Skip To ContentSkip To Content
    Inside Story About the BHS Wind Ensemble at Carnegie Hall
    Posted on 06/15/2017
    BHS Wind Ensemble Carnegie Hall jpg











    BHS Wind Ensemble | Pre-Carnegie Hall Concert Video Performance at the PAC in March 2017 in preparation for the April 2017 performance on the Carnegie Hall stage!

    Michael James, Director  of Bands, Talks About His Musicians' Amazing Carnegie Hall Experience | A conversation with Gary Haarsager, Ballard High School Wind Ensemble parent

    In 2016, the Ballard Wind Ensemble was invited to perform at the New York International Music Festival at Carnegie Hall in Spring of 2017. What were your thoughts then on the music your musicians might play?

    Michael James: When we received the invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall, I immediately started thinking about our program. I knew that this was an exceptional opportunity for us, so I wanted to play music that would both challenge and inspire the students.

    How did you go about selecting music to play at Carnegie Hall? Did you intend from the start to perform two or more works?

    I spoke with some of my friends and colleagues who teach in the area at the collegiate level. I knew that we had a 20-minute time slot, and I wanted to make sure to fill up as much of that time as possible. When you play at Carnegie Hall, you want to maximize your time on that stage. On the recommendations of my colleagues, I quickly narrowed down to the two pieces that we performed.

    Of all the music out there, why the Overture to Candide and Give Us This Day? What attracted you to these pieces?

    The Overture to Candide was chosen because its composer, Leonard Bernstein, used to conduct at Carnegie Hall. As one of the world’s most famous conductors, I wanted to honor him and his legacy in the space where he conducted. Give Us This Day was selected for its difficulty — the composer, David Maslanka, is known for his intense writing — as well as the emotion present in the piece. The opening starts very quietly and has an ethereal sound before launching into the fast and loud second movement. With the music in order, Candide and then Give Us This Day, the program would go fast-slow-fast.

    WE RehearsalTalk about the practices and rehearsals.

    The three months of rehearsals included several listening sessions, slow repetition while learning the more difficult passages and just convincing the students they could successfully perform these pieces. Both are staples in the repertoire, and are quite impressive to anyone who hears them.  And both have their own technical and musical challenges. So, the students put in a lot of hard work in preparing their parts, which also included sectionals inside and outside of school.

    When did you feel the Wind Ensemble was ready for Carnegie Hall and why?

    When we performed these pieces at the Ingraham Band Festival (Elliott Bay Music Educators Association Band Festival, March 28th), I knew that we were ready for Carnegie Hall. The emotional journey that both the audience and players felt in that performance was quite outstanding. I heard from several people from other schools how we blew everyone away at that festival, and I was hoping that we could achieve the same sense of accomplishment in New York.

    The music for the outdoor concert at the Central Park Bandshell included the Overture to Candide and the Summer of ’69 medley. What was its appeal?

    An outdoor performance should be light and fun. I wanted to play Candide in order to give us a chance to run through it before we played it in Carnegie Hall. We had very little rehearsal time in New York, and that run-through was definitely needed. It is a crowd pleaser and there was little pressure, at least not as much as there would be at Carnegie Hall. Summer of ‘69 was a medley of Woodstock tunes that the group played at our ‘60s-themed Spaghetti Dinner earlier in the school year, and I knew that that piece would also be fun for both the players and our audience at Central Park. I was so thankful that it was a beautiful, sunny day as well.

    The trip to New York City: Do you think the many group experiences for the Wind Ensemble kids had an impact on their performances?WE students

    Traveling with an ensemble always brings the students closer together. The few days we had just exploring the city as a group gave the students the time to hang out with their friends, and experience the sights and sounds of New York in a way that they will never experience it again. All of this happened before our performance, and I definitely feel that it helped the Wind Ensemble students to bond before they played on the biggest stage in the world.


    Your thoughts and observations on the performance at Carnegie Hall.

    Carnegie Hall is one of the most beautiful stages in the world. Visually and aurally, the hall is amazing. We could hear and experience the music in a new way, and our sound check was quite exhilarating and overwhelming. We were able to run through most of the music on stage, and the kids were completely focused on their performance. They wanted to perform extremely well and they did.

    You and the Wind Ensemble were presented with a Gold Award at the 11th Annual International Music Festival. Bravo. How did that feel to you and your musicians?Carnegie Hall Stage png

    I was most excited that we had all been on this journey together for three months, and the musicians nailed their performance. The sense of accomplishment and pride that the students felt after our performance was amazing. The audience reaction and the lengthy standing ovation that we received were incredible. The Gold Award, while well-deserved, was a by-product of the hard work that the students put into this performance. It felt really great to achieve the top rating at the festival, but it was more special for me to see the students’ faces beaming and to know that they had a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    What does all this mean to the Ballard High School Performing Arts Program, the students and families going forward?

    I hope that this trip inspires the Wind Ensemble to attain even further heights. I have never played music that was as challenging as what we played at Carnegie Hall, and it was a thrill for me to see my students achieve a new level of musicianship. The Ballard Performing Arts Program has had many successes and accomplishments, and I am thrilled to add this performance to that list. I know that the parents of the students involved, many of whom were able to come to New York to watch us, were also inspired by our performance and hopefully will continue to support future endeavors that we aspire to. It truly takes a team and Ballard High School is lucky to have an amazing team to make experiences like this happen.

    Closing thoughts and observations?

    While I do hope to return to Carnegie Hall someday, I will wait several years before applying again. I want to keep the experience a unique and special one. But, be on the lookout for other special experiences for the Ballard Band students!

    Wind Ensemble at Carnegie Hall Stage



    Carnegie Hall is the World's Most Famous Performance Venue and it is a thrill for the Ballard Wind Ensemble to have been selected to play on this stage.
    We were accepted into the "New York International Music Festival" through a competitive audition process and are one of eight ensembles chosen to perform at this particular festival on stage at Carnegie Hall on April 11, 2017 at 1:00 pm. We will be able to listen to and interact with students from all over the world throughout the festival. Other ensembles selected to perform include the Brisbane Regional Youth Orchestra from Australia, the Gwent Youth Wind Orchestra from Wales, the Los Angeles Children's Orchestra and the Virginia Tech Wind Ensemble and Choirs. The Ballard Wind Ensemble is performing very challenging repertoire by prolific and highly esteemed composers (Overture to 'Candide' by Leonard Bernstein and 'Give Us This Day' by David Maslanka) at the Festival and the students have been working incredibly hard to prepare for this once in a lifetime performance. ~ Mr. James Director of Bands; Ballard High School

    New York International Music Festival | Carnegie Hall | April 2017
    World Projects | 11th Annual NY International Music Festival

    Ballard Performing Arts Website