Carnegie Hall Standing Ovations and McDonalds for KZN Youth Wind Band
“Never ever did I imagine that I would get to play clarinet in Carnegie Hall, New York” exclaimed Gr 12 local musician Rachael van Rensburg, in conversation, and coffee with The Meander Chronicle this week.
Rachael Van Rensburg has been learning music since her primary school years. It has always been her “sport”, and it was only natural that she took it on as a matric subject at St Anne’s College in Hilton. A pupil of Jeff Judge, who “is totally inspirational” according to Rachael, she has played clarinet with the St Anne’s orchestra or 5 years, since starting at the school. At the beginning of 2015 (Gr 10) she auditioned, and took up a position with the Clarinetists for the KZN Youth Wind Band based in Durban. That is when the hard musical grind really kicked in with reharsals every Saturday in Durban.
Their efforts were rewarded though, and the KZN Youth Wind Band talent was recognised with an invitation to perform at the New York Wind Band festival at Carnegie hall. Rachael described the period before the competition as exhilirating but gruelling – “Two weeks before their departure the Band upped the ante and rehearsals were held on a Saturday and a Sunday! Pieces were chosen – Armenian Dancers by Alfred Reed (we had won an award for this one in a local competition), Candide by Leonard Bernstein and a World Premier for a US conductor, Andrew Smith, called Conceit. Working with a new conductor was magic, and we learnt an enormous amount with his piece.”
Rachael recounts the adventure, and says that the enormity of this experience has still not really sunk in, “We were accompanied and looked after by the incredibly talented Pietermaritzburg clarinetist Wesley Lewis (Principal Clarinetist and Solo Clarinetist). On the 10th of March we set off on the long flight via Dubai, and on to NYC. When I first walked out of the airport and into the street, the ice-cold wind and the realization that I was in New York hit me. The experience became more dreamlike when Carnegie Hall was the view from our hotel window. When we were taken backstage to our private Orchestra Room, in Carnegie Hall, we passed walls filled with posters and photographs of the top musicians that have performed at Carnegie Hall. The most famous being Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Being backstage is an extremely sacred place for a musician and I felt absolutely honored to be given the opportunity to set foot in the hall, let alone play there. When we walked onto the stage, the adrenaline rushed through my veins, relieving the stress and anxiety that had been consuming since that morning.
Once we had finished playing our pieces, we received a standing ovation from the audience which was incredible as it was the first one to be given during the competition. This was an amazing honour and even more so was receiving the highest mark of 86%. Hopefully the KwaZulu-Natal Youth Wind Band will be on that wall of photographs in Carnegie Hall, having done South Africa proud.”
The young South Africans had a very short but incredibly rich visit to New York, leaving their mark on all those lucky enough to attend the concert. When asked what quirky “Americanisms” had struck Rachael she said without hesitation – how accessible everything was, and how it’s possible to walk everywhere. The Fire Brigade that comes past every few hours, with sirens blaring! How enormous food portions are! And yes, said Rachael, we ate mostly McDonalds, but I did get to try the ubiquitous American Bagel, from a street vendor, with the cream cheese, naturally!