Local high school orchestra set to perform at famed Carnegie Hall

IBERVILLE PARISH — The MSA West Academy orchestra in Plaquemine is preparing to perform at one of the most historic venues in the world — Carnegie Hall in New York City.

“This is a goal the program has been chasing for the last four years,” said MSA West Principal Emily Martin. “Covid kind of changed all of that but we’re pretty excited to be able to meet the goal.”

The orchestra is set to perform at Carnegie Hall on April 7. The orchestra’s performance in a Chicago competition in 2022 led to the invite to Carnegie Hall.

Martin said 45 students from grades 8th-12th will be performing two concerts on the same day at the famed concert hall. One performance will be the concert band and the other is the full orchestra, which includes a full string section.

The school’s music program is under the direction of Dr. Michael Berthelot.

To reach the fundraising goal of $110.000 to make it to New York, Martin said the kids have done everything from working concession at LSU games to selling yard signs.

“You name it, they have hustled to do it and the support from the community has been super, overwhelmingly wonderful,” she said.

The kids will leave a few days before and take a bus up to the Big Apple. Martin said a group of family members is making the trip in support.

“We want to try and fill the stands at Carnegie Hall so the kids, they’re so far away from home, they’ll feel like they’re supported by lots of people,” she said.

The students will have other experiences besides the performances. Martin said they’ll visit the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty as well as other sites in the city. They’ll also visit New York University while in the city and Virginia Tech on the drive up to check out their band program.

“We’re getting them out of this town for a little while,” Martin joked. “We want to show them a couple of different things. We’re really proud of what we’re able to do with kids in a small community. I’ve seen the adjudication notes from previous years. Folks are shocked that kids from the little town of Plaquemine, Louisiana, can have this technique, can express this much musicality and can compete with schools that have 5,000 kids. But our kids believe in themselves and each other and trust Dr. Berthelot enough to just go for it and we think that the more that our community can see what our community is capable of, only good things can come from that.”

Martin said something else that is noteworthy about the group is that several of the kids are playing an instrument for the first time this year. The music program began the year with only 35 students. Martin schools have to have at least 40 to participate.

“We started this goal like four years ago and it’s kind of a nice thing where the kids who are seniors this year were part of it when we started the goal,” she said. “At the beginning of the year, we only had 35 who were returning just from graduating really more than anything else. That’s where the recruiting began, and then the time to get those kids really believing that they could learn music to this level, while still being a regular kid who meets academy requirements and goes to dances and lives life.

“We’ve been able to do that,” she added. “Then there’s multiple kids who are buying multiple instruments, like different instruments in different pieces because that’s what’s needed. So, when you are from a bigger school, you have one child to play each instrument. When you’re from a small school, you have to be really versatile. So the talent of these kids even surpasses like just going to Carnegie Hall. They’re going to Carnegie Hall and are going to play multiple instruments in one place. It’s just been really cool to see the kids have this goal and know that it was going to take more than just raising money. There’s high expectations for the musicianship and they really encouraged each other to do that.”

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