On Tuesday evening, more than 500 young singers from five schools will pack the auditorium at Patriot High School in Nokesville. They will fill the stage, aisles and back of the auditorium, waiting for five choral directors to simultaneously give the signal to start the mass ensemble’s performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The national anthem will open Patriot’s fourth annual pyramid concert, including three high school choral groups and choruses from the four schools that feed into the high school: Cedar Point, T. Clay Wood and Victory elementary schools, and Marsteller Middle School.
Pyramid concerts, featuring musical groups from high schools and their feeder schools, are widespread in Prince William County, said Joyce Zsembery, supervisor of the arts for the school system. The pyramid symbolizes the students’ musical growth as they progress through the school system, laying the foundation in elementary school and building toward a peak in high school.
“Pyramid concerts give an opportunity for students and parents . . . to hear what’s happening at the different grade levels — whether it’s in choir, whether it’s in orchestra, or whether it’s in band,” Zsembery said.
Zsembery said that Prince William schools have been performing pyramid concerts since she joined the school system in 1989 and that the concerts have become more common in recent years. They have long been a part of the schools’ orchestra programs and are rapidly catching on in the choral programs, she said.
The concerts also serve as a recruiting tool for the middle and high school choirs, said Matthew Meyer, music teacher at Cedar Point, and Laura Lazarevich, choral director at Patriot.
“For the elementary and middle school parents to get to be in the Patriot High School auditorium, which is really an impressive space . . . to be in there and to see their students up onstage, and to see the caliber of the choirs at Patriot, it really speaks a lot to them,” Lazarevich said. “It helps us with our retention . . . keeping the students involved in music all the way up through high school.”
Performing with the older students can also make the elementary students less apprehensive about moving up to middle school, Meyer said.
Cedar Point fifth-grader Ben Badillo agreed. “The fun part about the pyramid concert is going up with the Patriot and middle school [students], because we’re going to be in middle school next year,” he said. “Once we have the pyramid concert, we’ll have a whole different view.”
The concerts also give older students a chance to look back on their musical development over the years, Lazarevich said, adding that some of her students have been performing in the concerts since they were in elementary school.
“It’s a great opportunity for my high-schoolers to reflect on where they’ve been and get to see their old directors,” she said. “The students have this moment to see where they’ve traveled throughout their school career, in terms of music, from their first time singing in a choir all the way up through senior year of high school.”
Lazarevich said she enjoys having the opportunity to collaborate with the other four choir directors, all of whom have been at their respective schools since Patriot opened four years ago.
Meyer said the pyramid concerts at Patriot are always standing room only. The concerts are so popular, Lazarevich said, that she has to ask the parents of high school students not to attend. There simply isn’t enough room in the auditorium.
Two middle schools feed into Patriot High School —Marsteller and Gainesville — so Patriot will hold a second pyramid concert Wednesday, Lazarevich said, with choral groups from Gainesville and its feeder elementary schools: Bristow Run, Glenkirk and Piney Branch.
The choirs from the elementary and middle schools will each sing two songs they have chosen, and the three choral groups from Patriot will each sing one song, Lazarevich said. The students will perform together on the national anthem and the grand finale — Greg Gilpin’s “Why We Sing.”
“It’s a moving thing to hear all of those voices, and the whole auditorium fills up with such a wonderful sound,” Meyer said. “It’s something I never will forget.”