About three years after launching the program, the Pinecrest Academy Symphonic Band stepped onto one of the biggest stages in the nation, Carnegie Hall in New York City.
For a year, the band prepared for the 25-minute show on the prestigious stage.
Between 500 and 600 people gathered in the famous venue to hear the sounds of 15 high school bands from across the nation invited to play at the National Band and Orchestra Festival on April 6, said Len Insalaca, Pinecrest’s band director.
The 56 students, who range from fifth to 12 grades, received the invitation after their band placed first in its class at the spring 2011 Heritage Festival in New York.
That was 19 months after most band members picked up their instruments for the first time in 2009.
“It’s hard to think that less than three years ago that happened,” Insalaca said, “and now we played at Carnegie Hall.”
As they warmed up before the performance, percussionist Nick Grimaldi said he began to feel some nerves.
Oboist Valerie Welty said she didn’t have time to even consider being nervous.
“I was just in awe the whole time,” said Welty, the band’s sole senior member.
Since the band’s musicians span middle and high school, they have different class schedules and had practiced as a whole just six times prior to the Carnegie performance.
As they played the notes of the five pieces, the sound was like nothing they’d heard before. Insalaca said he could “hear every person” whether they played perfectly in pitch or missed a beat.
“When we play in class, you could hear the piece, but it wouldn’t sound full because we would have parts missing,” Welty said. “When we came together, especially with the chorales and the slow pieces we did, it sounded a lot better.”
The group’s performance included the two spiritual numbers, “Ave Maria” and “Were You There.”
“Because it was Good Friday, we knew for sure we had to have some sacred pieces on there,” Insalaca said. “We looked at this more as Father Robert [Presutti, the head of the school] said, like we apostles going out to spread the word through music.”
For members of the Catholic school’s band, music has become a powerful part of faith.
Welty thinks of an old quote that singing a prayer is like saying it twice. “I feel like it’s the same way for music,” she said.
Other students may feel the same, since the program has grown to 160 members between the symphonic and beginner bands.
Bassoonist Annie Lagomasino said she’s recruited more students to join next school year and the recent appearance at Carnegie has boosted interest.
“Having other people hear about us, that’s kind of cool,” she said.
Though she didn’t know what a bassoon was three years ago, the instrument has become a major part of Lagomasino’s life. In college, the junior hopes to major in music therapy.
Insalaca said the program started when he was merely a parent who hoped to see a school band.
With an extensive background in music, including as a school band director and running a music production company, he brought in the program and had the kids try out instruments.
The group’s next goal is to play for the Pope at the Vatican, Insalaca said.
“Even though we got the opportunity to play at Carnegie, we’re still very young and there’s so much more that we can achieve,” he said.