NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The 20 or so students arranged at the front of the room took deep breaths, grabbed their instruments and started to play.
These students performing their final recital as part of the New Brunswick School District Jazz Band Camp had been issued a challenge - a sight reading in musical parlance - in which they had to play a song after scanning through the sheet music for only a few minutes.
But when they choked back their nerves and began to breathe into their saxophones and trombones and other instruments, beautiful sounds filled this music room inside New Brunswick High School.
The students in grades 6-12 learned something in that moment that transcended music. They learned that you have to sometimes overcome obstacles to hit the high notes.
The jazz camp, which started July 1, was open to New Brunswick school district students who will be entering grades 6-12 this September. The only prerequisite was that they play an instrument - any instrument.
It was free thanks to two grants.
Hub City Jazz Festival sponsored the guest artists such as Robert Pispecky, the former supervisor of music in Edison, and Nick Santoro, NBHS Class of '69 and former president of New Jersey Music Educators Association.
Rutgers Community Health Foundation provided a $9,000 grant to sponsor the participation of New Brunswick Middle School Music Director Kaitlyn Cloud, NBHS music teacher Anthony Scardino and other teachers.
A room full of family and friends listened as the students tore through their final recital, playing six songs. They ended the set with a song that Santoro played as an NBHS student 40 years ago: "Tequila" by The Champs.
For students such as Jimy Aguilar, a student in the district's Gifted and Talented program, it was four weeks of fun and learning.
"Sometimes music can have a message in many ways - maybe with the tone, maybe with the lyrics. And I personally enjoy music because of the tone. It helps me free my emotions out a little bit more than other things," said Aguilar, who plays electric bass, double bass, guitar, alto sax and the ukulele.
For instructors such as Santoro, they got just as much out of the jazz camp as the kids.
"Kids are kids," Santoro said. "I don't care where you are or what town you're in, kids want to learn. If you teach them, they will come. They came every day because they wanted to learn. We offered them all kinds of different experiences. We bombarded them with lots of information and concepts."