How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.
It’s an old chestnut, but no joke to dozens of young Somers musicians who are hoping to make it to the historic New York City venue.
The Somers High School’s band submitted a tape of its spring concert and was chosen by the prestigious nonprofit, Manhattan Concert Productions, to perform there in April.
According to Somers music teacher and band director Terry Reynolds, it got the golden ticket by submitting a recording of its performances of “Children’s March,” a piece written in the early 1900s by Australian composer Percy Grainger; and Brian Balmages’ “Midnight on Main Street,” a work conceived as the underscore to a fictional fireworks show.
The band’s ticketed performance is scheduled for Monday, April 6.
“We would love to have a packed house,” he said.
The band plans to perform Richard Rodgers’ “Victory at Sea” in honor of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, and, in both a reminder that former enemy Japan has evolved into a close ally and a nod to Somers’ reputation as “The Cradle of the American Circus,” a piece written by Japanese composer Hiroki Takahashi called “Circus Town Parade March.”
It will also play “Black Tie Blu-bop” by J. Scott McKenzie, which had been commissioned for the Virginia Tech Honor Band.
It wasn’t intended as a homage to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, but sounds, the composer says, like something they would play. It combines elements of bluegrass, jazz, funk, blues—and everything in between.
Banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, a 16-time Grammy winner, grew up in Manhattan but spent lots of time with his grandparents in Peekskill, where he got his first banjo.
During the three-day spring 2020 event, participants will get to play and hear other ensembles, receive written and recorded critiques from nationally recognized clinicians, participate in a private clinic and attend a Broadway show.
The students will also get a tour of Carnegie Hall, known for its beauty, history and spectacular acoustics. They will stay and rehearse at a Times Square hotel. The dress rehearsal will be held at Carnegie Hall.
Reynolds said he and his students are “beyond thrilled” and “humbled” to have been chosen for the gig from among hundreds of applicants.
STARS (Somers Tuskers Arts Rising Stars) is helping raise money to help defray the per-student cost of $1,200. Fifty kids in the band are expected to go; six can’t because of prior commitments.
Stating the obvious, not everyone has that kind of moola.
The district can’t subsidize the trip because, Reynolds said, it’s not a budgeted expense and is an “unexpected honor or event.”
The students have been raising funds by holding such events as candy sales. On Saturday, Nov. 23, band members plan to hold a “rehearse-athon”—similar to a walkathon—to raise funds.
STARS is also looking for financial help from the Somers Education Foundation, the district’s Parent-Teacher Association and, of course, the public.
The kids “are working very hard,” said Reynolds. “We want as many of them as possible to have this experience.”
Manhattan Concert Productions needs a roster of the students by Dec. 2, but offers a payment plan.
Reynolds has been teaching in Somers for three decades. It has yet to get old, he says: “I’m still having a lot of fun.”
That’s due, he says, to the enthusiasm shown by the students and the commitment made by the district, which snagged a gold medal from the New York State School Music Association in 2016.
Somers has also been named by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMMF) as one of the best communities for music education for four years in a row. Only 500 districts earn than honor each year, Reynolds said.
According to Aileen Epstein, a STARS member and mom of a student who’s in chorus and musical theater, the arts in every iteration—drama, band, orchestra, musical theater, chorus—are well-supported at all of the district’s schools.
The professionalism of the students and the quality of performances—especially at the high school level—is “amazing,” Epstein says.
“It blows me away every time.”
TO PITCH IN
To contribute to the band’s Carnegie adventure: https://www.myschoolbucks.com/ver2/stores/catalog/getlistproducts?selectedCategories=ZZITOGLMOA0PYXM
Or, mail a check to: Somers High School, Attn: Somers STARS, 120 Primrose St., Lincolndale, NY 10540.