The Starting Notes of Extravaganza: Over 30 Years In The Making
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 bring this show to the ASH theater. Until then, let's take a walk down memory lane together.
Extravaganza has been an ASH tradition for over 30 years as a signature music performance showcase. With the starting notes written in 1987, the symphony of Extravaganza is now undoubtedly the celebration that underscores student learning and progress throughout their musical development at ASH. Lets take a moment to rewind the track and understand those first notes of Extravaganza, as they were once written.
The idea came in April of 1987 by the ASH Music Department, when they received a special request for entertainment at a Parent Teacher Association general meeting. After pondering the best way forward, music teachers Gary Cramer and Jim Yarnell scored an original performance idea that featured the combined music of the Middle School Bands and Choirs - Extravaganza, they called it. A big name for a new idea, but from the start it did not disappoint; the students rose to the musical challenge with the first Extravaganza making it as memorable now as it was then. 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. Extravaganza was a humble answer to a simple request, that unknowingly started a musical tradition that would extend through the decades, across generations and become a time honored ASH tradition.
Beyond a doubt, the first performance was such a success that an encore show was requested for the following school year in 1988. This time, the musical bar rose up to include the talents of the elementary school choir, the high school band and choir, all accompanied the middle school ensembles. Still under the wing of Gary and Jim, this Extravaganza featured mostly show tunes reflective of its theme “On Broadway." Again, the show stunned audiences and was a rounding success.
As the program grew in size, so did the venue. In May 1989 Extravaganza reached such musical limits that it was moved to the Prins Willem Alexander Hall of the Congresgebouw, a fitting location for such a momentous musical celebration. The vast group of performing student musicians took the audience on a “Magical Mystery Tour" themed performance, transporting them to another world for a magical musical journey. Three years in, and Extravaganza was certainly living up to its grandeur.
In the spring of 1990 Extravaganza returned to the Congresgebouw for what was thought to be farewell performance. This time our students came together to say goodbye to The Hague, the birthplace of Extravaganza, and to welcome the newly built campus waiting for ASH students in Wassenaar. “Hello-Goodbye, A Voyage from The Hague to Wassenaar,” was yet another huge success, captivating audiences and showcasing our students musical talents.
The last Extravaganza to take place in the Congresgebouw was in May, 1991, with the musical community unable to resist performing at its home location one last time in honor of all performances past. As we all know, it was not the end of this beloved musical tradition, but the start of a new verse in the symphony of its story. Over 250 ASH music students representing forty different nationalities celebrated the fifth presentation, “Lustrum.” It was a performance that none could forget.
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. Over 1000 people were in attendance of what is now a memorable school-community celebration. That year the Music Department student performers were joined by the entire Arts Department, with art displays, fashion shows and music under the theme “Fascinating Rhythm.”
The community spirit was alive and well at ASH in April of 1993, with students, teachers and parents alike all embracing the musical theme, “We are Family.” It showcased the unity felt by our students, parents and staff as they grew and embraced their Wassenaar home. The year 1994 marked the eighth Extravaganza, and in combination with the 40th anniversary of the school in the 1993-1994 school year, the theme “Let’s Celebrate” was a fitting choice to celebrate the collective milestones.
Jumping forward two decades, this annual tradition continues to thrive in our music department, and is a musical highlight for many who eagerly await the spring performance. With over 600 student musicians ages 8 through 18 taking to the stage to perform, Extravaganza continues to be a timely 'snapshot' of music at ASH by encompassing across-school choirs, strings, bands, ensembles, orchestras, solos, world music and music technology, in performances highlighting not just student musicianship and leadership but the pure joy that music-making brings. It envolves countless hours of practice, dedication and planning, by not just the student performers, but by teachers, staff and parent volunteers.
The size of and interest in Extravaganza grew over the years as various elements were added to the event, 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 was also the platform for premiers - 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 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 Gary Cramer, one of the founders of Extravaganza itself.
After 29 years and 29 Extravaganzas, our entire community said farewell to Gary Cramer who was sent to retire in 2016. At the end of yet another stunning musical talent, the students came together one last time for Gary, to sing the beloved school song, in combination with a special presentation of its framed lyrics by his dear colleague and friend, Jim Yarnell. This small token to show the gratitude and impact on all that Gary has contributed to the school, from the thousands of students who sang his words since he penned the first chorus. Gary played his final “Tell me, Tell me” performance in harmony with the students, which was more powerful than ever. At the end of the moving performance, the whole audience rose to give Gary a standing ovation. It was a touching and heartfelt moment, one that certainly pulled on the heartstrings of everyone watching the event. It was a fitting and worthy tribute to the 33 years of service Gary has offered ASH, the co-founder of one of the schools most beloved traditions.
As with all traditions, they grow and evolve through time - with Extravaganza as no exception. Each year the event moves to embrace and incorporate technology into the performances; from paperless programs, double presentation screens, music technology 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.