A group of Gaither High School band students are gearing up this week to perform in a major music festival at one of the world’s most historic venues.
The Gaither High Wind Ensemble, which consists of 50 students, is one of a select group of school band programs invited to the National Band and Orchestra Festival on April 15, at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
The adjudicated, unranked festival brings together high school bands and orchestras from across the country, giving them the rare invitation into one of the most prestigious music venues in the world. About 70 other Gaither band students will also be making the trip, but won’t perform, according to third-year band director Luis Alvarez.
The students, along with the band director and several parent chaperones, leave for the four-day New York trip on April 13.
The wind ensemble, the school’s top performing band, was selected for the festival, thanks to an audition tape submitted in 2015.
The tape featured the ensemble performing a couple of selections, including two movements of Howard Hanson’s “Romantic Symphony.”
“The kids are incredibly gifted,” Alvarez said.
At Carnegie, the ensemble is scheduled to play three scores on-stage: “The Crosley March” by Henry Fillmore and Robert Foster; “Irish Tune from County Derry” by Percy Grainger; and, “Fanfare and Allegro” by Clifton Williams.
Following the performance, the ensemble will receive written and recorded comments from a group of renowned adjudicators.
They include: Frank Battisti, conductor emeritus at the New England Conservatory of Music; Craig Kirchoff, conductor and band director at the University of Minnesota; Charles Peltz, director of wind ensembles at the New England Conservatory of Music; and, Robert Reynolds, principal conductor of the Wind Ensemble at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music.
The ensemble, along with Alvarez, also will meet with each adjudicator individually, providing a valuable learning experience.
“These are some of the largest—or most important—names in wind bands,” Alvarez explained. “It’s like if you’re going to a basketball camp and you have (Michael) Jordan and Magic (Johnson) working with you.
“The advice they give us will 100 percent be clinic to practice, and used for the future,” he said.
Members of Gaither’s wind ensemble, such as junior Raina Sparks, are also thrilled for the unique opportunity to perform at Carnegie, and “grow musically.”
“I’m really excited to share that experience with so many musical greats,” said Sparks, who plays the French horn. “It’s really cool that we have the opportunity to do that as a high school group.”
Since March, Alvarez said ensemble practices “ramped up quite a bit,” in advance of the festival, including two after-school rehearsals per week.
“The kids are wonderful—and that’s the fun part,” Alvarez said. “It would be tough to do if I had to pull teeth, but they’re so self-motivated. It’s been a very fun process.”
Besides Carnegie Hall, Gaither band students will also explore various parts of New York City throughout the trip.
The group is planning to visit a pair of museums — American Museum of Natural History, National September 11 Memorial & Museum — and see a Broadway show.
“We’re going to go to a few sightseeing things. We’ll get a chance to experience New York, in general,” Alvarez said.
Over the next several years, Alvarez said he’d like to take the high school band to other music festivals across the country, such as Bands of America in Indianapolis, or the Midwest Clinic in Chicago.
For the time being, his sole focus is the looming visit to Carnegie.
“There are goals that we have for the program,” Alvarez said, “and this is just one other building block towards it.”
Published April 12, 2017