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Hendersonville High School's symphonic band rose to the occasion at Carnegie Hall in New York City last week, bringing the audience of students and parents to their feet for an extended ovation.
"They got six bows," said Fran Shelton, the HHS director of bands.
The Symphonic Band, the more experienced of the two HHS bands that performed, played after the 107-member Concert Band, a combined ensemble of the more experienced and the younger musicians.
"The first group that went on was the combined band and they played well but they probably did not play their potential," Shelton said. "We had to wait. They held us because they weren't ready. It was tough on the kids to be put in that situation. They played really well but musically they did not cut loose. That wait got to their nerves a little bit. It sounded fine. The average listener wouldn't have known but the kids knew."
After the Concert Band performance, the Symphonic Band musicians waited to go back on stage.
"I basically told them they had one more opportunity to just let loose and play musically because they would never get that opportunity again," she said. "They went out ready to take it all. They played magnificent. They exceeded what anybody thought they'd do ..."
The 68-piece band played "Men of Ohio," a march by Henry Fillmore, and then plunged into a moving performance of "Aurora Awakes," a college-level piece by John Mackey.
The gift of a second chance seemed to lift the young musicians to another level.
"When they went back out there, they went back with a vengeance," Shelton said.
Four days after the performance, Shelton had not received the official judges' scoring.
"I know what the score is," she said. "They played fabulous. That band got straight A's down the page ... They were the best of the best and they weren't nervous, which is the great part. The challenge was how musical and how memorable it could be. The entire audience was on their feet before we got out that last note."
Parents and high school musicians in the audience were moved to tears. "And the kids on the stage, some of them were crying because they knew they had nailed it," Shelton said.
Jazz Band rocks
The musicians and their entourage of chaperones next boarded a cruise ship on the Hudson for a tour of the city, including the Statue of Liberty and the new World Trade Center. The HHS Jazz Band performed on board the ship.
"They played the first eight notes of 'September' by Earth, Wind and Fire and the students went berserk," Shelton said. "It was like we were at a rock concert. The students went crazy. That screaming at the top of their lungs went on for 30 minutes."
It was another successful trip for the HHS Band, which added a second Carnegie Hall performance to a long list of shows at nationally renowned concert halls. The band kids and their chaperones also toured the Sept. 11 Memorial, Times Square and other sights and saw the Disney musical "Newsies" on Broadway.
"The credit goes to a whole lot of people," Shelton added. "We have some amazing band parents that made it work, the faculty made it work, there was a whole lot of people behind the scenes that made it work. You can't do a trip of this magnitude unless you've got a lot of people helping and we certainly did."
The public will have one more opportunity to see the HHS band before 22 seniors bow out and Shelton goes to work on next year's edition with fresh-faced freshmen led by new seniors. But they won't be playing "Aurora Awakes."
In New York, she promised the kids, "When we get back it's all trash."
The spring concert on May 15 will be a rock'n'roll performance. She said it's the first symphonic band rock show she's ever done.