Ten years ago, 2013 alumni James Penca and a few others came up with an idea that changed BW history.
“What if we did a rock concert instead of an orchestra concert like we do in the Con? The original idea was Pink Floyd and then I got an email saying, ‘We’re doing Abbey Road in Gamble next weekend’ and that’s how it all started,” said Penca.
Just like that, the idea to put on an annual festival dedicated to playing only the Beatles had begun, said Penca.
A few days before spring break ended, Penca and friends came back to school and began rehearsing. While singing “She Came in the Bathroom Window,” the band realized that to make this a success, the album must be done to absolute accuracy, said Penca.
“What if we did every single weird little detail and recreate the album exactly how it sounds? That really became the staple for the festival. It’s not a cover, it is The Beatles,” said Penca.
The very first concert was met with little reception, said Penca.
“No one came. But the next night, all the seats were filled, the aisle was filled, the floor by the stage, the actual stage was filled, the hallway, everything was filled with people, and the energy was just electric. That’s when we decided we should do this again,” said Penca.
After the first performance and deciding to make the event annual, the BW Beatles decided they wanted to promote it to the public and expand the experience, said Dean of the Conservatory of Music, Susan Van Vorst.
“No matter what year it is or who the students are, the amount of time it takes for them, outside of all of their other responsibilities, I just honor them tremendously,” said Van Vorst.
Ten years later and the new era of BW Beatles are ready to perform, said Van Vorst.
“It changes every year literally and part of the reason for that is because the Beatles are different every year. It’s ever changing,” said Van Vorst.
Ben Senneff, BW Beatles vocalist and sectional leader, said after each year, slight changes take place.
“We stay pretty true to the original. I think every year since its creation, we start to add a little bit of our own kind of flare onto it,” said Senneff.
With this year being the 10th annual fest, Senneff said the BW Beatles decided to perform what is arguably the most famous Beatles album: Stg. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“This album especially is a great culmination for the 10th year anniversary because the Beatles never intended to perform this album live,” said Senneff. “They basically made it impossible to play live, so it’s been a fun challenge to try and recreate and to improv on what’s been done previously.”
Van Vorst said the performance gives the chance for community members and students to come together.
“It’s so much fun for one thing, the energy is off the charts, it’s a really fabulous opportunity for our community to come together,” said Van Vorst. “This really is something that is broadly celebrated around campus. You can’t sit there without having a smile on your face.”
Joshua Arkangel, keyboardist and music director, said the festival has always been popular for not only the BW community but for the Berea community.
“I’m excited to do all of this live. A lot of people come from all over, just to hear the music. And it’s always fun and exciting to see, people get just such a rush,” said Arkangel. “There also seems to be a sense of community with these concerts. Everybody gets into it. There’s just something about BW Beatles, it just brings people together.”
Soulier said the performance brings a tradition of those who share love for The Beatles.
“It’s not random people who come, it’s people who genuinely love the Beatles and know their music,” said Soulier.
Van Vorst said the worldwide inspiration of The Beatles helps create an eventful atmosphere.
“It’s this really fun tradition that now we can say is a tradition and ten years is a long time. It speaks a great deal to the power of the music that was created by the Beatles and their legacy,” said Van Vorst.
Senneff, Soulier, and Arkangel are the only three returning members of the BW Beatles from last year.
The festival is performed over two nights, with a student preview on Friday, March 20 at 7 p.m., and two shows on Saturday, March 21 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.