New York Wind Ensemble Festival At Carnegie Hall

Mike Lawson • Features • May 11, 2018

The full range of human emotions were present when the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Wind Ensemble from Parkland, Florida took the Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall on the evening of March 6 for an unusual encore to their earlier adjudicated performance.

While much attention was directed to Douglas, a total of eight musical organizations performed that day.

These included six high school groups during the afternoon adjudicated concerts and two college-level groups in the evening. These high school ensembles included the Kingsburg High School Wind Ensemble from California, the Central High School Wind Ensemble from Fresno, California, James C. Enoch High School from Modesto, California, two units including a wind ensemble and wind symphony from Briar Woods High School in Brambleton, Virginia, and the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Wind Ensemble from Parkland, Florida.

The Kingsburg High School Wind Ensemble, one of the three California schools featured this year, found this appearance a community-wide experience. Kingsburg is a small community of only about 10,000 people. With a total trip cost of $115,000, the students and parents turned to their community to raise the necessary funds. The Kingsburg Vikings are directed by Mike Schofield.

From Fresno, California, the Central High School Wind Ensemble also prepared for their trip and their performance in New York. Leonard Ingrande, the director and assistant director, Sarah Pearce, put in extra hours and intensity to prepare their musician students for this opportunity. In addition to their memories and sense of accomplishment, Central took home top honors in this adjudicated event, the Gold Award. One student’s reaction to this award was that the “we are all humbled, blessed and ecstatic!” The James C. Enochs High School Wind Ensemble is from Modesto, California. Like the other participating ensembles, it is just part of a comprehensive music education program.

An orchestra, symphonic band, marching band, jazz groups, percussion ensembles and color guard round out the program. The department is headed by three seasoned directors, Phil Vallejo, William Melendez, and Patrick Mester. The music program consistently places a significant number of musicians in the Southern California Music Educators Association Honors Band. An Echols bandmember responding to a teacher rating survey allowed, “Is being in band hard? Absolutely, but it makes me want to do better!” This student inadvertently graded band participation across the country. He gets an A+ for that!

Briar Woods High School in Brambleton, Virginia had the distinct honor of having two different ensembles selected to perform, their symphony winds and their wind ensemble. The Briar Woods music program is headed by Duane Minnick, who was the founding director at this school in 2005. In addition to the two units appearing at Carnegie, the school’s music program includes the Falcon Regiment Marching Band, two jazz ensembles, the Falconares Color Guard, and Winter Guard and Drumline.

Minnick’s thirty-one years of experience as a high school music/band director have taken Briar Woods units to a number of major events across the country, as well as Hawaii for the Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary, the New Year’s Parade in London, England, and two prior Carnegie Hall Wind Ensemble Festivals. Community support and involvement is provided by a large and very active band booster organization.

Excellence begets excellence. For 27 years, the Stoneman Douglas music program has generated success at every turn. Recent successes have included two Otto J. Kraushaar awards, Florida’s highest band award which is given for an entire year of superior ratings by all judges at all levels of competition. This was the second consecutive year for not one, but two Kraushaar awards! This accomplishment recognizes a consistent level of high performance. Their wind symphony opened the afternoon adjudicated concert series that would feature all six high school music groups with the Gavorkna Fanfare. Works by Stamp, Markowski, Mahler, Nelhybel, were followed by a premier of a new work by Jeremy Van Buskirk. Stoneman Douglas High School was especially honored by being invited to perform an encore as part of the evening concert. This writer had previously witnessed the Douglas High School Eagle Regiment Marching Band take top score honors among 32 high school bands at the Florida Marching Band Championships in the Tropicana Bowl last November 20th.

The New York Wind Ensemble Festival at Carnegie Hall is presented by World Projects Corporation, an independent music production and tour corporation, in collaboration with Carnegie Hall. This festival includes a full week in New York with educational visits to a number  of cultural sites including the 9/11 site and museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Statue of Liberty, and others. Perhaps unique to this festival are joint rehearsals that pair two of the ensembles to rehearse both of their programs. This means that one group is essentially sight reading the other’s program and relying on peer guidance.

While World Projects conducts these programs, Carnegie Hall offers a broad array of their own in-house educational programs. These include, under the Weill Music Institute, three New York City focused programs, the National Youth Orchestra-USA and an apprenticeship program for non-instrumentalist roles in orchestra. The orchestra has already been selected for 2018. They will appear in a Carnegie Hall concert and then will perform at a number of sites across Asia.

The apprenticeships include conducting, composing, management and library functions. Applications for the 2019 orchestra and the apprenticeship programs will be available in September. The 2019 National Youth Orchestra will perform at a number of European sites.

So, what does it take to play Carnegie Hall and how does your music education program stack up? A review of the five high schools performing at this year’s New York Wind Ensemble Festival reveals a number of common traits. Primary is a broad and comprehensive music program offering. Most include a variety of ensembles, concert or symphonic bands, and an emphasis on solo, duet, and other small combination performances. The directors and staff are well-experienced. Schools and school systems should be aware of that factor in filling these positions if the goal of the school music program is to participate in these national and international events. Consistency of excellent performances is seen. No performance should be acceptable or satisfactory if it doesn’t attempt to be perfect. Why should it matter if your community and high school music program ever achieve the Carnegie Hall level of performance?

Perhaps the best summary of the importance of participation in events like the Carnegie Hall Wind Festival is found in excerpts from the Stoneman Douglas letter sent to its new band members and their families. “When you join the band at MSD, you become a member of a special organization that derives its strength from its diversity and active membership, one that strives for the highest levels of excellence.” This is later followed by, “Participation in the Stoneman Douglas band program is much more than performance preparation, it reinforces the importance of self-discipline as the foundation of a healthy self-esteem, group pride, personal satisfaction and aesthetic joy.”

Much has been made in the press about the Douglas ensemble participating in this festival just weeks after the tragic shooting at their school. Two band members were among the seventeen victims.

Scholarship funds have been created to honor the two, Alex Schacter and Gina Montalto. The Douglas Wind Ensemble appearance and excellent performance at Carnegie Hall underlines the very basics of music and music education.

Commitment to their school and community as well as to performing at their very best was evident. Honoring the excellence of their music program and all those who had participated before them and understanding that music, their music, has the power to heal and console. A contributor to one of the scholarships, a “band mom and mother to a trombonist” offered, “may your memories and the music bring you… and all of us…HOPE!”

Band director Alexander Kaminsky, previously recognized by SBO as one of the “50 Directors Who Make a Difference,” observed, “As we took the stage at Carnegie Hall, I was stunned at the high level of performance displayed by my students. I was asking myself, ‘How can they be playing like this after not only going through one of the worst tragedies of our lives, but also missing two weeks of rehearsals!’ The afternoon performance was so inspiring that we were asked to close the festival that evening with an encore.” He went on to add, “The emotion at that encore performance was breathtaking! Tears were rolling down the faces of audience members and performers alike. It was the longest standing ovation of my nearly thirty years as a band director!”

So, what did the 65 young members of the Douglas Wind Ensemble and all the other performing musicians and attendees feel, experience and take away from these concerts at Carnegie Hall?

Some expressed that they appreciated being able to immerse themselves in music and one said, “Music is a coping mechanism.” In spite of numerous interviews by every manner of press and major news outlets, only God really knows, but what we do know is that the key was music.

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