Last week would have marked the 33rd edition of our annual ASH Extravaganza musical performance show. While this year’s Extravaganza has been impacted by our move to the Virtual Learning Environment, we still wish to celebrate the learning and growth this showcase brings to our students each year. We know that soon our students will once again put on this incredible showcase, until then, let's take a walk down memory lane together.
Extravaganza has been an ASH tradition for over 30 years, and is our signature performance celebration that underscores our students’ learning and musical development. The idea for this showcase came from the ASH music department in April 1987, when they received a special request for entertainment at a PTA general meeting. It was out of this request that music teachers Mr. Cramer and Mr. Yarnell scored an original performance idea that featured the combined music of the middle school bands and choirs - Extravaganza and an ASH tradition was born! The students rose to this musical challenge, with the theme ‘It’s a Small World,” the middle school students took to the stage at the Royal Netherlands Music Conservatory in The Hague, sharing their musical talents in a never before seen presentation.
Beyond a doubt, the first performance was such a success that an encore show was requested for the following school year. This time, under the theme of “On Broadway”, the musical bar rose to include the talents of the elementary school choir, the high school band and choir, all accompanying the middle school ensembles. As the program grew in size, so did the venue. In May 1989, Extravaganza was moved to the Prins Willem Alexander Hall of the Congresgebouw, a fitting location for such a momentous musical celebration. It was also performed here in 1990 and 1991, celebrating The Hague’s special birthplace of this ASH tradition.
The following year in 1992, on the night before the Queen’s birthday, Extravaganza found yet another new venue. This time the location is one that we all know as the center stage for Extravaganza today - the “new” Sporthall, which was transformed into a magnificent concert hall for the premier home performance, with over 1,000 people in attendance. That year the performers were joined by the arts students with art displays, fashion shows and music under the theme “Fascinating Rhythm.”
Jumping forward some years and decades, this annual tradition continues to thrive in our music department, and is a highlight for many who eagerly await the spring performance. With over 600 student musicians, from ages 8 through 18, taking to the stage to perform, Extravaganza continues to be a timely 'snapshot' of music at ASH. From our across-school choirs, strings, bands, ensembles, orchestras, solos, world music and music technology, these performances highlight, not just student musicianship and leadership, but the pure joy that music-making brings. It involves countless hours of practice, dedication and planning, not just the student performers, but by teachers, staff and parent volunteers.
The size of and interest in Extravaganza has grown over the years, as various elements have been added, such as the inclusion of several well-known guest conductors and composers. This list includes names like Henry Leck, Soon Hee Newbold, Robert W. Smith, Richard Myers, Jim Papoulis, Jerry Luckhardt and Richard Saucedo. Our visiting musicians, composers and conductors always spend time working with our students in the week prior to the main event, preparing special and sometimes even original pieces of work scored and written just for Extravaganza. In a few instances, Extravaganza has been the platform for premieres - in 2015 the audience was treated to the Dutch premier of 'I Giorni' by world-acclaimed composer, Ludovici Einaudi, and in 2016 the Blue Orchestra played special guest ASH Alumni Alkinoos Serbetsoglou’s piece “Transcendence” for the first time. Perhaps the most significant and traditional element of Extravaganza is the finale of the official ASH school song, “Tell Me, Tell Me”, written and composed by Mr. Cramer, one of the founders of Extravaganza itself.
After 29 years and 29 Extravaganzas, in 2016 our entire community farewelled Mr. Cramer who was retiring. At the end of yet another stunning musical talent, the students came together to sing this beloved school song alongside Mr. Cramer. At the end of the moving performance, the whole audience rose for a standing ovation and it was a fitting and worthy tribute to the 33 years of service Mr. Cramer gave to ASH and to the beloved tradition of Extravaganza.
As with all traditions, they grow and evolve through time, each year the event moves to embrace and incorporate technology into the performances; from paperless programs, double presentation screens, music films and digital music scores now familiar elements in the evening repertoire. Live streaming has become a key factor in sharing the magic of Extravaganza to our ASH community members around the world, reaching immediate and extended family members, loved ones and friends in all corners of the globe, connecting us all to revel in the international language of music. And although the structure and elements of Extravaganza have changed and evolved throughout the years, the celebration of our school community has remained constant - loyal, supportive parents of joyful, excited students thrilled to perform their music to an enthusiastic audience, through the guidance and knowledge of skilled teachers and music professionals.
What is for certain, and will always remain, is the core of Extravaganza. Extravaganza is extravagant. It is flamboyant, communal, bonding, heart-felt, family-focused, endearing, satisfying, warm, honest, and friendly. It connects, empowers, inspires and motivates; a musical symphony that is truly like no other.