The Performance of a Lifetime

April 25, 2014

by Jillian DiPersio, Windham High School Intern

As performers, we constantly search for moments that take our breath away.  These are the ones that we use to measure all our other performances because they are the moments in which we connect with audiences and truly share our passions.  This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to share one of these moments with the other members of the Windham High School band and our director, Jared Cassedy, as we performed at Carnegie Hall.

In the past three years, I have witnessed and have been a part of the WHS Concert Band as we have done, after only four years of existence, what is considered nearly impossible.  In spring 2012, we traveled to New York for the World Strides Heritage Festival.  After receiving top scores and high accolades, we were invited to the Festival of Gold at Orchestra Hall in Chicago.  We attended the festival last year and, after receiving the highest score in the festival again, were invited to apply for the Festival at Carnegie Hall.  Receiving one of the highest scores in the nation based on the tape we submitted, we were accepted.

The entire journey was simply one amazing experience after another, all culminating in the final performance at Carnegie Hall on Saturday afternoon.  Our trip began on Thursday, April 17.  When we arrived in New York City we headed off the trip by attending the off-Broadway production STOMP.  Most of us did not know what to expect, only having heard that it was a percussion show.  It was more than that.  The eight cast members each took on a persona, and though there was no story line, you could see character interactions and unspoken witticisms alongside the amazing percussive spectacle.  Sophomore Mary Fennessey says, apart from our performance at Carnegie Hall, STOMP was her favorite part of the trip.  “I didn’t expect it to be funny,” she says.  “It was an overall fun experience.”

The next day was packed.  We started off in the early morning to catch the water taxi to Liberty Island and then to Ellis Island.  As we approached Lady Liberty, I could just imagine my great-grandfather seeing America’s shores for the first time.

After returning to land and getting lunch, it was time to attend a production of Les Misérables on Broadway.  It was an astonishing performance and a favorite event for many.  Senior Timothy Raymond describes it as a “jaw-dropping, unbelievable performance.”  It was inspiring, emotional and effectively depleted my purse’s supply of tissues.

Just about anyone in the band will tell you, however, that even among all these amazing experiences, Saturday’s performance surpassed our other stops on the trip and our expectations.  We rehearsed for one last time in the morning before getting ready for the concert and finally boarding the bus, instruments in hand, heading to Carnegie Hall.  We filed out onto the stage and remembered what Mr. Cassedy had told us beforehand: take a moment and breathe it all in.

The sound was unlike anything I had heard us play before, the concert hall itself the embodiment of acoustical perfection.  Mr. Cassedy describes the sensory experience:  “The sound that filled the auditorium as we performed was unmatched as it lingered for what seemed like hours.”  Each and every one of us was inspired by what we heard and threw ourselves into the music full heartedly.  Senior Jacqueline Hoenisch comments, “it sounded professional.”

Most of us were unbelievably nervous before the concert began.  However, this adrenaline drove us and as we began our first piece, the nerves seemed to melt away.  Seniors Timothy Raymond and Alessandro Fabiano along with a few other WHS students had actually played at Carnegie Hall before with an auditioned group of students in the Honors Performance Series.  They commented that being on stage with the WHS Concert Band, they felt “relaxed.”  Raymond says this performance was not as nerve-wracking as his first one “partially because I’ve done it before but mostly because it was with people I’ve been playing with for all of high school now.”  He continues, “It was much more fulfilling too to do it with a group we’ve worked so hard with.”  I believe that this feeling of closeness between the members of the ensemble is what kept our nerves from getting in the way.  The excitement of playing at such a prestigious venue fueled us; the comfort and camaraderie of our fellow musicians kept us grounded.

Sophomore Kaley Missert comments that our focus while on stage was beyond what we do in daily rehearsals.  “I feel like we communicated really well subconsciously,” she says.  Cierra Cowan, another sophomore, says the performance was surreal.  “When you look out you feel as if you’re in a movie or you’re watching the performance from the audience.  It takes a while for you to realize that you’re actually on stage.  You’re not watching the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, you’re not watching the New York Philharmonic; you are the orchestra,” Cowan explains.

Beyond our connection with one another, the experience would not have been possible without the incredible passion and dedication of Mr. Cassedy.  For me, one of the best moments on stage was right after we finished playing our first piece, “Jubilateo,” by Samuel Hazo.  After Mr. Cassedy had cut off, we sat there frozen as I saw his facial expression gradually change to a look of pure joy and astonished laughter.

After the performances we exited the stage, put our instruments together and started heading back to the buses.  We were all amazed to see how many of our friends, family members and even school administrators had come out to see us perform and were waiting outside the stage door to congratulate us all.  It was marvelously heartwarming.  “We packed Carnegie Hall.  It was just incredible,” says principal Ryan Kaplan.  So many of the parents in the audience were moved by the performance.  Chaperone Joe Consentino says “I’m a parent; seeing my child there performing was probably one of the most emotional experiences of my life.  I cried like a baby, uncontrollably.  I couldn’t help myself.  It was an experience I’ll never forget.”

Once the buses were back at the hotel, Consentino orchestrated an impromptu ovation for Mr. Cassedy, ushering all the musicians into a function room of the hotel not visible from the entrance.  We stood and waited for Mr. Cassedy to enter and when he did we burst into applause.  He told us how proud he was of all of us.  “I was most proud of our students’ conscientiousness of where they were and how they represented our program, school, town and state,” he says.  “There is no question that we have an incredible program due to their continued dedication and commitment,” he continues.

There is no doubt the entire day was an intensely emotional experience.  Mr. Cassedy had so many of us tearing up as just about all the students, chaperones and parents gave him hugs before heading back up to their rooms.  Working to become the best ensemble we can be has been such a meaningful and inspiring experience that having a performance like the one we did at Carnegie Hall is the perfect culmination.  “I think what sets us apart is not only students’ drive and hard work, but Mr. Cassedy’s passion to push us to strive for excellence,” says Alessandro Fabiano.  The passion we all have for what we do shows in our performances.  Principal Kaplan says that the performance “was outstanding.  It was amazing, the level of professionalism, the level of camaraderie between all of the aspects of the band.  It’s not about every individual player doing their thing; it’s about the band coming together and making incredible music.  And that’s what happened today.”

Our performance at Carnegie Hall was one of the most amazing adventures of my life so far.  Being able to share such an amazing performance with people who are just as passionate about music as I am reminded me why I started playing in the first place.  Our experience was, truly, the performance of a lifetime.