Practice, practice, practice. The classic punchline about the best way to get to Carnegie Hall will prove true for 165 Virginia Tech students on April 11, when they perform at the storied concert venue.
The students — and several of their professors — will have earned their berths on stage through years and even decades of practice, along with a rarefied invitation for the university to stage a performance there.
Members of the Virginia Tech Wind Ensemble and the Virginia Tech Combined Choirs — the Chamber Singers, Tech Men, and Women’s Chorus — will all be performing at the concert, dubbed Hokies at Carnegie Hall.
Hannah Lee, a clarinetist in the Wind Ensemble, said she burst into tears when she learned she would be playing at the iconic performance hall.
“That’s a dream I had as a little girl,” said the senior from Grundy, Virginia, who is majoring in music in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “My hometown is in the middle of coal country, and performing at Carnegie Hall was not an obvious expectation for kids there. But it’s been at the top of my bucket list ever since I started playing music.”
On their way north to New York City, the students, who represent all seven of the university’s undergraduate colleges, will also be presenting a concert at the George Mason Center for the Arts in Fairfax, Virginia, on the evening of April 10.
During both performances, Dwight Bigler, director of choral activities at Virginia Tech, will offer a new work. He wrote “Three Appalachian Songs” based on folk songs historically associated with the Appalachian region: “Cluck Old Hen,” “Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger,” and “Sourwood Mountain.”
“As I arranged these tunes for choir and wind ensemble, I researched Appalachian folk music instruments and tried to include those styles in my work,” Bigler said. “It was challenging because the standard bluegrass instruments, such as banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin, are not usually included in a wind ensemble.”
Bigler studied the sounds and typical rhythmic patterns of those instruments and translated them into musical figures that would work in the band.
“I found the flutes and clarinets can combine in ways that imitate a banjo in one of the pieces, and percussion helps to add to the flavor as well,” he said. “‘Cluck Old Hen,’ for example, will feature one of our percussionists playing the spoons. Many other elements combine to present a style reflective of the rich traditions of this region.”
The students will also perform a variation on a piece Bigler wrote for the 2014 installation of Tim Sands as president of Virginia Tech. Originally intended for an a-cappella choir, the piece now features wind instruments. Bigler said he believes the text — from Emily Dickinson’s poem “If I can stop one heart from breaking” — is a perfect match for the Virginia Tech motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).
The concert will feature 57 members of the Wind Ensemble and 108 members of the Combined Choirs. Jonathan Caldwell, a visiting assistant professor of music, will conduct the Wind Ensemble while Bigler conducts the Combined Choirs.
Other participating School of Performing Arts faculty members include Jason Crafton on trumpet and Alan Weinstein on electric cello with the Wind Ensemble, Annie Stevens on percussion in a performance with the Chamber Singers, and soprano Ariana Wyatt soloing on “Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger” with the Wind Ensemble and the Combined Choirs.
“These performances will provide Virginia Tech with a valuable opportunity to let our students and faculty dazzle on the national stage and connect with the larger arts community,” Caldwell said. “And we expect Hokies at Carnegie Hall to produce a ripple effect that extends far beyond our campus and endures far beyond the students’ time at Virginia Tech.”