Behind the Scenes

How does Boston College prep for its annual fundraising spectacular? Take a peek behind the curtain.

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How’d these meals get here?

Harmony at the Heights

In good hands

Making the call

How’d these meals get here?

In the final hours before Pops, during final soundchecks and rehearsals, BC volunteers placed more than 6,000 bagged picnic dinners under every seat in the stands. But preparation began months earlier as Dining Services planned the gourmet menu for nearly 1,300 Pops benefactors and their guests at the tables on the Conte Forum floor, as well as VIPs and performers.

Then, about a day before the concert, 16 Dining Services leads form an assembly line of bento boxes, gourmet food, and packing supplies in the Lyons Hall kitchen. All afternoon, the ensemble fills the production room with a chorus of sounds: the tap of lids, the ripping of packing tape, the laughter. Associate Director of Food and Beverage Frank Bailey, led the assembly process this year. “It takes a tremendous amount of work and we get people from all over Dining Services to help,” he says. “Everyone has a lot of fun and there’s a lot of chattering back and forth.” Among those on assembly this year were longtime dining services staff members Benvinda Sena, who has assembled Pops bento boxes for 21 years; Pedro Garcia, who has been at BC for 41 years and who has been part of this crew for about 18 years; and Mike Killeen who has 12 years of Pops experience.

Most years, boxes are filled with a beef, a seafood, and a variety of seasonal vegetables. But what item will you never find in a Pops bento box? Bleu cheese. “The recipes we make not only need to look good and taste good, they also need to smell good,” says Scott Levine, first cook, who has been at BC for 20 years. “We definitely consider the impact of strong scents in an enclosed space!”

Harmony at the Heights with John Finney

Conductor of the University Chorale at Boston College

It’s John Finney’s 30th year at BC—and his 30th Pops on the Heights scholarship gala. He is one of only a handful of BC staff and faculty who has had a role in every program since 1993. With plans to retire this year, John feels bittersweet about this year’s concert.

What has it been like for you to work with students to prepare for Pops on the Heights?

It’s a quick process. Students audition for the University Chorale during the first week of September. And in the three weeks following auditions, we put together the music for the Pops concert and then they are singing in front of 7,000 people with one of the greatest orchestras in the world, and one of the greatest conductors in the world. Pops is an event like no other; it’s so exciting. I love watching their faces when they come into Conte Forum and they see it transformed into this magnificent place that it is for Pops.

What is the timeline of the day of Pops for you and the Chorale?

That day is pretty exciting and very full. Most students have classes that morning and then in the afternoon they come to Conte Forum. We rehearse with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Then students have a little break to go back to their residence halls, eat and put their concert dress on, and then they come back and sing the concert. It’s a whirlwind of a day. And because the Boston Pops operate the way they do, which I love about them, is that everything is timed down to the minute so we have just enough time to go through each piece once, maybe twice. The best compliment we ever get is when we sing our piece once and Keith Lockhart says, “That’s great. Let’s go on to the next piece.”

This is your last year performing at Pops. How are you feeling?

I can’t say how grateful I am to Jim Cleary who came up with the brilliant idea to bring the Boston Pops to Boston College and to get the Chorale to sing with them. When I was hired, I said, “That’s a tall order to have to sing within three weeks.” But we did it—and it’s been so energizing and exciting since then.

I especially love watching how that one single event galvanizes a whole huge group of 100 students. Pops brings them together into a cohesive, cooperative, collaborative, and compassionate group. By the end of the show, they have made some of the best friends that they’ll ever have. Boston College students are full of energy, enthusiasm, and commitment. I’m going to miss them so much.

How do you get the entire University Chorale to bow at exactly the same time?

When I started at Boston College in 1993, I inherited a number of things. One being the Chorale bow, which I had never seen a full chorus do a bow before altogether. Often, the conductor will acknowledge the chorus by pointing to them and they smile, but the University Chorale of Boston College has their own bow. And here’s how they do it. They go down. And as they’re going down, they say “For Boston” silently. And as they come back up, they say “For Boston” silently. So it’s “For Boston, for Boston”, and the entire Chorale does it together. It’s magnificent.

What is your favorite way to warm up the Chorale?

I think probably any voice teacher would agree with me that the best way to warm up your voice is to start by doing lip trills. And I swear on a stack of Bibles to the Chorale when I asked them to do that, I said I will never allow anybody to film you doing this because you look so silly doing it, but boy, it’s a good way to warm up your vocal cords. And luckily, they all understand that now. But I don’t mind showing you what it looks like. It’s such a great way to warm up. And I would encourage anybody to do it. It’s a great way to warm up your voice.

In good hands with Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart

Conductor of the Boston Pops

Keith Lockhart has led the Boston Pops since 1995, succeeding conductor John Williams. And for almost all of that time, he’s been an integral part of BC’s Pops on the Heights. Between rehearsals in Conte Forum, he sat down to answer a few questions about what it’s like to direct this signature event.

How do you select the pieces for each Pops on the Heights?

Pops on the Heights is a big party, so our selections tend to be on the louder and more raucous side than other concerts we put on. We try to make sure it’s a concert that everybody will enjoy. We want them to have a wonderful impression of the Boston Pops and even more love for Boston College.

Do you have any Pops on the Heights pre-concert rituals?

My pre-concert ritual involves a lovely catered dinner and a lot of coffee.

What do you look forward to every year at Pops?

Every year I look forward to seeing what kind of a show will be put on around the music. I also love hearing the University Chorale and the BC student selected to sing a solo with the Boston Pops. There are so many talented people who make up the BC family.

Show caller Ariadne Villarreal

Ariadne “Ari” Villarreal has worked on eight Pops on the Heights galas. As the show caller, she takes all of the separate aspects of the evening—the lighting, sound, video content, music, and more—and puts them together to create a seamless, cohesive evening for the audience.

“This is an event that not only Boston College loves, but that the Boston Pops love, and that the vendors who come every year love. We all look forward to Pops on the Heights. I am so proud to work on this every year. And as soon as the show is over, we start planning for next year. We want to make 2023 even better. Maybe we will shake it up completely—who knows!”

30th Pops by the Numbers

Months before the gala, Dining Services begins to brainstorm menus and flavors

Hours to install 6,000 balloons in the Conte Forum rafters

Bento box meals assembled

Individual portions in one beef tenderloin

Picnic-style meals distributed, one for every seat in the stands

University Chorale singers

Years that Dining Services Production Lead Pedro Garcia has worked at BC

Tables on the floor and mezzanine



Jill Caseria

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