As the lights dimmed and the crowd became silent, the energy in the air was palpable. Senior Edgar Contreras’ heart raced fast as he looked at the beautifully illuminated stage. Although the prestige and history of the Hall made him nervous, it also invigorated him with an energy he had never felt before.
“It was completely different performing in Carnegie Hal,” he said. “It was like the Hall had its own energy.”
The Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall is considered one of the most prestigious musical competitions in the world. Students from all over the world are allowed to participate — and this spring Contreras was among them.
Band director Ashley Siegrist was invited to recommend students for the program.
“It is very competitive,” Siegrist said. “There were kids there from countries across Europe, Asia, Canada, and South America.”
Contreras had to send in an audition tape of him playing several pieces. From there, judges listened to all the tapes and chose the best musicians to become finalists.
Although Contreras was excited about the opportunity, he was worried about the financial costs of such an elaborate trip.
“I knew that it would be like $2000,” Contreras said. “So I was not very optimistic and I did not put in as much effort as I could have into the etude.”
Despite his pessimism, he still worked hard to produce a good product.
“Every day I would try to go over the etude,” Contreras said. “I could also choose to add my own solo or etude of choice in the recording, so I chose to do my region music because it was something that I had to prepare for either way.”
Fortunately, his work paid off.
“They notified me that I got in, and Alex (Vinh) got runner-up,” he said. “Mrs. Siegrist asked the district if they could fund it for me, and they actually did it. So I have to thank Mrs. Siegrist and the district for that.”
Although Contreras was surprised at his success, Siegrist was not.
“He has a beautiful tone and plays with emotion. Most kids just worry about the notes and rhythms, but never get to the real music.”
On February 6, Contreras and Siegrist packed their bags for their four-day trip to New York. Contreras had to go to several long practices to get ready for the performance at Carnegie Hall, while Siegrist was able to visit the city. Although he was in practice for a major part of the trip, he was able to do a lot.
“We went to Good Morning America,” Contreras said. “I got to look into the windows, see their set, and actually see them do their own thing during the commercial break. They check their phones, check Twitter, and do their makeup in the mirror. New York was interesting. Being around and seeing everyone walking even at night. It truly is a city that never sleeps.”
While in New York, Siegrist and Contreras took advantage of the weather.
“The funnest thing that we did while in New York was build a snow man in Central Park!” Siegrist said.
In addition, Contreras had the opportunity to meet with many young musicians from around the world which allowed him to grow as a musician.
“I got to meet musicians outside of Texas, and see people from like Minnesota and California,” he said. “I also got to interact with them to see how their bands work. There’s a lot of stuff they do that Texas doesn’t. Texas is really iron fist on music and wants everything to be perfect. In all the other states, it’s not that bad, it’s much more relaxed and fun. Seeing a bunch of different musicians outside of Texas was a big part of it.”
Despite enjoying the visit, Contreras was especially impressed with Carnegie Hall.
“At first, I didn’t believe it was anything special,” he said. “I thought that it was just a hall, but then you see the architecture and the details that they put into it. Whenever you see the stage, the wooden floors are really light wood so it looks like the hall is illuminating.”
On February 9, after many long hours practicing with the Honors Orchestra, he performed under the direction of conductor Jeffrey Grogan.
“Mr. Grogan was an awesome conductor,” Contreras said. “Even the band director told us that when you play at Carnegie Hall, you will sound better than you do in practice and it makes you a better musician. It actually happened. Everything is so much better, the sound is better.”
Siegrist believes Contreras owes his success to the hard work he has put in to perfecting his talent.
“Edgar was able to have this opportunity because of music,” she said. “Music is a passion of his and that passion gave him opportunities to see the world. Even though he is going to pursue petroleum engineering in college, he never gave up continuing his music education.”
Contreras has advice for others trying to pursue an opportunity like this one.
“I want to tell others to keep practicing; you never know if you’ll get a spot,” he said. “You don’t lose anything by trying. It’s not like you lose anything by auditioning. If I wouldn’t have made it, then I just would have not gone to the trip, but nothing would have happened. It doesn’t hurt to audition.”