For most musicians, it's a dream to someday perform at New York City's famed Carnegie Hall. But for five local students, the dream recently came true.
As members of the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestra (AYP) Devin McCorry, Jared Abbott, Jeff Franca, Chris Hahn and Jenny Hogge performed Jan. 13 in Carnegie Hall's Isaac Stern Auditorium. And for all of them, it was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill.
"It's a historic place," said Hahn, 16, a junior at Centreville High. "Knowing it's a very famous hall that the world's top performers have played in, it's a great opportunity for a group as young as us to be able to play [there]."
Conducting them was Luis Haza, a violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra. Assisting him and also playing trumpet with noted trumpeter Arturo Sandoval was Adel Sanchez. It was a special concert, "The Spirit of Freedom," featuring music by composers including Beethoven, Vivaldi, Handel, Haydn, Williams, Copland and Verdi.
There were pieces from the movie, "Schindler's List," plus remembrances for Haza's father who died for Cuban freedom in January 1959. And a number called "Lincoln Portrait" was dedicated to the memory of all the Sept. 11 victims.
"The songs for the program were chosen before Sept. 11, so being there afterward and playing [them] in New York City was especially humbling," said Hogge, 19, of Clifton's Cloverleaf Farms Estates. "And it was our way of giving something [in tribute]."
A sophomore at Catholic University, Hogge was home-schooled and plays the piano. McCorry, 18, a Centreville High senior, plays violin; Abbott, 17, is a senior at Robinson and plays viola, as does Hahn; and Franca, 17, also a Robinson senior, plays percussion.
The son of Robin and Dan McCorry of Little Rocky Run, Devin has played violin 12 years and likes the music written for it: "It's a virtuoso instrument, and you play more melodies." He plans to major in physics or computer science at college, but plans to play in his college orchestra or in a quartet. He's first-chair violinist in Centreville's orchestra and in its chamber and symphony orchestras.
He likes music from the late Romantic period in the late 1800s, plus Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. Playing with the AYP is a great experience, he says, because "you learn different styles of music and different techniques playing in a group like this. And you learn to work together and function as a single unit."
The group was in New York, Jan. 12-13, and also visited Times Square and saw the Broadway musical, "42nd Street." And all five students were awed by Carnegie Hall. "There's great sound in that hall — better than in a high-school auditorium," said McCorry. "Backstage, they had all these photos of famous musicians and orchestras that had played there — and also of Teddy Roosevelt giving speeches there, and the Women's Suffrage Movement — so it wasn't used just for music. I think it's neat that I can always say, 'I've played there.'"
The son of Taya and Keith Abbott of Clifton, Jared has played viola eight years and considers it the "unsung hero" of the orchestra. "It doesn't get as much publicity as the other instruments, but I think it has the prettiest sound," he explained. "It's resonant and really unique — kind of melancholy."
He says Romantic music is "freer" than classical, and he especially likes Brahms. He's in Robinson's symphonic orchestra and in a string quartet and plans to major in both music and literature in college. He hopes to eventually play in an orchestra professionally and teach literature at college level. Abbott says his orchestral playing has improved since being with AYP and says the best advice he's received is "play from your heart."
Being at Carnegie Hall, he said, was "pretty cool. There's a mystique around [it], and backstage is so nostalgic — with photos of Arturo Toscanini, Leonard Bernstein and Gustav Mahler." His first couple minutes on stage, said Abbott, "You're like, 'Wow, Carnegie Hall.' But then the excitement dies down and [you concentrate on playing."
Franca is also from Clifton; his parents are Jim and Caryn, and Jeff plays drums, timpani, triangle, cymbals, xylophone, bells and tambourine. He started with the snare drum in fifth grade and graduated to all the percussion instruments.
"With other instruments, you can mess up and nobody notices because others are playing the same instrument," he explained. "With percussion, everything's exposed because you play solos and it's so loud." Franca prefers orchestral and symphonic music and especially likes composer Dmitri Shostakovich. At Robinson, he's in the symphonic orchestra and symphonic and jazz bands.
"I hope to go to Indiana University School of Music [after graduation]," he said. "They have good teachers and you get a conservatory atmosphere within a university." He plans to major in music and hopefully play professionally in an orchestra.
At Carnegie, Franca was impressed by the high ceilings and finely detailed woodcarvings. He said the AYP performed very well and that lots of famous musicians with the National Symphony told the young performers that "they could barely tell the difference between us and some of the best orchestras in the country."
The son of Kae and Mark Hahn of Little Rocky Run, Chris Hahn plays viola with AYP and violin in Centreville's orchestra. After graduation, he'd like to attend the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to major in orchestra or music engineering. He also hopes to someday play viola professionally with a major city's symphony orchestra.
The Jan. 13 concert marked his first visit to both New York and Carnegie Hall, and he, too, was amazed at the facility's acoustics. "We were surprised at how good [our music] sounded," said Hahn. "You could hear every note you were playing."
He said he learned from the professional musicians there that it's sometimes tough for them to travel from one place to another to perform, with no time to rehearse. "But they travel all over the world to perform and, realizing the music we played here is played everywhere in the world, gives you a new perspective on [the profession]."
Hahn also learned another distinction between the pros and the students. "We had so many adults and chaperones helping us," he said. "But the professionals have to do it all themselves and be on stage on time for downbeat."
As for Hogge, she is the daughter of Dennis and Karen and has played piano since age 4: "My dad played a lot, and my mom asked me if I wanted to take lessons." Now, Jenny is majoring in piano performance at Catholic University so she, too, can perform professionally, as well as teach music.
At the AYP, she's especially enjoyed working with Maestro Haza. "He thinks so much of us," she said. "I also know him from the Master Work Festival Orchestra in New York." Hogge has participated in it, the past two summers, as part of the Christian Performing Artists Fellowship.
She describes piano as "probably the loneliest instrument you can play — you're up there all alone." She says the nervousness accompanying live performances "never goes away, but the adrenaline is something you need." Hogge practices five hours a day and is particularly fond of classical and jazz pieces. Among her favorite composers are Haydn, Chopin and Beethoven.
She, too, was excited to be at Carnegie Hall for the first time. "The music was beautiful, and being there was a great experience," she said. "I'm really thankful to Maestro Haza for giving us the opportunity. It's inspiring — it makes you want to work even harder."