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WIND ENSEMBLE PERFORMS AT CARNEGIE HALL
The road to Carnegie began in 2003 and early 2004 when the Wind Ensemble made recordings of Barnes Symphony #3 and sent them out. "We were looking for extraordinary performing opportunities much like our past invitations," said McCoy. "The Lord Mayor of Dublin invited us for a concert tour of Ireland in 2001, and we were invited to the world's most prestigious jazz festival in Montreux, Switzerland in 2003."
The Ensemble was invited by Carnegie Hall in April 2004 to perform the next year. The time lapse presented a challenge because there was a constant rotation of students due to graduation and new enrollment. By the time the Ensemble finally took the stage, McCoy estimated about 40 percent of the original students had graduated. "The new students came in, picked up the ball, and ran with it," he said.
Students were excited to find out they were going to Carnegie Hall. "At first I was in disbelief when I found out that we were going to Carnegie," said Cheryl Crawford, a senior music education major from Sterling, Virginia, and five-year member of the Wind Ensemble. "It's something I've always wanted to do."
"I was really, really excited," said Mindy Crosby, a Berkeley Springs native who returned to Shepherd to study music composition. "I've been in the professional music world for about 10 years and Carnegie is the ultimate, the thing that you never get to do unless you are in the .00001 percent like the New York Philharmonic." She has been an auxiliary with the Louisville Orchestra for several years and has played with musical legends such as Ray Charles, Doc Severinsen, and Marvin Hamlisch.
Lisa Oswald, a freshman music education major from Baltimore, Maryland, found out about the opportunity to play at Carnegie when she was auditioning for Shepherd. "I was very excited about the trip because I knew playing at this hall would be the opportunity of a lifetime," she said.
To raise funds for the five-day residency in New York, the Music Department and the Friends of Music created the Carnegie Connection, a series of fund-raising events. The fund-raiser kicked off with "A Night in New York" benefit dinner and charity auction at the War Memorial building in Shepherdstown. The menu was comprised of recipes from famous New York restaurants such as Tavern on the Green and the Russian Tea Room. The entertainment was provided by the faculty, and students served as the wait staff for the event which raised more than $5,000. Oswald, who helped work the dinner, said, "People seemed to have a lot of fun, the performances there were great, and we raised a good amount of money for our trip. I had fun working there, and I felt like I was contributing something to our trip."
The Friends of Music also sponsored performances by two Carnegie pianists--Angela Hewitt and Louis Lortie--who had both performed on Shepherd's new Fazioli piano while it was at Carnegie Hall. Departmental funds and concert proceeds coupled with donations from Friends of Music and Student Government Association raised half the travel expense. Students traveling to New York only had to cover $500 of their travel costs.
To prepare for Carnegie, the Ensemble practiced together two times a week for an hour and fifteen minutes, and then each of the six 10-student sections practiced once a week for the same time period.
While in New York students stayed at the Grand Hyatt on 42nd street. "They treat you like a regular performer," said McCoy. In their free time students visited museums, the opera, Broadway, Central Park, and the symphony. Some students even made it on the Today Show, "We got a good three seconds in front of the camera," said Christine Paxson, a senior music education major from Hedgesville. After their performance they took a dinner cruise to the Statue of Liberty. The Ensemble also brought local support with them; the Friends of Music brought a bus with 60 people, and about 150 people made the trip on their own. "I think one of the biggest surprises for the students was most of the 2,400-seat auditorium was full," said McCoy.
The Carnegie Hall opening week music festival was held May 5-9, 1891, with Peter Tchaikovsky and Walter Damrosch leading the New York Symphony and Ontario Society. In the 115 years since then, Carnegie has hosted performances, lectures, and appearances by Mark Twain, Marian Anderson, George Gershwin, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Playing in the same building as such well-known people could be intimidating to some, but Shepherd students handled the challenge. "The anticipation was much more intimidating than the hall itself. There were pictures of all the famous people that had performed there that gave a 'wow' factor. I felt like we belonged there, we had worked really hard," said Crosby. "Carnegie felt like another stage," said Paxson. "As soon as I saw it my nervousness went away."
Carnegie is also known for its amazing acoustics. "I think the students needed one rehearsal to get over their awe," said McCoy. Crawford agreed. "The very first time we played on stage during rehearsal, we played a choral. During the first pause in the choral we heard the reverb, and we all just sat there sort of stunned because the acoustics were perfect," she said.
All of the students felt the performance was well received, and not just by proud parents. "It turned out that we had quite a large audience that included just regular concertgoers," said Crosby. "They went absolutely wild, and we received the very unexpected standing ovation. We knew we did a fantastic job, but to have that kind of reaction at the famous Carnegie was almost overwhelming."
"There was so much heart and emotion put into playing the music that I'm sure the audience felt just as great about the performance as we did," said Oswald. "We couldn't even finish the last piece of music before the audience started clapping," said Crawford.
The 60-member Wind Ensemble is a regularly scheduled course that is by audition-only and also open to non-music major students. Music majors audition through a jury process; they have to play before a panel of faculty members and achieve a particular rating. Non-music majors are heard individually by Dr. McCoy and comprise about 10 percent of the Ensemble. Once a student makes it in, he or she is often reappointed each year after that.
Many of the music students at Shepherd are also involved in other groups such as the Ram Marching Band, Wind Symphony, Chamber Orchestra, and the Preparatory Orchestra. Last fall members of the Ram Band played at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, and the Jazz Ensemble played at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. "There are some students who have played all three events and are a testament to the excellence of the music program at Shepherd," said McCoy.
Students feel that they have accomplished something by making it to Carnegie. "I think playing at Carnegie was a high point in all of our lives so far; it was definitely mine," said Paxson. Crosby agrees, "Since I've been back from New York all my professional music friends, whether they've played there or not, have asked me about the 'Carnegie experience.' It is everything the legends proclaim it to be." Crawford said she felt it was the experience of a lifetime, one she will more than likely tell her children and grandchildren about.
McCoy feels Shepherd's music department receives so many accolades because of a "strong commitment to excellence that pervades everything we do, and we are willing to commit the extra effort that is required to achieve these opportunities."
In Crosby's opinion the Carnegie trip speaks highly of where the program is headed. "People are really starting to talk about the music program and I think in a few years it will be very useful to have the Shepherd name on a resume."
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