New Heights: PHS Orchestra Shines in Washington
For members of the Pinecrest High School Orchestra, the trip to Washington, D.C., last week was memorable in more ways than one.
The orchestra not only won several awards at the Presidential Inaugural Heritage Festival held at George Mason University last weekend, but its members also attended the historic Inauguration of President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
The 29-member Pinecrest orchestra won first place in its category and brought home both an Adjudicator's Award and the "Most Outstanding Orchestra Group" award. Most importantly, the orchestra earned a gold ranking, which allows it to perform at invitation-only gold festivals at venues such as Carnegie Hall.
"It's pretty prestigious," Pinecrest orchestra director Lindsay Leach said of the gold ranking. "It's a different level of playing at the gold festivals."
The Pinecrest orchestra was one of only two that achieved the gold ranking at the festival, which attracted high school bands, choruses and orchestras from across the country. In all, about 4,700 students participated in the festival last weekend.
Mary Sellers, who plays violin in the orchestra, said she was pleasantly surprised with the gold ranking.
"I wasn't expecting it," she said, "since the year before only 10 students went, and we only got a silver ranking."
The Pinecrest students played "The Barber of Seville" by Rossini, the first movement of Mozart's 25th symphony, and the "1812 Overture" by Tchaikovsky.
The showing at the festival is especially impressive, Leach said, because the Pinecrest orchestra is made up of strings only. Students play cello, violin, viola or bass. Many of the other orchestras competing at the festival were much bigger, and had percussion or woodwind sections, in addition to string sections. The only other orchestra to achieve a gold ranking was a full orchestra, far larger than Pinecrest.
"They did great," said Beverly Walsh, a chaperone on the trip. "It was amazing how well they played after a full day of traveling."
Vicki Auman, another chaperone, added, "It's a compliment to the orchestra, and teachers in the elementary schools and middle schools, who have prepared the students to play in high school, and to Lindsay Leach, who has pushed them to a higher level."
After attending the awards ceremony and formal ball for the Heritage Festival at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Va., on Saturday evening, the students spent the rest of their time in Washington sightseeing and participating in inaugural events.
The students took a tour of the Capitol, went to all the Smithsonian and Holocaust museums and visited the memorials in the area of the reflecting pool. Their effort to see the Washington Monument was somewhat frustrated by a broken elevator, but Sellers said it was still her favorite monument. They also attended the concert on Monday and saw Obama's speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
On Tuesday morning, they woke up at 3:30 to make their way to the National Mall, where they got a spot with a view of the Capitol, near the Smithsonian. They could see the ceremony from one of the screens that had been set up on the Mall.
"It was an incredible crowd," said Christine Sellers, a chaperone on the trip. "Everyone was so polite and well-behaved, even with the low temperatures."
Caitlin Walsh, a cellist in the orchestra, said it "was amazing to see all the dignitaries, and especially cool to see Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman perform before Obama took the oath of office."
Baxter Clement, another chaperone, said the group arrived there at 7 a.m. and waited for hours outside. Because it was so cold, they decided that they needed to get inside.
"So we took them into a museum for a while and warmed up for a while," he said, "and then the guys said 'We have to see Yo Yo Ma,' and we went back outside to find the crowd had cleared out and the sun was out, and it stayed out until President Obama's speech was over, which was great!"
Auman said, "It was a coincidence that the Heritage Festival fell on inauguration weekend this year, but it really made it a wonderful weekend. The fact that Pinecrest won so many awards was the icing on the cake!"
Contact Laura Eddy by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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