Part of an occasional series
The women’s basketball team hosted Justin-Siena on a recent night out, but that’s not why a small crowd had gathered in the parking lot outside West County High School.
The Sevastopol School, formerly known as Analy, and soon to be renamed, features a distinctive facade, commissioned as part of a WPA project from the era of the Great Depression. This space now serves as a large canvas for a dazzling light and music show. Two thousand lights on garlands hanging from the roof of the school seemed to pulsate and dance to the holiday music coming from two all-weather speakers.
Designed and performed by West County professors Walt Hays and Andy DelMonte, with the help of a few students, the show lasts 32 minutes and will run continuously every night, between 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., until New Years.
“We see this as a way to build community and bring us all together in a fun way,” Hays said.
On November 30, Devin Drew, his wife Megan and their school-aged son were part of the party. Sitting in the parking lot on a bench they pulled from the back of their van, the trio made a serious gash in a large bowl of popcorn as the iridescent sound and light washed over them.
Bring your popcorn
Devin Drew described himself as a scientist with a soft spot for the performing arts. As “Ubi Caritas” played in the background – this ethereal version was recorded by the Encore choir of El Molino in 2009 – he praised the project for “bringing the community together.”
He was referring to the acrimony that has prevailed in the West Sonoma County Union School District since last March, when its board of directors, facing growing budget deficits, voted to consolidate Analy High School with High School. El Molino in Forestville.
Indeed, the night after the Drews bathed in the light show, the board voted to cancel the plan to rename the school, ensuring West County will return to Analy soon.
The vote sparked further outrage, leading to the exit of some 300 students from the class the next morning.
The student soundtrack, vocals raised in the song, “is kind of a counter” to this ongoing clash, Drew noted.
To Megan, the show looked like a “choir, band, and computer club” collaboration.
A new tradition
This is the idea of two seasoned teachers. When they first presented the project, DelMonte and Hays weren’t trying to cool down the debate between supporters of Analy and El Molino. They just thought it would be cool to bring a new tradition to the school that employed them.
Hays, who has been in high school for 17 years, teaches Maker and Computer Programming classes. DelMonte is the school’s choir director, who explained the Jay-Z inspired caption on the back of his hoodie (“I have 99 issues, but my pitch isn’t.”) has also taught a wide range of courses in his 25 years in West County.
When DelMonte suggested a light and music show to the administration a year ago, he immediately got a nod, no pun intended. The conflicts that befell the neighborhood, following the decision to consolidate the two schools, made the slight extravagance an even better idea.
A pair of generous donations, from the Rotary Club of Sevastopol and the city’s iconic ice cream shop, Screamin ‘Mimi’s, covered most of the cost of the equipment, including LED strings, speakers and a wired pixel controller – the computerized nerve center of the show.
Before buying anything, they would check out the oracle of county music and light shows. Each December, Nathan Miller adorns his Santa Rosa home with a cutting edge extravaganza that makes the light show hosted by Clark Griswold of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation seem understated and primitive.
Miller met with the teachers at West County High over the summer and encouraged them to take the plunge. “He gave us suggestions on equipment, suppliers, who to buy from, because we had no idea,” DelMonte said.
He and Hays complemented each other well. DelMonte, with his background in audio recording, was better suited for programming lights – syncing them to music and arranging effects.