WAILUKU - Two years ago, St. Anthony Junior Senior High band teacher Everett Lee Yamashita called a mandatory meeting for his entire symphonic band.
"He didn't tell us what it was about," said senior bassoonist Keili Johnson.
"I thought it was going to be bad," said fellow senior and baritone player Isaiah Ragasa.
St. Anthony band teacher Everett Lee Yamashita conducts his 44-student symphonic band Tuesday afternoon in the school band room. The conductor, his group of musicians, chaperons and parents will leave Maui for New York City next week. The band will play in the 2013 Manhattan Concert Production National Band and Orchestra Festival at historic Carnegie Hall.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
It wasn't bad. In fact, Yamashita's news likely would elicit the envy of almost every musician on the island.
He told them that they would be playing at Carnegie Hall.
Those musicians from St. Anthony would be gracing the same New York City stage as George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Benny Goodman and performing in a hallowed hall of music steeped in tradition and history.
"When they came in, you could tell they were sort of nervous," Yamashita said about the meeting in the band room. "When I told them what happened, they were ecstatic. They were cheering and everything . . . A lot of them were in shock, and it didn't settle in until about 10 or 20 minutes later."
"I was literally jumping for joy," Ragasa said. "To be such a small school on Maui going to the Big Apple. . . . It's really exciting."
"I was in disbelief," Johnson said. "I still am. . . . We're going to Carnegie Hall."
In about a week and a half, the 44-piece symphonic band from Wailuku will be playing in the Main Hall at Carnegie Hall in the 2013 Manhattan Concert Production National Band and Orchestra Festival.
The Maui band will be playing "The Witch and the Saint" by Steven Reineke and "First Suite in E Flat" by Gustav Holst and will be appearing with five other high school bands and orchestras from across the country April 1.
Yamashita got the ball rolling on the Carnegie Hall appearance by recording his band - secretly - and submitting the tape of their performance on a whim to the concert production officials in November 2011. He was looking for a festival on the Mainland to have his band play in.
About a week later, he received the acceptance and invitation to play at Carnegie Hall.
"The director accepted us and said we were in, as long as we could get there," said the band teacher.
Yamashita asked the director if they could come two years later though, so they would have enough time to raise the funds.
"We guessed it would take about $125,000 to cover everything," he said.
Since December 2011, the band has raised about $114,000, with a "big chunk" coming from alumni and businesses, he said. Students held benefit concerts and carnivals, along with writing solicitation letters to local businesses. They sold chocolate bars, selling a majority of them outside of church after Mass.
"We had a few students pay for their whole trip just selling chocolates," Yamashita said.
Students worked equally hard practicing, playing college-level arrangements that have "definitely been a challenge for even the top kids," Yamashita said.
For the past month, the band has practiced before, during and after school.
Sophomore bass clarinetist Jonathan Ibanez, who has never been to New York, said he tries to practice about four to five hours a day.
"We definitely chose challenging music," he said. "But it still highlights the range and strength of our band."
Besides Carnegie Hall, the band will be performing aboard the USS Intrepid and under the Statue of Liberty. Their concert bill has five numbers, including two by Maui's Grammy Award winning Keali'i Reichel, "Kauanoeanuhea" and "Kawaipunahele." A half-dozen band members will be dancing hula to the songs.
The entourage will be leaving next week and spend a week in New York City. In addition to the musical dates, the St. Anthony band members will be visiting historic landmarks, including the Empire State Building, the Guggenheim Museum and the site of the World Trade Center.
As the date creeps closer, Ragasa, who played in a "thank you" concert in the St. Anthony Church Center last week, said he has noticed himself getting a little nervous.
"I was thinking to myself, 'If I'm nervous now, imagine Carnegie Hall,' '' he said.
Feeling as excited and nervous as his students, Yamashita said he has never visited the East Coast, let alone Carnegie Hall.
"I tell the kids I might seem calm or mellow," he said. "But I'm equally excited as they are."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.