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Colusa girls bound for Carnegie Hall
Music students join prestigious American High School Honors Performance Series
See daily updates about the students’ trip by checking instructor Michael Phenicie’s band page at colusahigh.org.
Interested in supporting Alexia and Lupita in their Carnegie adventure – or other Colusa High School band performances and competitions? Checks can be mailed to Friends of Music, c/o Colusa High School, 901 Colus Ave., Colusa CA 95932.
Lupita Ramos has showcased the melodious notes of her oboe with a legendary music artist at Colusa Casino and taken the stage solo during competitions in Sacramento.
Alexia Vargas' trumpet talents have been showcased with the U.C. Berkeley Band and during a Chico wedding.
But today, the Colusa High School students leave to play in one of the world's most famous musical venues — Carnegie Hall. The American High School Honors Performance Series in New York City highlights some of the best and brightest young musical talents in the United States, Canada and Europe.
"I'm still in shock. I'm going. I really don't believe it," Alexia said. "I never thought I would make it."
Now high school juniors, the girls were nominated by their teacher, Michael Phenicie, nearly a year ago. In addition to the application, they had to record a CD to demonstrate their abilities.
"They weren't told what to play," Phenicie said. "(Judges) said play something that will show you off the best."
For months, the girls spent hours in the band room practicing their selections before finally recording them and sending them in July to be judged against thousands of other entries. Then came an unbearable wait before the results finally arrived Nov. 1.
"There were a lot of tears in the band room when we found out the girls made it in," Phenicie said. They had already learned weeks earlier that senior Efren Fuentes and freshman Thomas Critchfield were chosen as alternates for the honors performance.
Lupita will play in the orchestra, and Alexia will play in the band. They are unsure of how many other students will be there, but a typical orchestra has about 100 performers and only two oboes. A band is also typically 100 instruments strong, with perhaps a dozen trumpets.
"It's nice to know you are going to be in a band with so many other talented players," Lupita said. "Thinking about it gives me butterflies in my stomach."
In addition to their performance, the trip includes a Broadway show and tour of the city, with a stop in Times Square.
"I'm so excited to meet all my other band geek people," added Alexia, whose admitted dream is a slumber party at the high school band room.
They are nervous about their performances, too.
"I'm sure they all have private tutors, and we're just from tiny Colusa," Alexia said.
The music arrived eight weeks ago, and the girls have been practicing two to three hours every day.
"I have notes I have never played in my life," Lupita said. "This is the hardest music I've ever had to play."
Her assigned pieces include Beethoven's "Coriolan Overture," "Infernal Dance" from "L'oiseau de feu" by Igor Stravinsky and "Our Town" by Aaron Copland.
Alexia's sheet music is an array of "First Suite in E Flat" by Gustav Holst, "Folk Dance" by Dmitri Shostakovich and "O Magnum Mysterium," by Morten Lauridsen, which is painfully slow for her fast-paced tastes.
It will be interesting to see how the pieces sound at Carnegie, they said, since they've only been able to hear their instruments solo.
"It's challenging. I like the challenge," Alexia said.
Both students have a lengthy list of awards and noteworthy achievements, including gold medals at the state level and command performances — the highest honor.
At 2 p.m. Sunday, they will perform in Carnegie Hall, their music filling the 1,800-seat venue for what is billed as a sold-out show.
It costs an estimated $6,590 to send Alexia, Lupita and Phenicie to New York and pay for their flight, hotel, food and other expenses. They've been fundraising for months, and on a recent weekend were selling raffle tickets and occasionally pulling out their instruments to perform at Sav More in Colusa to stir up donations.
Best friends since kindergarten, it's only fitting the two 16-year-olds share this honor and excitement together. It was Lupita who decided in sixth grade that she didn't like choir and dragged Alexia with her to be in the band.
At first, Lupita picked the flute until discovering the oboe, one of the most difficult instruments to play, Phenicie said. She is one of only two known oboists in Colusa County.
Alexia took inspiration from her brother, who played the trumpet, and the instrument was so much fun, she stuck with it.
Both Alexia and Lupita are already being scouted by colleges because of their musical and academic excellence, Phenicie said. And many large universities are invited to attend the Carnegie Hall performance to discover extraordinary talent.
Both Lupita and Alexia want to pursue musical careers. Lupita is still not quite sure in what way, but Alexia has been inspired by Phenicie and wants to be a music teacher perhaps at the high school or college level.
"I want to share the music I know with others," Alexia said.
Either way, both girls know they have a life-long interest.
"Music has become a really big part of my life," Lupita said. "It's one of my passions."
Like peas in a pod, Alexia could not agree more.
"Ever since sixth grade, music is my life," she said. "What's that saying? – 'It's not what I do, it's who I am.'"