Playing in New York City’s Carnegie Hall is an experience Hellgate High School Wind Ensemble members said they will never forget.

“I was moved to tears by the experience. It was really powerful and moving,” senior trumpet player Claire Hinther said.

Band director Leon Slater said the group applied six times to participate in the New York Wind Band Festival before being accepted for this year’s event.

The festival features workshops, master classes and a performance in the famed Carnegie Hall.

The Hellgate ensemble performed a David Maslanka piece titled "Give Us This Day" and a John Mackey composition called "Night On Fire," and Maslanka helped the group prepare, Slater said.

The performance last Monday night was one of nine by high school bands from across the country and as far away as Malaysia who were selected to play during the festival.

Playing with other high-caliber bands inspires students, Slater said.

“It helps kids rise to the occasion,” he said.

The Hellgate students more than rose to the occasion, earning the highest ranking for their performance – a gold rating.

“We had a great performance,” Slater said.

“It’s Carnegie Hall,” Slater said, while he tried to find a way to describe the emotion of the performance. “It’s just a magical place,” he added.

Nearly 70 of the wind ensemble’s members were scheduled to spend four days in the city, but only were in town for about three-and-a-half days because of airline delays caused by winter weather.

Once in New York, the students were able to rehearse with another of the high school bands, as well as take in numerous cultural and historical sites, including watching a performance of "Les Misérables" and visiting the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

“So it was quite the experience for kids from Montana who had never been,” Slater said.

On Thursday, the group sight-read an adaptation of the "Les Misérables" score from their chairs in Hellgate's band room.

When they watched the performance live, half her attention was on the orchestra playing and not on the actors, said Rory Anderson, a junior who plays the French horn.

New York overall was fast-paced and crowded, Anderson said, but the experience was amazing.

“It was such a great bonding experience with my friends,” she said.

Carnegie Hall was even more beautiful than she expected and the ensemble played the best they ever have, she said.

“It was just a moment of so much pride,” she added.

When it was announced the Hellgate ensemble had received a gold rating, the students jumped up and down with excitement.

“It was so special. The whole trip was amazing,” Anderson said.

Hinther said she’s thankful for Slater, who helped them prepare and organized the trip, as well as dealt with the delays.

Every day he brings out the best in the students both as musicians and people, she said.

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