Off to Carnegie Hall: Local students invited to honors series

HARLINGEN — You’re not supposed to sing and play piano at the same time, at least not when applying to a Carnegie Hall program.

But Marlene Ochoa did, and it worked.

“I went with what my heart told me to do,” said Marlene, 14, an eighth grader at Gutierrez Middle School.

Marlene and eight other orchestra and choir students at Gutierrez have qualified to perform this summer at the Middle School Honors Performance Series. They learned earlier this month they’d been accepted to perform at the event at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

“I didn’t expect to make it,” said Alfredo Bonilla, 14, a cello player who was nominated by orchestra instructor Olga De Leon.

“I feel accomplished,” he added with an exuberant smile.

De Leon nominated Bonilla and three other orchestra students for the June event. Choir Director Pamela Briones and her assistant Susan Morrison nominated five singers from Gutierrez. Organizers notified the students they’d been nominated, and then they made the decision whether to apply.

The application process required them to send recordings of solo performances. The Gutierrez applications included a broad range of instruments — violins, cellos, violas and double basses. Voices which imprinted themselves on recordings soared into the upper registers of the soprano and dipped into the bass clefts.

The talent in the recordings impressed the Honors Selection Board enough to invite the students to the series. They’ll perform under the direction of master conductors this summer in the Big Apple. They’ll also meet fellow musicians from around the world. They’ll see a show on Broadway and explore the highlights of the city.

“I feel very honored,” said Marlene, who sings soprano in the choir.

Being accepted into the program caught the young musicians off guard.

“I thought they made a mistake,” said Cadence Carpio, 13, who sings soprano.

Then, considering more directly her performance, she added, “I work hard and I practice. It just makes me happy.”

The students spoke of the time they’d spent honing their musical craft.

“I am proud of myself,” said Christina Ramirez, 13, who plays violin.

“I basically just practice,” she said. “I think I work on it a lot more. I think it sounds better than last year.”

De Leon said she selected Christina and the other students according to specific strengths in their performance.

“They are strong, dedicated, and determined students,” she said. “They have a passion for orchestra and if they could they would live in the orchestra room.”

Likewise, the choir students revealed superior ability in their performances.

“It was the way they did the musicality to the singing, they added the diction and the vowels,” Briones said. “That set them above the other students.”

She was happy for her students’ success.

“They are up there representing all of us,” Briones said. “They worked really hard day in and day out. I am proud they achieved this.”

Music seems to be the gift that keeps on giving. That’s an oft-used phrase, but the reality is far from clichés. In fact it can be said that music lacks the capacity for over use. Each performance differs from any other. No piece can be performed exactly the same way by two people, nor can the same musician play the same piece the same way each time. In the world of the arts, variation is the norm.