Beatles spectacular at OCS gets a little help from Swedish friends

concert review



AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING—Michael Woodward sings “With a Little Help From My Friends”in front of the“Sgt. Pepper”album cover during the recent Spring Spectacular Concert at Oaks Christian School. CARY GINELL/Acorn Newspapers

AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING—Michael Woodward sings “With a Little Help From My Friends”in front of the“Sgt. Pepper”album cover during the recent Spring Spectacular Concert at Oaks Christian School. CARY GINELL/Acorn Newspapers

The groundbreaking music of the Beatles, “the act you’ve known for all these years,” was celebrated by Oaks Christian School students during a pair of Spring Spectacular concerts on April 19 and 20 at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village.

The school’s various ensembles— string orchestra, symphonic band, jazz band, choirs and even a guitar class—showcased their talents during the all-Beatles program, which featured a wide-ranging mix of familiar favorites and a few surprises.

The songs were given mostly large-scale arrangements, complete with background singers. The show could have been inexorably enhanced had the producers utilized an emcee to introduce the songs and provide background about their history. The Beatles’ names were not even uttered during the concert; the show was simply a steady progression of performances with long gaps of awkward silence in between as vocalists marched on and off the darkened stage.

The Beatles phenomenon was sparked by the unique personalities of John, Paul, George and Ringo and their producer, George Martin, whose innovative and imaginative work in London’s EMI recording studios helped bring about a revolution in popular music in the 1960s.

Oaks Christian’s concert focused mainly on melodic gems from the Beatles’ catalog, skipping the group’s more political (“Taxman”), enigmatic (“Come Together”), thought-provoking (“A Day in the Life”) and challenging (“Strawberry Fields Forever”) works. The presentation was a microcosm of the current state of music consumerism, in which downloads and streaming prevail, and entertainment is delivered without context.

Performances ranged from perfunctory to elegant. The latter was represented in a particularly effective tableau as Ariel Trussell sang Paul McCartney’s R&Binspired “Oh! Darling,” one of the more underrated and under-performed numbers in the Beatles’ catalog, the vocal accented by the silhouetted figure of ballet dancer Makaila Teagle, whose movements were seen through a shadowy back-wall scrim.

Musical director Mary Kay Altizer, who provided many of the arrangements and played keyboard at the concert, directed a lovely version of “And I Love Her,” sung by Cat Mathews and accompanied by the string orchestra. And in probably the most enthusiastically received performance of the evening, Annija Teteris was revealed as a Janis Joplin-in-the-making with a fiery delivery of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” a song from McCartney’s eponymous solo album, which he recorded as the group was breaking up during the winter of 1969-70.

Singers from the Academy of Music and Business in Tingsryd, Sweden—who are here as part of Oaks Christian’s Global Music Education exchange project— contributed powerful performances, notably on “Drive My Car” (accompanied by a projected montage of British automobile highway scenes), John Lennon’s peace anthem “All You Need Is Love” and Paul McCartney’s country-flavored “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” among others.

A lovely instrumental version by the string orchestra of “Norwegian Wood,” the OC Voices’ choral rendering of “Here Comes the Sun” and the intermediate guitar class’s lovely playing of “Blackbird” were effective changes of pace. Otherwise, the sound was generally over-amplified with a preponderance of echo that was superfluous sonic overkill. The stylish “Eleanor Rigby,” which the Beatles recorded with a string octet, was given an ill-fitting, raucous arrangement that didn’t match the bittersweet melancholy of the original recording.

Aside from the lack of context and history, it’s gratifying to still hear the Beatles’ music a half century after its heyday, performed by students whose parents weren’t even born when the group was active.