Best Brass of Christmas concerts planned for Farmington, Aztec

Sunday performance will feature Aztec High School students

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Sunday's Best Brass of Christmas concert in Aztec will feature (clockwise from left) Aztec High students Aedan Wells, Charlotte Martin, Ferran Mendieta, Adrian Quintana and Alexis Acrey.

FARMINGTON — For more than a decade, a group of classical musicians whose members hail from all over New Mexico and Colorado has performed concerts in the Four Corners area focused exclusively on Christmas music.

Performing under the name Best Brass of Christmas, the group will continue that tradition this year, albeit with a twist aimed at paying homage to the students, staff and faculty members of Aztec High School who endured a shooting at the school a year ago.

Two performances are planned this weekend, with the first one being held in Farmington and the second taking place at Aztec High School. During the latter, five AHS music students — Aedan Wells, Alexis Acrey, Adrian Quintana, Charlotte Martin and Ferran Mendieta — will join their professional counterparts onstage for a performance of "Stand in the Light." The song was written by Lauren Christy and Stephan Moccio, and made famous by Jordan Smith, winner of the ninth season of "The Voice." The tune was the first single from Smith's debut album, "Something Beautiful," released in 2016.

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Best Brass of Christmas and the Aztec students will deliver a new arrangement of the song developed by Don Allen, a local composer and arranger who plays trombone with the Best Brass group.

"It's a great experience for young musicians to sit side by side with a professional group," said Connie Schulz, who helped organize the concerts and plays euphonium with Best Brass. "Their band director, Ryan Chiaravalloti, selected students he thought could benefit the most from the experience. They're great. They're into the music … and they're very excited about performing with us."

In the past, Best Brass has made a habit of performing one Christmas concert in Farmington and a second one in Colorado, in Cortez or Durango. Both performances will be in San Juan County this year, but Schulz isn't worried about doing two concerts in markets so close together.

"Aztec, I think, is often overlooked for events like this," she said. "This idea has been really well received from the school administration, the school foundation and now the five students that will be performing with us."

Allen initially was asked to compose a tune specifically for the concert, but his arrangement of "Stand in the Light" seemed to be a perfect fit, Schulz said, especially since it is a song that already is familiar to many Aztec High School students.

In a note he wrote for the program for Sunday's concert, Allen said he found the idea of putting together a piece for the one-year marker of the fatal shooting at the high school a daunting request. But as he began considering how he might meet that challenge, he said he found his thoughts drifting over and over to the use of the word light. That's when he came across the tune made famous by Smith.

" … I was immediately drawn to the strength of the vocal writing and what I saw as a universal sentiment of pride and strength, encouraging us to Stand in the Light against darkness, ignorance, senseless violence, and to promote strength, pride, and a new way forward," he wrote. "More importantly I sensed that the song could lend itself to a strong and inspiring work for brass and other student and community groups."

Schulz believes the piece will serve as the highlight of Sunday's concert, and she anticipates that its performance will be an emotional moment for musicians and audience members alike.

"It just kind of sheds light on what communities go through," she said. "Even those of us who don't have children in high school anymore are affected by these tragedies. But music has a way to heal."

This weekend's concerts also will feature performances of such well-known pieces as "O Magnum Mysterium," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Sleigh Ride," "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" and "Dona Nobis Pacem."

Saturday's concert will be presented at 7 p.m. at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 414 N. Allen Ave. in Farmington. Sunday's concert will take place at 2 p.m. at the high school, 500 E. Chaco St. Admission to both concerts is free, as they are underwritten by the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation, but donations will be accepted. Proceeds raised from the Sunday concert will be donated to the Aztec Municipal School District Foundation.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.