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Students flock to Crane for area all-state concert

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POTSDAM - Nearly 400 of the region’s finest high school musicians are in Potsdam this weekend for the annual New York State School Music Association’s Area All-State concert.

Jonathan Hunkins, band director at Massena Central School, serves as the general chairperson for the event, which includes a day-and-a-half of practice before the all-stars take the stage for a concert that includes performances from a chorus, orchestra and concert band.

“When I went through this program as a high school student, it was one of the main things for me that led me to pursue a career in music education,” he said. “It always helps young musicians to have as many musical influences as possible.”

Each year the three ensembles are led by guest conductors with Jennifer Scott Micelli leading the chorus, Stephen Melillo conducting the band and Robert Blais leading the orchestra.

While only having two days to prepare for a performance presents challenges, Mr. Melillo said the important thing is to focus on the experience for the students, not the concert itself.

“The challenge is to do the right thing for the kids and not think of the concert as a goal,” Mr. Melillo said.

Mr. Blais agreed.

“The concert isn’t the most important part,” he said. “It’s just a by-product. Sometimes the concert falls apart, but nobody dies.”

Lisbon Central School Band Director Glenn Roberts said he enjoys seeing the students, many of whom have never met before, come together for what usually ends up being a great show.

“If this was sports, they would be bashing each other in, but they have to come together,” he said. “Watching them do that is the great thing for me.”

While many of the schools traveled from Northern New York and were less than an hour away, there were schools that traveled for several hours to give their students the chance to participate in the event.

Students from Sherburne-Earlville, a school district in Chenago County, traveled for four hours to get their all-state experience. Director Jeff Manwaring said it’s worth the trip.

“The reason I come to this is it’s a class act,” he said, adding the facilities at the Crane School of Music are top-notch as are the organizers of the event.

“They have everything in order and run a tight ship,” he said.

Caitlin M. Weinell plays the flute and is a senior at Sherburne-Earlville. She’s making her third trip to the north country for all-state concerts. She said this is her second show at Crane, with a show at Indian River Central School sandwiched in between.

Despite the four-hour ride, she said the trip is well worth it.

“You learn something new every time you come and you meet new people, so it’s fun,” she said.

Referring to Hosmer Hall, where the students will be performing a concert this afternoon, she said, “It’s really an awesome place to play. It’s a great auditorium.”

As for the guest conductors, she said they’re great too.

“Each director teaches you new things,” she said.

Deea Das, a junior violinist at Potsdam, is making her third appearance in area all-state events.

“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s nice to play with a full orchestra. It’s rare for me to get to play with such a large group, and the music is great too.” Kris M. Newtown, a senior trombone player from Lisbon, is also making his third appearance in the Area All-State band.

“We get to play with other really good musicians from all over our area,” he said, adding he looks forward to meeting new people.

And while he said he enjoys his experience, he said he’s also glad that the Crane School of Music is right in his back yard.

“It’s cool to not have to go on a long bus ride,” he said.

Two newcomers to the experience were Kiera S. Cornelius and Tyler J. Sloley, both sophomores from Indian River Central School.

“I’m expecting to challenge myself,” Kiera said. “These pieces of music are harder than what we play with our regular school orchestra.”

Kiera, who plays the cello, said she’s looking forward to hearing how the music sounds once the full orchestra is put together.

“Most of the time you just play your part, but when you hear everything come together, it’s like, ‘Voila, this is awesome.’”

Tyler said he was looking to add to his musical résumé, as both he and Kiera indicated they are hoping to continue playing after high school.

“I’m looking for the experience,” he said. “And to have fun at the same time.”

Students from 36 different schools will come together for this afternoon’s performance at 2 p.m. in Crane’s Hosmer Hall. Tickets will be available starting at 1 p.m. and are $3.

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