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Students flock to Crane for area all-state concert

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POTSDAM — Nearly 400 of the region’s finest musicians are at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music this weekend for the annual New York State School Music Association’s Area All-State concert.

Jonathan Hunkins, band director at Massena Central School, serves as the general chairman for the event, which involves a day and a half of practice before the all-stars take the stage for a concert that includes performances from a chorus, orchestra and concert band.

“When I went through this program as a high school student, it was one of the main things for me that lead me to pursue a career in music education,” he said. “It always helps young musicians to have as many musical influences as possible.”

Each year, the three ensembles are led by guest conductors with Jennifer Scott Micelli leading the chorus, Stephen Melillo leading the band and Robert Blais leading the orchestra.

While only having two days to prepare for a performance presents challenges, Mr. Melillo said the important aspect is to focus on the experience for the students and not the concert itself.

“The challenge is to do the right thing for the kids and not think of the concert as a goal,” he said.

Mr. Blais agreed.

“The concert isn’t the most important part,” he said. “It’s just a byproduct. Sometimes the concert falls apart, but nobody dies.”

Lisbon Central School band director Glenn Roberts said he enjoys seeing the students, many of whom have never met before, come together for what usually ends up being a great show.

“If this was sports they would be bashing each other in, but they have to come together,” he said. “Watching them do that is the great thing for me.”

While many of the students were from less than an hour away, some traveled several hours to participate.

Students from Sherburne-Earlville, a school district in Chenango County, traveled for four hours to get the experience.

Director Jeff Manwaring said it’s worth the trip.

“The reason I come to this is it’s a class act,” he said.

Caitlin M. Weinell plays the flute and is a senior at Sherburne-Earlville. She’s making her third trip to the north country for all-state concerts. She said this is her second show at Crane, with a show at Indian River Central School sandwiched in between.

Despite the four-hour ride, she said the trip is well worth it.

“You learn something new every time you come and you meet new people, so it’s fun,” she said.

Referring to Hosmer Hall, where the students will perform a concert today, she said, “It’s really an awesome place to play. It’s a great auditorium.”

As for the guest conductors, she said they’re great, too.

“Each director teaches you new things,” she said.

Kris M. Newtown is a senior trombone player for Lisbon making his third appearance in the band.

“We get to play with other really good musicians from all over our area,” he said.

Two newcomers to the experience were Kiera S. Cornelius and Tyler J. Sloley, both sophomores at Indian River Central School.

“I’m expecting to challenge myself,” Kiera said. “These pieces of music are harder than what we play with our regular school orchestra.”

Students from 36 schools will play at 2 p.m. in Hosmer Hall.

Tickets will be available starting at 1 p.m. and are $3 each.

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