A Carnegie Hall Cliffhanger

The clock is ticking on fundraising efforts to send the USF Wind Ensemble to perform at the legendary concert hall next week; preview concert at USF is Thursday.

USF Director of Bands John Carmichael rehearses with the Wind Ensemble in preparation for the March 4 appearance at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Aimee Blodgett | USF News

By Barbara Melendez

     USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 25, 2014) – The USF Wind Ensemble practiced, practiced and practiced some more because that’s how you get to Carnegie Hall and that’s where these talented young musicians are headed – they hope. That’s because to appear on the time-honored stage of one of America’s most celebrated concert halls takes something more.

The Carnegie Hall event is scheduled to take place March 4 at 8 p.m., that is, if that “something more” comes through. A preview concert for the USF community titled “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? The Answer,” will be presented Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the School of Music Concert Hall.

The effort to take a group of 62 to New York City for three days carries a hefty price tag – even when much of the trip has been pared down to the barest of essentials. It takes $80,000 in fact, at a time when budgets everywhere are under pressure and dollars for the arts appear to be shrinking.

When the invitation arrived from World Projects for USF to be part of the 13th Annual New York Wind Band Festival, USF Director of Bands and Professor of Conducting John Carmichael was elated – at first.

“This is a tremendous honor and a very selective invitation,” he said. “This organization chooses just one major university program per year. This speaks well of our music program and its reputation. This is the first time that a student group from USF has been invited to be the centerpiece of a concert there. But my next thought was that we would never be able to afford this.”

Undaunted, Carmichael cut out all of the perks that go with an invitation to be part of the World Project’s program to make the trip as affordable as possible. No extra tours, no special dinners. Keeping students’ share of the burden to a more manageable sum of $700 – it was then up to him to raise the rest – an additional $500 per student.

“No meals are paid for, we’re leaving a day earlier than we could, we’ve designed our own low-cost tours. All the expenses we’ve chosen to eliminate could be reinstated if the money is made available,” Carmichael said. It would have cost $400 more per student otherwise.

“I moved ahead with this only with the intention that student cost be minimized,” Carmichael said. “The fact that we’re going is a miracle.”

A Community Effort

The miracle is still a small sum away from being complete. The heroic effort that went into the $77,500 raised so far is appreciated by all. Still, down to the last $2,500 – $5,000 raised just this past weekend – the Wind Ensemble has mere days to raise these last dollars.

Contributions have come from College of Music band alumni by and large. One large donation from an anonymous donor gave Carmichael the wherewithal to keep forging ahead.

Determined to see the miracle through to the end, the USF Wind Ensemble is still diligently practicing the selections on the program. Carmichael and his musicians are particularly excited about performing the world premiere of the “Double Percussion Concerto” by USF composition instructor Baljinder Sekhon. The soloists on this piece are USF Alumnus Lee Hinkle from the University of Maryland and USF Professor of Percussion Robert McCormick.

The ensemble will also perform “Radiant Joy” by Steven Bryant, “Fantasy Variations” by Donald Grantham, “the most difficult and challenging of the pieces,” Carmichael said, “Toccata Marziale” by Ralph Vaughan Williams and “Colors Aloft” by Daniel Godfrey.

Music education major Kelly Jordan, who plays the flute, said, “I’m extremely excited. This is an awesome opportunity.” The junior plans to see “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway as does Alexander Kim. A freshman double majoring in mechanical engineering and music studies, Kim has been to New York twice before and looking forward to doing the trip with his family. This is the clarinet player's second appearance at Carnegie Hall. He played there last year as part of an American High School Wind Ensemble event. “The sound is incredible. It’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced before or since,” he said.

USF senior Susanna Hancock, majoring in music composition and bassoon performance, performed in New York City before, but in Central Park with her high school wind ensemble at a music festival. Her excitement about performing at Carnegie Hall has many facets, one being personal. “My professor composed ‘Double Percussion Concerto’ and there’s a bassoon solo at the end that he wrote for me,” she said. “His music is new and progressive and he knows how to write for each instrument and it’s all well thought out as far as the orchestration goes.”

Senior and principal oboe Noah Redstone is a mass communications and oboe performance major. He’s making a return trip to New York as well. He went there once on vacation as a child and once to audition for Julliard. “Colors Aloft” has a special place in his heart.

“This piece was written for James Croft, the USF Concert Hall is dedicated to him,” he said. “I got to hear him speak and I met him once when the hall was opened.” Furthermore the USF oboe instructor Redstone studied with, Amy Collins, an oboist with Opera Tampa, studied under Croft who was director of bands when she was an undergraduate at USF.

“I go to a lot of music festivals all over the country and I’ve been to one in Italy and things like this bring such prestige to our music program. The people we meet see that we have a great faculty and a great program,” Redstone said.

As Carmichael waves his baton in the last rehearsals leading up to these important performances, he’s optimistic.

“There’s no way we can let these great musicians down. I know the USF community will come through.”

World Projects presents music events for instrumental and choral ensembles to provide students “inspirational performance opportunities.” Established in 1984, the company specializes in international performance tours for American and Japanese student music programs.

For information on how to donate, please contact John Carmichael at jcarmich@usf.edu . For information about the School of Music preview concert tickets, click here. Prices range from $10.75 to $15.25.

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563