Wind Ensemble is an honor group for sophomore through senior musicians. Students perform music by a wide range of composers, such as Bernstein, Grainger, Holst and Ticheli. The group has performed Handel’s Messiah and Orff's Carmina Burana with the Concert Choir and Orchestra. They will perform in Carnegie Hall in April 2017.

 



Inside Story: Director of Bands, Michael James, Talks About the Wind Ensemble's Carnegie Hall Experience (April 2017)

A conversation with Gary Haarsager, Ballard High School Wind Ensemble Parent


In 2016, the Ballard High School Wind Ensemble was invited to perform at the New York International Music Festival at Carnegie Hall. What were your thoughts then on the music your musicians might play?

Michael James:  When we received the invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall, I immediately started thinking about our program. I knew that this was an exceptional opportunity for us, so I wanted to play music that would both challenge and inspire the students.

How did you go about selecting music to play at Carnegie Hall? Did you intend from the start to perform two or more works?

I spoke with some of my friends and colleagues who teach in the area at the collegiate level. I knew that we had a twenty-minute time slot, and I wanted to make sure to fill up as much of that time as possible. When you play at Carnegie Hall, you want to maximize your time on that stage. On the recommendations of my colleagues, I quickly narrowed down to the two pieces that we performed.

Of all the music out there, why the Overture to "Candide" and "Give Us This Day"? What attracted you to these pieces?

The Overture to "Candide" was chosen because its composer, Leonard Bernstein, used to conduct at Carnegie Hall. As one of the world’s most famous conductors, I wanted to honor him and his legacy in the space where he conducted. "Give Us This Day" was selected for its difficulty — the composer, David Maslanka, is known for his intense writing — as well as the emotion present in the piece. The opening starts very quietly and has an ethereal sound before launching into the fast and loud second movement. With the music in order, "Candide"and then "Give Us This Day", the program would go fast-slow-fast.

Talk about the practices and rehearsals.

The three months of rehearsals included several listening sessions, slow repetition while learning the more difficult passages and just convincing the students they could successfully perform these pieces. Both are staples in the repertoire, and are quite impressive to anyone who hears them. And both have their own technical and musical challenges. So, the students put in a lot of hard work in preparing their parts, which also included sectionals inside and outside of school.

When did you feel the Wind Ensemble was ready for Carnegie Hall and why?

When we performed these pieces at the Ingraham Band Festival (Elliott Bay Music Educators Association Band Festival, March 28th), I knew that we were ready for Carnegie Hall. The emotional journey that both the audience and players felt in that performance was quite outstanding. I heard from several people from other schools how we blew everyone away at that festival, and I was hoping that we could achieve the same sense of accomplishment in New York.

The music for the outdoor concert at the Central Park Bandshell included the Overture to "Candide" and the "Summer of ’69" medley. What was its appeal?

An outdoor performance should be light and fun. I wanted to play "Candide" in order to give us a chance to run through it before we played it in Carnegie Hall. We had very little rehearsal time in New York, and that run-through was definitely needed. It is a crowd pleaser and there was little pressure, at least not as much as there would be at Carnegie Hall. "Summer of ‘69" was a medley of Woodstock tunes that the group played at our ‘60s-themed Spaghetti Dinner earlier in the school year, and I knew that that piece would also be fun for both the players and our audience at Central Park. I was so thankful that it was a beautiful, sunny day as well.

The trip to New York City: Do you think the many group experiences for the Wind Ensemble kids had an impact on their performances?

Traveling with an ensemble always brings the students closer together. The few days we had just exploring the city as a group gave the students the time to hang out with their friends, and experience the sights and sounds of New York in a way that they will never experience it again. All of this happened before our performance, and I definitely feel that it helped the Wind Ensemble students to bond before they played on the biggest stage in the world.

Your thoughts and observations on the performance at Carnegie Hall.

Carnegie Hall is one of the most beautiful stages in the world. Visually and aurally, the hall is amazing. We could hear and experience the music in a new way, and our sound check was quite exhilarating and overwhelming. We were able to run through most of the music on stage, and the kids were completely focused on their performance. They wanted to perform extremely well and they did.

You and the Wind Ensemble were presented with a Gold Award at the 11th Annual International Music Festival. Bravo. How did that feel to you and your musicians?

I was most excited that we had all been on this journey together for three months, and the musicians nailed their performance. The sense of accomplishment and pride that the students felt after our performance was amazing. The audience reaction and the lengthy standing ovation that we received were incredible. The Gold Award, while well-deserved, was a by-product of the hard work that the students put into this performance. It felt really great to achieve the top rating at the festival, but it was more special for me to see the students’ faces beaming and to know that they had a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What does all this mean to the Ballard High School Performing Arts Program, the students and families going forward?

I hope that this trip inspires the Wind Ensemble to attain even further heights. I have never played music that was as challenging as what we played at Carnegie Hall, and it was a thrill for me to see my students achieve a new level of musicianship. The Ballard Performing Arts Program has had many successes and accomplishments, and I am thrilled to add this performance to that list. I know that the parents of the students involved, many of whom were able to come to New York to watch us, were also inspired by our performance and hopefully will continue to support future endeavors that we aspire to. It truly takes a team and Ballard High School is lucky to have an amazing team to make experiences like this happen.

Closing thoughts and observations?

While I do hope to return to Carnegie Hall someday, I will wait several years before applying again. I want to keep the experience a unique and special one. But, be on the lookout for other special experiences for the Ballard Band students!



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