By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — The Windham High Band is bound for the stage of every musician’s dreams.
Four hundred schools applied for the National Concert Band and Orchestra Festival. Twelve received invitations to play at Carnegie Hall next April in New York City.
Windham is one of them.
“This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said senior Tim Raymond, the band’s president and a percussionist. “You can’t pass it up.”
When director Jared Cassedy told students they would appear on a stage where both The Beatles and Yo-Yo Ma have played, band members admit the good news was a little overwhelming.
“I was so excited and so amazed we can do this,” junior flutist Zoe Perkins said.
Junior clarinetist Jillian DiPersio said she felt like skipping through the halls.
“All of us were ecstatic,” she said.
The band’s acceptance to the festival adds to a string of musical accomplishments.
Two years ago, the band played at Riverside Church in the Heritage Festival in New York.
Last year, the band performed at Chicago’s Symphony Hall, attaining the highest scores in the Festival of Gold.
Any professional musician might envy the opportunities that brought the young band members to these famed venues.
“It’s true,” Cassedy said. “Their success is a complete testimony to their dedication and commitment.”
His students think Cassedy has a little something to do with their success.
“We are who we are because of him,” junior bass clarinetist Maddy Joanis said.
“His passion for music is contagious,” Tim said.
Cassedy, 31, followed many of his students from the middle school to the new high school, presiding over a band program that has doubled in size.
He is a past New Hampshire young band director of the year.
Friday morning, students arrived in the band room, grabbed their instruments and promptly got down to work with their maestro.
Cassedy calmed the room with the motion of one hand, every student’s eyes following him as he bounded from podium to floor to a white board.
“Sing it,” Cassedy commanded, putting them through the scales. “Sit up. Good posture — there you go — don’t lean back like that.”
Smiling, encouraging, constantly moving, Cassedy had them at hello, goodbye and every moment in between.
“I know it’s a high note trumpets, but some of you? Move the air faster,” he said.
The band played “The Hounds of Spring,” which they will practice many times in striving for perfection at Carnegie.
“I challenge you to make this sound as if we are performing right now,” Cassedy said.
Cassedy acknowledges this is a class, a program, where each student performer stays involved.
“One of my biggest philosophies is every student impacts the entire ensemble,” he said. “Nobody just sits back.”
Maddy said they never would.
“Everyone just wants to play well for him,” she said.
As pleased as he is with their acceptance to the festival, Cassedy said he doesn’t want his 89 band members known as a festival band.
“I want people to see these students as hard workers,” he said.
But Carnegie? He concedes it really is a once-in-a-lifetime show.
“That’s a huge deal,” he said. “It is the premiere place to perform in the world.”
The band will need some help to get there.
Cassedy said the band and supporters, including the Windham Musical Arts Association, are figuring out the numbers now, though it probably will take more than $1,000 per band member.
Students and families will contribute to the cause themselves, but they also are planning to sell mattresses, candles, chocolates and may stage a cooking demonstration to raise funds.
Tim knows it will take a community to get the band to the festival.
“Every single bit of help we can get is more than appreciated,” he said.
People don’t have to wait for the videos from Carnegie to see the band.
Throughout the year, Cassedy has them performing at community events.
They recently entertained Gov. Maggie Hassan during her visit to the school, and they put the pep into the football games and showcase their work at school concerts.
Zoe most enjoyed performing at graduation last year, even if it was hard for band members to hear one another outdoors.
“That was so special,” she said. “That was our last time together with the seniors and it made us a closer group.”