The top student musicians throughout Sampson County are looking forward to an experience for the rest of their lives.
Sampson All-County Band’s “Memories at Meymandi” is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at the Meymandi Concert Hall, 2 East South Street, Raleigh. The public is encouraged to attend for free.
Vevlyn Lowe, Sampson Middle School (SMS) Band Director, is one of several directors involved in the program.
“It’s going to be awesome for the kids,” Lowe said. “For most of the kids, it’s going to be their first time in a professional venue like this. When the kids go into Meymandi, they’re going to look around and be amazed. It’s really impressive.”
She added that’s it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students musicians, their parents and teachers. Other participating directors include Meredith Johnson, Midway Middle School; Travis Jordan, Clinton High School; Rachel Moxley, Union Middle and High School; Chris Pittman, Roseboro-Salemburg Middle School and Lakewood High School; Geoffrey Tart, Hobbton Middle and High School; and Joshua Tew, Midway High School.
“Everybody has done a great job making this work,” Lowe said.
All-County Band is held annually, but bringing the event to a 1,700 seat venue makes it more special this year for the directors and students. The trip was made possible through a grant from Simple Gifts, a program supporting educational opportunities beyond the classroom. The facility in Raleigh is home of the North Carolina Symphony (NCS), which works with Sampson County in a three-year residency program.
Margaret Turlington, Simple Gifts Fund Coordinator, said the program is thrilled to help provide the opportunity to local students.
“The North Carolina Symphony is a true treasure for our state, and I hope all Sampson County residents will take advantage of these musical experiences,” Turlington stated.
Since September 2016, more than 2,000 fourth and fifth grade students have watched performances by the NCS. Symphony musicians work one-on-one with middle and high school students. At the preschool level, musicians read books related to music and demonstrated instruments. NCS also performed in Clinton for the community.
Tart added that exposing students to professional musicians is an honor and privilege.
“We are very thankful to The Simple Gifts Fund and the North Carolina Symphony, and are looking forward to the future and the impact on the local music and band program in our area,” Tart stated.
Along with other band directors, Lowe also appreciates the assistance from Simple Gifts, which is also providing rehearsal spaces at the Raleigh Convention Center.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” she said. “It would be impossible. If we didn’t have Simple Gifts support, there’s no way we could pull of a huge event like this. Anytime you’re renting a facility like Meymandi Concert Hall, it takes a lot of financial support.”
During the event, the students will have an opportunity to perform with 10 NCS musicians. Lowe said it’s going to be a special occasion that does not happen a lot in North Carolina and throughout the United States.
The performers include Mary Boone, assistant principal flute; Sandy Posch, oboe; Mike Cyzewski, assistant principal clarinet; Kevin Streich, substitute clarinet; Wenmin Zhang, assistant principal bassoon; Rachel Niketopoulos, horn; Alex Fioto, substitute trumpet; John Ilika, principal trombone; Seth Horner, principal tuba; and Rajesh Prasad, assistant percussion.
Audience members will also listen to new commissioned works. The middle school band will perform Peter Meechan’s “Flight” with a solo performance by Dr. Joanna Ross Hersey, a professional tuba player. Trombone professional Jonathan Randazzo will play a solo during the high school performance for “Memories of Meymandi,” a commissioned piece composed by Jamie Keesecker.
Lowe said the organizers picked tuba and trombone features because of their difficulty of recruiting students to play the instruments.
“As band directors, we get plenty of trumpets, flutes and clarinets, drums,” Lowe said. “We picked tuba and trombone on purpose to help us with recruiting. Both of them are phenomenal players.”
Dr. Arris Golden and Dr. Jay Juchniewicz are the clinicians for the upcoming event. Golden is a member of the conducting faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Juchniewicz serves as the associate professor of music education at East Carolina University.
Jonathan Arp, a SMS student-teacher and Midway High School graduate, is looking forward to the All-County performance too. He remembers when the event was hosted at local high schools and sparked excitement for the students.
“It was really special, so I know the kids who are doing it are going to enjoy it,” Arp said. “As an alumnus and someone from this county who got an education, it’s so great to see the music programs flourishing and growing to the capacity where we can have a large scale event like this.”