By Alex Haglund
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” ask the old joke. “Practice, practice, practice.” The NCHS Band played at Carnegie Hall on Monday, June 13, and the Choir sang at the Statue of Liberty on Friday, June 10, and while they certainly have all practiced, a lot, it took a little more than just practice to get them there.
What It Took
For starters, it took four charter buses– there were 105 NCHS musicians, singers and Stingers dancers, as well as nine NCHS chaperones, and 98 family members. Other NCHS Music fans took their own trips but met them out there. All told, there were about 230 people, give or take, in New York City from Nashville Community High School.
Getting there also took a lot of will, a lot of work, and a lot of money.
“I don’t think every town would get behind their kids the way our town does,” said NCHS Band Director Steve Browne. “We wouldn’t have been able to go out there if they hadn’t.”
Overall, the all-inclusive costs for the trip were $1,179 per band member, and $955 per choir member. Just to perform at Carnegie Hall, the cost would be $449 per student.
Browne said he went to the NCHS Music Boosters and told them what his plans were and what the cost would be and said, “They ran with it.”
The Boosters raised $9,000 for one of the buses, and $16,000 for playing at Carnegie Hall.
“They cut that $449 in half for the students,” Browne said.
Tri–M, the NCHS Music Honor Society was able to pitch in quite a bit themselves: they were able to raise enough to put eight additional students on the buses, all by doing labor around town, volunteering, and performing.
In the end, Browne said that some people were not able to go, but for the most part, that was due to prior commitments: military service, jobs, and family or college obligations.
“The whole town kind of wrapped their arms around us and made sure we were able to go,” Browne said.
Under Lady Liberty
“It was kind of like a flash mob scene,” Browne said of the performance at the Statue of Liberty by the NCHS Choir and Stingers. “Everybody who was there could stop and watch. And we had a ton of people do that.”
“All of our people that went out with us watched, and at least that many people stopped as well,” Browne said.
The weather cooperated as well, with temperatures in the low 70s and a breeze coming in from the harbor.
“There were a lot of people out that day,” Browne said, “and a lot of people stopped to hear us sing.”
The music choices were selected to draw the crowds as well. “I picked pop music when I was planning this, so that whenever people heard us singing it, they would stop,” Browne said. “We were noticed.”
The performance at Carnegie Hall was part of a festival, and the group had to audition to be part of that. Others playing there included bands and orchestras from all over the United States and one from Norway as well.
“It wasn’t just kid ensembles either,” Browne said, and they brought their own people as well, just like we did.” The audience that the NCHS Band played for was made up of their own group, and the other ensembles and their accompanying groups.
“It was one of the finest performances I’ve heard as director in Nashville,” Browne said. “It was just amazing.”
The performance at Carnegie Hall wasn’t just about the grandeur, or the history of the hall and all of the famous musicians that have played their before. The architecture, the acoustics of that room were so much different from any place else, so made specifically for the playing and hearing of music.
“The sound that resonates in that hall is absolutely amazing,” said Browne “That’s a good and a bad thing. If you play a note wrong, you’re going to hear it.”
Browne said that the band met, then exceeded his expectations though.
“They knew it was different,” Browne said. “A bigger deal, or maybe not. Maybe it was just more special, I guess.”
New York, New York
The trip wasn’t just music though. There was plenty for the students to do in New York besides performing. The first night there, the group got dinner at the Playwright Tavern and then the whole group, “all 212 of us,” Browne said, went to Time Square.
The Statue of Liberty performance by the choir and Stingers was the next day. First, the students visited Ellis Island though, and then toured the statue and island for several hours before performing.
Later, the group split up, with about half heading to Battery Park and seeing the 9/11 Memorial, while others went to Chinatown. Then they switched.
On Saturday, the group split again, with the Choir and Stingers heading to Rockefeller Center and 5th Avenue, and a clinic with a Broadway actress. The other group did the Stardust Ellen Tour, visiting places made famous for being on different shows. In the case of the show “Friends”, Browne said he was somewhat disappointed to learn that the show had been filmed in Los Angeles and the locations they saw just influenced it.
At the clinic, the singers and Stingers worked with the actress, who told them about her career and life on Broadway. They then were able to learn a song and dance from “Alladin”, which the whole group got to see that night.
“It was a phenomenal show,” said Browne, “they didn’t pull any punches.”
Following the show though, “it was awesome to be on Broadway at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night,” Browne said. “It just doesn’t get much more New York than that!”
Sunday, it was the band’s turn for a clinic, this time with Dr. Jerry Junkin, artistic director and conductor for the Dallas Winds. Junkin listened to the musicians perform and gave them notes and tips for performing in Carnegie Hall.
The group went to Central Park next, and the students got some time to relax, wander around on their own. “Up until that point,” Browne said, “it was just go, go, go.”
That evening, dinner was at Guy’s American Grill, Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant. Despite a famously scathing review of the restaurant in The New York Times, most of the group really enjoyed the restaurant, Browne said, stating that many would probably say it was their favorite place to eat on the whole trip.
That evening, the whole group journeyed back to Rockefeller Center and went to “The Top of the Rock”, some 70 stories up, to admire the cityscape, including the Empire State Building, directly across from them.
Monday brought the Carnegie Hall performance, a tour of Radio City Music Hall, another visit to Time Square, and then home.
Making It Come Together
Browne mentioned his gratitude for all those that helped.
In particular, he mentioned his chaperones: Cindy Weathers, the assistant director, Michele Goostree, Jim Maschhoff, Haeli Williamson, Leigh Ann Cloud, Pam Kellerman, Bethany McQuiston, and Holli Weathers.
“We go to Orlando quite a bit,” Browne said. “None of our trips are easy,” but in Orlando, or at any amusement park, “you know those kids are in that park.”
“On this trip, it’s Manhattan,” Brown continued, “I guess it’s an island, but it’s an island with several million other people on it.”
While Browne said that the trip was fun for him and the chaperones as well as the students, for the adults, it was very stressful too. No one got lost or left behind, but it was due to their efforts that it worked out that way.
“I was awesome to have those people,” said Browne.
Browne also mentioned the Nashville Fire and Police Departments, who gave the buses an escort on their way out of town.
“It was really special for the kids,” said Browne, particularly those that hadn’t experience that sort of thing while playing sports.
Finally, Browne gave thanks for, “our school that continues to allow us to do this sort of thing. A big thank you goes out to our school board, our administration, our school.”