Every musician dreams of playing Carnegie Hall, and plenty do, after decades of dedicated training, and possibly some good luck. It's the pinnacle of any musician's career and a sure sign that one has made it.
For students in the Stockdale High School Symphony Orchestra, the dream is within reach at a much younger age, though you can rest assured hours and hours of practice are still what got them the opportunity. But now they need help getting there, to the tune of around $75,000.
"For us and our school, this is incredible," said John Biller, director of instrumental music at the high school. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Being able to play Carnegie Hall is like a football player getting to play in the Super Bowl. It's got that prestige to it."
To send the orchestra's 107 students to the New York International Music Festival, where they have been invited to perform in a showcase concert typically reserved for college orchestras, the program will need a total of $270,000, around $2,500 per kid. Much of that has already been raised from parent donations, but the remaining sum will need to be raised by Nov. 1 in order for the group to go in April. If enough isn't raised, no one goes.
"I'm very optimistic," Biller said of raising the necessary money. "We've had support from the families, and now we need more support from the community."
Because the school can't charge the kids to go, all the money will need to be raised from donations and fundraising. Biller said there's a misconception that Stockdale students all come from affluent families who don't need financial help, but that's not true: The orchestra is made up of teens from diverse backgrounds with different financial needs.
The orchestra was playing at a California Music Educators Association festival, where bands from all over Kern County performed on the Stockdale stage. Judged against the standard (as opposed to against the other orchestras), the Stockdale group received the top rating of "Unanimous Superior."
"One of the judges liked our performance so much, he (asked) if we have ever thought about (playing) in Carnegie Hall," said senior and violinist Aubrey Williams. "We got the opportunity from that judge."
That judge just happened to be the artistic director of the festival in New York City, who invited the Stockdale orchestra to perform not as part of the festival like the other high school groups but at a special performance at the end of the day that all those other student musicians will listen to as a treat, or, perhaps, inspiration.
"It's one of those things that as a musician you dream about and think is never going to happen, but this is going to happen," said senior Madisen Grimaldi, who plays the string bass. "Even if you're not a musician, you've heard of (Carnegie Hall), you know what it is. For a musician, it's like, you can't do any better than that."
The accomplished high school musicians meet early in the morning for zero period every day, usually at 6:30 a.m. Many of them are also in the Bakersfield Youth Symphony, dedicating all of their free time to music. Playing at Carnegie Hall would be an opportunity not just for the hard-working students, but for their hometown too.
"We get to represent Bakersfield at Carnegie Hall," said junior Kayla Ko. "And show that Bakersfield can compete with others."
The work has paid off, but fundraising is necessary to get the students to New York.
The orchestra's annual fall concert, to be held on Oct. 19, will offer more than just music this year: Guests will be served an Italian dinner and will be able to bid on auction items, with proceeds from the event going toward the New York trip. That concert is expected to have a good turnout, but it won't cover all of the remaining costs, so the orchestra is still relying on people to donate.
Though the Carnegie Hall engagement is still six months — and several thousand dollars — away, Biller is already thinking about what the orchestra might play in its 30-minute performance there. He's planning on arrangements that have historic significance to the famous venue and would like to have the students play pieces that originally debuted there.
Biller is primarily excited for the opportunity this would be for his students, but he can't say he's not thrilled at the chance to direct on the same stage where major classical musicians (and The Beatles) have played.
"I've been thinking about what it is for the kids," Biller said, but "it's going to be great (for me too). I'm very excited."
If the orchestra is successful in raising the necessary funds, the students' trip to New York City won't be all work. They will also get the chance to see the city and possibly take in a show on Broadway.
But it's all dependent on the community stepping up to help.
"If they want to be involved in in supporting a bunch of kids from Bakersfield who have the opportunity to play ... at Carnegie Hall, that should be enough of an incentive," Biller said. "These kids are going to represent Bakersfield in New York."