SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — Students in the orchestra program at San Marcos High School got the honor of their young music careers this school year when the National Orchestra Championships invited them to compete in New York City.
“Honestly, I thought it was some sort of a scam,” said Chris Hanson, the school’s orchestra director. The group had just started traveling together, he said, winning a contest in Corpus Christi last year, and the orchestra has never represented the school out of state.
It was a real invitation and a real honor for the program that was founded less than 10 years ago. Hanson told his students about the opportunity during rehearsals.
Junior viola player Derek Camacho kept a straight face during the announcement, “but on the inside it was just, ‘Yes!'” he exclaimed, pumping his fist. “‘Oh my gosh! That’s so exciting.'”
But it meant students needed to raise money to get there. Hanson got the cost down to $950 per student — an accomplishment in itself given the original $2,000 price tag — but it was still expensive, especially as some families continue to recover from the 2015 flooding in the city.
“Whenever Mr. Hanson reminds us we have another payment coming up,” Camacho said, “I see the looks on my friends’ faces and it’s not a good feeling.”
But Hanson has taught his students to live by a motto — “One orchestra, one sound” — that they carried with them through months of fundraising, selling coupon books and chocolate-covered fortune cookies.
“If one person makes a mistake, we all make a mistake,” Camacho said, “because it’s one orchestra, and we all make one sound.”
The students have pulled in more than $15,000 to help send 49 of the orchestra’s 62 total members to the competition in March (the others didn’t register for the trip).
“As of last week, we’ve met our financial goals to fly to New York City, have a hotel to stay at, and be able to eat food,” Hanson said.
But there’s still more to go to be able to provide an experience the students will never forget, which includes the cultural and historical trips the city is famous for. Between the students and the orchestra boosters, both of which are raising money, they hope to bring in an additional $7,000-8,000 for the trip.
But regardless of what happens, Hanson said he’s already impressed by how much the community has come together to support the students.
“The connection that’s being made because we made this commitment to do something like this with our students,” he said, “I think is massive.”
So is the investment, he added, in the students’ commitment to their friends, their futures and their own musical development.
“There are opportunities, like traveling to New York City, performing at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, I mean, these huge, life-changing experiences, that are only available to these students because of an arts education,” Hanson said.
For a small group, who will be competing with larger legacy orchestras from all over the country, junior violinist Kamalei Rife said, the outcome of the contest itself isn’t as important. “We’ve already won. That’s our prize, getting to even be considered for that,” she said.
There are three orchestra classes at the high school, and a combination of all of them will be playing in New York on March 9. They’ll all be functioning as one orchestra, producing one sound, just as they have since first hearing about the trip of a lifetime.
“It’s just amazing the amount of work that all of us have put in,” Camacho said.