Andrew Hunter remembers every detail of the time he played at Carnegie Hall.
It occurred during his junior year at the University of Tennessee, years before he became the current director of the Denham Springs High School Wind Ensemble.
He remembers sitting next to his wife, though the two weren’t married at the time, and he remembers blowing out tunes on his bassoon, a woodwind instrument he played during college.
He even remembers the exact program the band played, which included songs such as Don Freund’s “Jug Blues and Fat Pickin,’” Eric Ewazen’s “Hymn for the Lost and the Living” and “Symphonic Dances” from West Side Story.
Years later, he hasn’t forgotten a thing.
“I remember everything about that trip,” he said. “It was once in a lifetime.”
Next Mardi Gras, members of Hunter’s high school band will get to enjoy the same experience.
The DSHS Wind Ensemble was one of a small group of high school bands selected to play in the Inaugural Cleveland Orchestra/Baldwin Wallace Conservatory International Festival at Carnegie Hall in New York City next February.
Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, a liberal arts-based and Methodist-affiliated college located just outside of Cleveland, is putting on the wind ensemble invitational, which will feature just six high school bands from across North America.
The DSHS Wind Ensemble was one of the six.
“This will be a trip of a lifetime,” Hunter said.
Each of the six bands will perform on the 126-year-old Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage on Feb. 12, 2018. The six performances will be evenly dispersed among two different time slots, with the first starting at 9:30 a.m. and the other at 1:30 p.m. Once those wrap up, the Baldwin Wallace Wind Ensemble will give a premier concert, beginning at 8 p.m.
When they aren’t performing, the students will participate in master classes with students from Baldwin Wallace Conservatory as well as some faculty members that are part of the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the premier orchestras in the country.
But the 55 DSHS students that make the trip will be there for five nights, giving them ample opportunity to tour the nation’s biggest city.
“I want to see Times Square,” sophomore clarinetist Victoria Seeger excitedly said.
Seeger and other band members said they didn’t hear about the invitation until a few weeks ago, but their band director has known since before Christmas, when an old friend asked if he was interested.
At the Midwest Clinic in Chicago last December, Hunter reconnected with Brendan Caldwell, current director of the wind ensemble at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory. Caldwell, an LSU alumnus who played in the Tiger Marching Band with one of Hunter’s former band instructors, told Hunter of his plans for the festival and asked if his band would be a part of it.
Hunter wanted to jump at the offer, but the aftermath of the Great Flood of 2016 made it difficult to do so at once.
First, he ran it over with DSHS principal Kelly Jones, who told him he thought it was a great idea. Then Hunter asked the students’ parents, who emphatically echoed Jones’ response, with some playfully offering to chaperon.
Despite the obvious financial implications of such a trip — about $2,000 per student — at a time when people are still recovering from the historic flood, everyone was on board.
“Of course we were concerned, coming five months off the heels of all the stuff that happened this past August,” Hunter said. “Is that too soon to do and announce something like this? And clearly there’s a big financial commitment.
“But the thing we decided as an administration and as a band staff is that we can’t stay flooded forever. At some point, we have to move on and say, ‘We’re going to do what’s best by the kids to give them the best experience possible.’”
Once Jones, the rest of the administration and the students’ parents were on board, Hunter finally told the band, which knew something was coming for weeks but didn’t know what.
“They hinted at a few things ahead of time, telling us there was a big announcement coming,” Seeger said. “But we were shocked.”
This’ll be the biggest and most prestigious venue most of the students have ever performed in. DSHS sophomore percussionist Tim Marquess said he’s played in the River Center in the past, but this honor exceeded his wildest dreams.
But in order to get there, the DSHS Wind Ensemble will need some help.
Hunter said he and his staff have a few fundraisers in mind to help with the costs, but he’s currently waiting on the board’s approval before making any announcements of those plans.
Meanwhile, the band will do what it’s always done to raise money — work concessions at football games.
New DSHS coach Bill Conides and his high-flying offense are bound to draw even bigger crowds to Yellow Jacket Stadium, which will bring more football-crazed fans to the concession stands where parents of the wind ensemble work weekly to raise money.
Hunter, who just wrapped up his first academic year at Denham, wants them to come hungry.
“Hopefully people will buy hot dogs and boudin,” Hunter joked.