She stepped onto the stage that overlooked thousands of faces in the packed Carnegie Hall. Her six and a half years as a clarinetist had all led up to this. The conductor took his place in front of the band, motioning for them to raise their instruments. She brought the wooden clarinet mouthpiece to her lips, taking a deep breath before she would play in what would be one of the biggest performances of her life. When the director cued the band to begin, she moved her fingers over the clarinet’s silver buttons, her eyes quickly following the notes on the music staff.
“When we played the last note I was sad, but it was a crazy-awesome experience,” said senior Kelsey O’Daniel, who performed at Carnegie Hall Feb. 9. “I will never forget being on stage at Carnegie Hall; the whole experience was once-in-a-lifetime and I’ll never forget it. Before [I went] I don’t think that I was comprehending everything that was going to happen, but it was awesome.”
Carnegie Hall, a concert venue for world-renowned performances, sits in the heart of Manhattan. The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Yo-Yo Ma have all performed at this famous venue.
“[Carnegie Hall] is huge; there’s orchestra seating and then there’s four upper levels,” O’Daniel said. “You step out onto the stage and you can see every seat. It’s kind of intimidating, but at the same time it’s fascinating.”
The competition for the opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall was selective; only the top caliber of high school musicians from North America and select international schools were chosen as finalists for the American High School Honors Band. Ten thousand students were nominated for band, orchestra or chorus and approximately one hundred students were selected to participate in the Honors Band.
“It is high schoolers from all over the country; just high school students like me who tried out for this ensemble. I had to be nominated for it by [NHS Band Director Eugene] Cottrell and then over the summer I had to send in an audition,” O’Daniel said. “I found out I was chosen at a Halloween party, which was crazy, and it was the day before my birthday, so it was a really nice birthday present.”
Before being chosen as a finalist, O’Daniel practiced for months under her private tutor to perfect her recorded audition.
“It took me forever to get it recorded right and I’m very happy it was a recorded audition because I could just keep doing it until I got it right,” O’Daniel said. “I had to play something that they requested for us to play, so I had to learn that, and then I played a little bit of a solo I was working with.”
After arriving in New York City, practicing the music with the ensemble was equally important.
“We started playing the day after I got there, and that was intense rehearsal. We practiced for eight hours: four hours at a time, then a lunch break, and four more hours. It was like that for two days,” O’Daniel said. “The rehearsals were fun and the conductor was awesome, but it was really physically tiring.”
O’Daniel also had the opportunity to meet fellow high schol musicians.
“It’s always nice to play with people who know what they’re doing.[ I enjoy playing] with people who have the same goal and who really want to be there,” O’Daniel said.
When she wasn’t in rehearsal, O’Daniel had the opportunity to tour the sights of New York City.
“We went to the top of ‘The Rock,’ which is the Rockefeller Center, and you could see everything from up there. We saw a Broadway show; I had seen it before but it was so much better on Broadway.” O’Daniel said. “Now that I look back at it, it kind of seems really surreal. It feels really weird to be back here after being in NewY ork City for five days.”
O’Daniel began playing clarinet in middle school. Middles chool students who are interested in participating in band can select a woodwind or brass instrument to learn.
“[The clarinet] is such a versatile instrument, you can play any style of music on it really,” O’Daniel said. “When I was in the fifth grade I was like: ‘Thisi nstrument looks awesome, I’m gonna play it.’”
Success over the years has not come without trial and error. To O’Daniel, it is part of learning.
“You just have to get over [slight mistakes]; you can’t let one mistake pull you down completely. If you just dwell on that mistake, you’re going to make more mistakes,” O’Daniel said.
While taking clarinet lessons, O’Daniel realized that she wanted to pursue music. After high school, she plans to major in music performance. She was recently accepted to the music school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and after college wants to land
a career performing with an orchestra or playing in pits for musicals.
“Before I started band, I always liked music. I was never really sure what I wanted to do after high school, and since I started taking clarinet lessons, it just opened so many doors…. I know it’s what I want to do,” O’Daniel said.
Her choice to pursue music as a career is supported by her family and friends, but the media makes it seem like a risky career choice.
“I haven’t heard any negativities from anybody in my life; usually people are super supporting. My family is so supportive,” O’Daniel said. “From media and outside of my life I hear musicians don’t make enough money, but I don’t really let that get to me.”
O’Daniel knows that she wouldn’t be where she is today or be able to expand her talent if she did not set aside time in her day to practice.
“If you’re a musician and you want to do it, just practice like crazy,” O’Daniel said. “[People] ‘say what does it take to get to Carnegie Hall?’ Just practice, practice, practice.”
— Kenya Lee