Chicago Symphony Center
Windham High band leaves its mark on Windy City
Members of the Windham High School concert band pose in Chicago's Millennium Park last month. (COURTESY)
"Imagine being a high school musician given the opportunity to perform on a stage where some of the greatest musicians have been before you," student Jillian DiPersio said of her experience performing at the Chicago Symphony Center. "Imagine standing with your instrument clutched in your hands as hundreds of people stand up and applaud. We did just that."
The band was invited to the festival last year after earning several awards during the Heritage Festival in New York City.
Around 60 students and a dozen adult chaperones made the trip to Chicago. Band director Jared Cassedy described the event as "a celebration of musical excellence, where student musicians are provided the opportunity to both showcase and develop their talents."
"The event is firmly rooted in spreading the passion of music and sharing is what we love to do," Cassedy added.
Over the course of the weekend-long event, the band mates made friends from around the globe, checked out some of the local sights, enjoyed a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and even had dinner at the legendary Andy's Jazz Club.
"It was inspiring to be in a place where there is a lot of musical history," student Brynn Roche said. During a special clinic with former U.S. Air Force Band director Dr. Michael Bankhead, the Windham teens found further inspiration.
DiPersio admitted she was a bit nervous when the big moment finally arrived, and she prepared to join her band mates onstage at Orchestra Hall.
"Everyone was nervous - the stage is a dream come true for any musician," she said. "But Mr. Cassedy told us all to just look around when we got out there. I didn't know what he meant until I saw it for myself."
As she looked out into a sea of faces, DiPersio was awed by the sheer size of the venue.
"The audience seemed to stretch forever, up, up and away," she said. "Your heart starts pounding as you think of all the other musicians who have graced the very stage you were standing on."
"It felt like we were coming together almost as a family with the common bond of our love for music and just showcasing our hard work to the public," student Melanie Fenton added. "The experience really brought us together and strengthened our passion for performing great music together."
The band members later learned their hard work had truly paid off, having earned them the day's highest score for concert bands along with an invitation to play an encore performance.
Receiving a standing ovation inside the hall, the local teens won't soon forget the feelings of elation that followed.
"It was a moment in time where we performed our absolute best and with the most passion possible," Cassedy said. "This was an experience I will never forget and will treasure for the rest of my life."
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