For a group of musicians from an Orillia high school, the road to Carnegie Hall was a bumpy one, but they quickly learned it was also paved with good intentions.
On Friday night, the senior concert band from Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School was en route to the venerable New York City venue to perform at Monday’s Baldwin Wallace Conservatory Invitational when its bus broke down in Warsaw, N.Y.
“Coincidentally, it happened across from the fire hall,” said James Hilts, music teacher and band director at Patrick Fogarty.
A firefighter with the Warsaw Fire Department invited them into the hall while they waited for another bus.
The goodwill of Warsaw didn’t end there. DiSalvo’s Pizza supplied food for the students and, later, Spotlight Theater invited them to see The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.
“Talk about small-town charm. They took us in with open arms,” Hilts said. “It’s a huge testament to that town. They made a situation that could have been terrible a welcoming experience.”
While preparing for the Carnegie Hall trip, the word “journey” was used often.
For instance, a concert in Orillia to raise money for the trip was called Journey to Carnegie Hall. The unexpected events on the road to New York City gave that word new meaning, said Maria Brown.
“It really was a journey,” said Brown, 17, who plays first trumpet in the band. “So many people have helped us along the way, and I think that town became part of that as well.”
When the Spotlight Theater owner invited the students in to see the movie, Ashley Allen’s reaction was, ‘Oh, my God. God actually sent her.”
“It’s not just a Canadian thing to be nice,” said Allen, 17, who plays flute and piccolo.
After about two-and-a-half hours, the band was back on the road, and Monday’s performance at Carnegie Hall made the entire experience worthwhile. The three adjudicators gave the band marks of 90, 91 and 94 per cent, which earned the local musicians gold.
“I was completely beside myself,” said Hilts. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. Every time I had been to the States, it was a silver outcome.”
Hilts had full confidence in his band members, but they still exceeded his expectations.
“I’ve never heard my band play as well as they did (at Carnegie Hall),” he said.
He described the experience as “euphoric.” Brown and Allen felt the same.
Two years ago, they were among the students who visited Carnegie Hall and were elated just to touch the stage. Performing on the iconic stage was something entirely different.
When it was announced the band won gold, “I thought, ‘I’m going somewhere with my music. I’m doing this.’ It made me so proud to be there representing my school and my band,” Allen said.
Asked if she thought the band would achieve the gold standard, Brown said, “Not in a million years.”
“I knew we sounded really good, but you never know how the judges are going to take it,” she said.
Hilts heaped praise on his band, but Brown said her teacher deserved just as much of it.
“He gives us credit, but it wouldn’t be possible without Mr. Hilts,” she said. “He’s amazing.”
The moment the band won gold was caught on video. Check out the clip here.