Start spreading the news: Port Angeles High musicians play New York's famous Carnegie Hall today
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Alex Robertson, 17, concentrates on her music during rehearsal at the Grand Hyatt in New York City on Friday. Robertson is one of 110 Port Angeles High School Roughrider Orchestra musicians to give a concert at Carnegie Hall this afternoon.
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Senior violist Martin Quarto practices Friday with the Port Angeles High School Roughrider Orchestra, which will perform this afternoon at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
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Music director Ron Jones works with the Port Angeles High School Roughrider Orchestra during Friday's rehearsal at the Grand Hyatt ballroom in New York City.

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

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NEW YORK — The day is upon them.

From the Grand Hyatt next door to Grand Central Terminal, 110 Port Angeles teenagers will take three tour buses across Manhattan today to a long-imagined destination.

The Port Angeles High School Roughrider Orchestra performs at Carnegie Hall, that American cultural landmark where Woody Guthrie, Tchaikovsky, the Beatles and Leonard Bernstein have come before.

Show time is 1 p.m. EDT (10 a.m. PDT).

The young musicians, large and small instruments in tow, arrived here Thursday on two airlines: Alaska and Frontier.

They faced two morning rehearsals at the Grand Hyatt ballroom Friday and Saturday, and finally a dress rehearsal this morning at Carnegie Hall itself.

For the six-day adventure around today's performance, each teen had to raise $2,500: for hotel, food, sightseeing, air fare — including extra for the 26 cellos — and the fee to MidAmerica Productions, which presents the Carnegie Hall concert.

Ron Jones, Port Angeles High School's music director, has taken his students to Carnegie Hall every four years since 1989, so he knows how keyed up teenagers can get.

To the parents who serve as chaperones, Jones says: “You're going to see behavior in your son or daughter that you've never seen before.”

Of course they were nervous, Roughrider violist Elizabeth Helwick and violinist Leah Marsh agreed.

But these musicians have done lots of what the late violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz advised to get to Carnegie Hall: Practice.

Jones, for his part, uses Twitter to send updates to students and parents in both New York and Port Angeles.

Under the name Maestrojones, he tweeted upon his arrival, then reminded the musicians about the need for sleep before those morning rehearsals.

When asked for a highlight of the trip so far, 17-year-old Alex Robertson replied: “Just everything — everything you see.”

Everything includes, of course, the rivers of humanity on the sidewalks of New York.

People of every shade, speaking in myriad accents and languages, dart into the subway or into yellow taxis — and with the skyscrapers piercing a bright blue sky, they even paused to look up, just for a second.

Rehearsing, sightseeing, taking the subway: Doing these things with 110 youngsters is an orchestral production.

Twenty-five chaperones plus a few extra troubleshooters from the board of OPUS — Orchestra Parents United for Students — are on the trip.

The planning started years ago and culminated in what OPUS board member Laurie Dudley called “an exercise in cooperation.”

The cellos and basses, too big for the airplane cabins, had to be checked baggage. The violins and violas could be carry-on luggage, but that didn't leave much room for students' clothes and stuff.

So the students who had more carry-on space, such as the cellists, took on stuff from their fellow musicians.

Every morning in New York, each of the 110 students receives an envelope with $40 in food money inside. So of the $275,000 cost of the trip, food alone adds up to $22,000.

All of this was raised, bit by bit, by the students themselves, by their parents and through donations from community members, said Dudley, whose daughter Stephanie, 15, is one of the Roughrider violinists.

“It's taken the whole village,” Dudley added, “to get these kids on the trip.”

Jessica and Bill Baccus, parents of Roughrider cellist Elijah Baccus, are both chaperones.

“I have seven boys to collect right now, and I just dropped off four girls,” Jessica said Friday morning, walking briskly across the Grand Hyatt mezzanine.

Jessica and her husband, Bill Baccus, along with the rest of the chaperones, took subgroups to the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and “Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King” and “Wicked” on Broadway, depending on each student's activity selections.

There are also plans to visit the Empire State Building, Central Park, Little Italy and Ground Zero, among other landmarks.

But Carnegie Hall is the point of it all.

This afternoon, the Roughrider Orchestra will play Beethoven's Allegretto from Symphony No. 7, aka the theme from the movie “The King's Speech”; the Serenade for Strings by Swedish composer Dag Wiren; Dvorak's “American Rondo”; and, for a last flourish, Hans Zimmer's “At World's End” from “The Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Port Angeles' young orchestra is among three to play today in what's called the Ensemble Spotlight Series; the others are the Carolina Youth Symphony from Greenville, S.C., and the Redmond High School Orchestra from Washington state.

“Oh . . . each time, it's different,” Jones said, adding that at his first Carnegie concert 24 years ago, he was “scared spitless.”

Now, though, he's more confident.

But “when the kids walk out there on that stage,” Jones said, “and they're ready to go, it's like going down a slide.”

As in there's no turning back, no taking away the fact that these musicians performed on Easter Sunday at Carnegie Hall.


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz, who is covering the orchestra's activities in New York City, can be reached at

Last modified: March 30. 2013 6:04PM
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