By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – Ninety-nine orchestra students at Bay Port High School are about to embark on a trip to one of the most prestigious musical venues in the world.
The students, under the direction of Audrey Nowak, will head to Carnegie Hall in Manhattan for the Viennese Masters Orchestra Invitational.
However, before they leave, Nowak would like to make sure they get a proper sendoff.
At 7 p.m. on Monday, June 18, at the Bay Port High School Performing Arts Center, the orchestra will play its entire 27-minute set in a free show open to the public.
“It would make my heart so happy to see that place full because these kids are representing Howard-Suamico and I want that to sink in,” Nowak said. “Not just Bay Port, but our community and our state, I think that will help it sink in.”
The road to Carnegie Hall started years ago in 2010 when Nowak got the idea.
In 2014 she took a group to the Chicago Symphony Center. After a strong performance there, she was able to get a group into the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 2016. Now the stage will be set for Bay Port on one of the most historic stages in the world.
“It was a big announcement and they knew, yeah they knew it was a big deal,” Nowak said. “Some of them really didn’t know why, so I showed them some videos on the history of that hall. Tchaikovsky conducted the opening show at that same hall. I’m going to be standing at the same spot. I can’t even believe it.”
As for how to get to Carnegie Hall, the old joke is true. It takes practice. But Nowak said her students got some additional help, too.
“I’m very, very proud. I think you could hold them up to anyone. They’ve come a long ways. We’re not perfect, but no orchestra is. But in terms of skills level, absolutely these kids are incredible,” she said. “It’s not because of me or even because of them, it’s a community effort. It’s our school district and school board who has backed me personally, and kept me going. It’s the community who passed the referendum that built the Ferguson Family Orchestra Center. Before we didn’t have a room, we squeezed in between band rehearsals. It’s the parents in the area, and the music stores that supply us. It’s such a community effort and that’s what makes it remarkable, that all the stars have to algin.”
When Nowak started at Bay Port in 2010 the program started, too. She worked with every student from fifth grade up. The 2017-18 school year is the last year she has those very first students in the orchestra.
Now the program has expanded to three teachers and Nowak works with high schoolers.
Eight years later, being able to follow up on her promise to take them to Carnegie Hall means the world to her.
“One of the most poignant things for me is when I realize these kids may be grandmas and grandpas someday taking their grandchildren to Carnegie Hall, and they’ll be able to look at them and say ‘I played here,’” she said.
The group will play classical fare and Nowak will make sure they play a little bit of Wisconsin culture, too.
“We’re ending with a polka because we’re going to bring a little piece of Wisconsin to New York,” Nowak said.
She doesn’t plan to slow down either with the trips. In 2020 the orchestra has been invited to perform in Austria for Beethoven’s 250th birthday. In 2022 they are invited to Shanghai, China, as well.
Nowak has yet to accept and is working on costs for the students, but it’s always been her goal to take her students to famous stages around the world.
“In Howard-Suamico, it has aligned perfectly,” she said. “I think the orchestra and our whole music department and our schools are a community treasure. It’s just thrilling to lead this group and take them there.”