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How Do They Get to Carnegie Hall? Raise $180,000

Ojai band and choir students are invited to perform. Now all they need is to fund the trip.

November 18, 2002|Gail Davis | Special to The Times

Miles Davis played Carnegie Hall. So did Pablo Casals and Tchaikovsky.

But unlike Brad Halverson, who plays bassoon and saxophone in Nordhoff High School's symphonic band, they didn't have to juggle school work or pitch candy for a chance to play at the fabled New York venue.

Brad, 16, is among 120 Nordhoff band and choir students who have been invited to join other award-winning choristers from across the country in performing Mozart's Requiem at Carnegie Hall in April.

Before the Ojai contingent starts packing, however, it must raise $180,000 to make the trip. With the help of a parent booster group, they are using everything from silent auctions to fund-raising concerts and candy sales to meet their goal.

These aren't the only Ventura County students invited to play in some of the world's greatest concert halls.

Ventura's Buena High School band played in Castellon, Spain, last year and has been invited to perform in Rome. Westlake High School's band will perform at the Sydney Opera House in Australia in July.

Such high-profile music events have become more common in recent years among high school students.

For the last five years, Bill Wagner, Nordhoff's music director, has used big performance trips to inspire and motivate his students. April's trip will be the second he has organized to the Big Apple.

In addition to paying their own way, Nordhoff's students must master seven fugal choruses that Mozart was working on when he died. But Wagner, 41, has a reputation for setting high standards for his students, and Nordhoff's band and choir routinely place high in competitions.

Wagner weaves music theory into choir and band practices and encourages private lessons. In fact, about half the band members and a third of the choir receive private instruction. Many students also perform in local theater productions, and several instrumentalists play in jazz combos and other groups.

Although a big event like the New York concert can be intimidating, Wagner said he expects his students to perform like professionals, whether it's at a local parish hall or Carnegie Hall.

"It's a whole new venue," Wagner said of the famed New York theater. "But in terms of their reaction when they walk out onstage, I think it will be one of, 'Yes, we've been here before. We know what to do.' "

Meanwhile, his students are already compiling their sightseeing lists. The Empire State Building and ground zero of the 9/11 terrorist attack rank high. Higher still is dinner and a Broadway show. "The Producers," they say, would be cool, but it's sold out.

But all this costs money, and the students must still pay their own way. That means juggling school, homework, SATs and a social life, while raising the princely sum of $1,400 each.

Although some parents will help with the costs of their child's trip, sharing in the financial responsibility is as important a lesson for students as studying Mozart, Wagner said. So now, the work begins.

Freshman Emma North, a 14-year-old flutist, has staked out her candy-selling table in front of a Vons supermarket.

Senior Ruben Salinas, 17, who sings bass and plays saxophone, is selling candy, giving private music lessons and performing in a jazz group. He said he might even play sax some days next to Emma, by the supermarket door.

Senior Breann Keller, 17, is baby-sitting, and senior Das Baker, 17, plans a whole range of activities, plus, he says, "a wing and a prayer."

And of course, they all practice, practice, practice.

"Somewhere in the weeks before, it's going to hit me," Brad said. "I'm performing where Miles Davis and Tchaikovsky played."

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