pm, high school students from Oyster Bay, Baldwin, and Brentwood, as well as members of the Long Island Wind Ensemble, all gathered to rehearse Of Our New Day Begun by Omar Thomas.
Thomas wrote Of Our New Day Begun in memory of the victims of the Charleston church shooting, a tragic event in 2015 that resulted in the death of nine African American members of the church.
Thomas’s piece incorporates jazz, stomps, and claps. During the middle of the piece, the ensemble sings James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson ́s piece, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song often sung in African American churches.
While the piece conveys multiple emotions, such as fear, chaos, and uncertainty, it ultimately expresses that, in the end, we can pull through.
The OBHS Wind Ensemble has been practicing Thomas’s piece for months, and they first performed the piece in front of an audience on the night of March 27th, during the Cavalcade of Bands.
The entire ensemble consisted of high school musicians from Oyster Bay, Baldwin, and Brentwood, along with members of the Long Island Wind Ensemble. In addition to the band, Mr. Sisia, after planning it for months, also invited the Uniondale Show Choir to sing the lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
The mixed ensemble practiced for an hour under Mr. Matthew Sisia before the composer himself, Omar Thomas, arrived, along with the Uniondale Show Choir. After playing through the entire piece once, the band continuously perfected and altered certain parts in preparation for the actual performance. At 7:30 pm, students were seated in the audience, where they listened to Mr. Sisia and the Long Island Wind Ensemble perform.
After the fourth piece, a brief intermission was held to allow the students to reassemble their instruments and gather on stage. Before leaving the stage, Mr. Sisia introduced Omar Thomas, and the audience applauded as the composer walked on stage. During his speech about his composition, he named all nine victims of the Charleston church shooting and proceeded to share more about what the development of his work entailed. Thomas then stepped onto the podium, and as the ensemble played the beginning three notes, the Uniondale Show Choir boldly sang the words, “Sing a song.”
The entire piece lasted around twelve minutes, including numerous solos. During the singing portion of the piece, the ensemble and choir began stomping and clapping, and soon after, the choir, accompanied by the band, started singing the opening lyrics, “Lift every voice and sing / Till earth and heaven ring / Ring with the harmonies of Liberty...” Near the end of the performance, the stomping and clapping returned, and the ensemble held out a single note, gradually getting louder. The piece finally ended with the release of the note and a gong. The entire ensemble remained still for a few seconds before concluding the concert. Once the piece ended, the audience applauded and gave a standing ovation.
After the concert concluded, students were allowed to return to the auditorium and personally talk to Omar Thomas and/or members of the Long Island Wind Ensemble. Some students were fortunate enough to take pictures with the composer or get his autograph. OBHS students were certainly grateful for the experience—one they will never forget.