Area Students Perform At Carnegie Hall And White House

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Student musicians who play with the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO) recently had the unique opportunity to play at prestigious venues on the East Coast.

On December 5, members of the organization's symphony orchestra and both junior and senior flute ensembles played at the renowned Carnegie Hall in New York City. Later in the month, on December 21, members of the senior flute ensemble played background music during Christmas tours of the White House.

It was the fourth year the CYSO has been invited to play at Carnegie Hall for Christmas benefit concerts organized by composer and conductor Tim Janis. This year's title was “Christmas with Tim Janis and special guests: Tori Kelly, Colbie Caillat and Us The Duo.”

The orchestra played for most of the concert as students accompanied the famous musicians, while the flute ensembles played a special piece of their own, “Carol of the Bells.” In total, about 60 students participated.

Students headed to New York City by bus the morning of the performance. After lunch, they rehearsed once onstage before returning for the evening performance. Abby Cleveland, from Severna Park, is a freshman at Broadneck High School and was on her second trip to Carnegie Hall as part of a flute ensemble. She has been struck by the large size of the performance stage, noting during their rehearsal for this year's concert that it was difficult to hear other flutists.

“We started playing and you could hear it echo. The acoustics are so amazing. The sound travels really well,” she said. “And it's such a beautiful place.”

It was the sixth year the flute ensemble has played during the Christmas season at the White House. Conductor Gail Vehslage said she submits a video application each year, though acceptance is not guaranteed. She was notified in late October that her ensemble had been selected to return.

The group of 39 flutists Vehslage took to the White House on December 21 included the CYSO senior flute ensemble, as well as an adult flute ensemble she conducts in Annapolis. Except for a 15-minute break, the group played Christmas music continuously for two hours in the East Room as guests walked through and toured.

“We took up half the space, and the sound carried through the whole first-floor level,” Vehslage said. “We were visually surrounded by beauty, and then to have the music, it’s very rich.”

In addition to playing music, the flutists were able to tour the White House themselves. Vehslage said the overall experience was memorable. “I know the kids will remember it the rest of their lives,” she said.

Cleveland, who played at both venues, said “Just being with all my friends and doing something big was surreal. It is crazy to think that I'm a freshman and I've played at the White House and Carnegie Hall. It's mind-blowing.”

Based in Annapolis, the CYSO offers a variety of orchestras and ensembles for musicians ages 8 through 21. More information can be found at www.cysomusic.org.

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