Music resonates at Auburn Riverside High School, where teachers and student musicians work harmoniously together for the chance to shine on the big stage.
Come April, the school’s heralded wind ensemble and chamber orchestra programs will perform on one of the biggest stages of all – New York City’s storied Carnegie Hall.
Melinda Wharton, the school’s chamber orchestra teacher, and her students will fill the prestigious hall with the sounds of strings – violins, violas, cellos and bass. Meghan Wagner, the school’s band director and her players will carry the sounds of percussion, French horns, clarinets, flutes and other instruments.
In all, Auburn Riverside plans to send 112 students and 20 parent chaperones to the Big Apple for the privilege to play at the prestigious, 128-year-old concert venue in Midtown Manhattan for the National Band & Orchestra Festival on April 8-11.
The trip has been in the works since auditions began last June.
Auburn Riverside applied, sent a recorded audition and almost immediately was invited to the instrumental showcase. Auburn Riverside is the only Washington high school to perform in the festival this spring.
Fundraising made it possible for students to make the trip. Scholarships helped others in an effort to leave “no one behind,” teachers emphasized.
Staff and students welcome the opportunity to experience the rich history and tradition of arts that are part of the diverse culture of New York City.
“We’re talking a little bit about the history of Carnegie Hall and who has conducted there and who has performed there,” Wharton said. “It’s where all these great composers and musicians were … and we are going to be standing on the same stage as they (once) did.”
Wharton’s “strings” and Wagner’s “beats” will play separately for 35 minutes before combining as an 80-piece symphony orchestra to perform a finale. It is the first time that the school’s band and orchestra will travel together to New York. Wagner’s 40-member wind ensemble performed at Carnegie Hall in 2014.
The AR symphony will play a traditional repertoire of works, including pieces from Tchaikovsky and Gustav Holst.
“It’s very exciting to travel for music for band, orchestra and symphony,” said junior Hanna Moon-Earle, who will play the piccolo at Carnegie Hall. “It’s really nice to get to know people and meet new people through music. It’s a lot of fun.”
Students will get a chance to soak in the sights – the Statue of Liberty, the Top of the Rock (observatory at Rockefeller Center), catch a musical on Broadway and visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center site, which commemorates the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Many of AR’s visiting students were born in 2001.
The trip is a product of a strong, supportive performing arts department at the school directed by award-winning instructors, including choir teacher Jon Stenson. Middle school programs continue to feed the AR music machine.
Wharton, who is in her 25th year of teaching in the Auburn School District, recently was enshrined in the Washington Music Educators Hall of Fame, the only orchestra teacher in the class of 2019. She also earned the 2019 WMEA Outstanding Music Educator Award.
In addition, Wharton was chosen as the Middle School Teacher of the Year for the school district in 2009, when she worked at Mt. Baker. She has been the Outstanding Music Educator in the Green River Music Region in 2009 and 2020. She plays the violin.
“She’s an amazing member of our team,” Wagner said of Wharton. “She’s just super committed to excellence and instilling that in all of our students.”
Wagner, in her 15th year with the school district, was the Outstanding Music Educator in the Green River Music Region in 2018, and a Music Educator Award Teacher of the Year quarterfinalist in 2013. Her wind ensemble was invited to perform at this year’s WMEA state conference in Yakima. She plays the French horn and piano.
“I want to instill that love of music into students … and that’s Meghan, too,” Wharton said of her colleague, a partnership now in its fourth year at the school. “She’s really strong in her educational background and what she brings to the table. Students learn a ton.
“We are really lucky that students want to work with us, and that they enjoy us.”
A relationship bonded by the power of and the appreciation for music.
“Music is the big unifier. It’s bringing everyone together,” Wagner said. “We’re all working toward the same goal. It’s been great.”