The Santa Monica High wind ensemble seized the opportunity of a lifetime when it was chosen to play at Carnegie Hall this past April as part of an international music festival.

And that performance is still resonating.

The group was recently chosen to give a concert in February in San Jose during the California All-State Music Education Conference, and it’s thanks in part to a live recording of the New York show that Samohi band director Kevin McKeown entered for consideration.

“I submitted it and thought, ‘What if?'” said McKeown, who shares a name with Santa Monica’s mayor. “I had no expectations. Now I’ve gone from excitement for our kids to, ‘Oh my god, we have a lot of work ahead of us.’ But that’s what we do. Whether it’s Carnegie Hall or Chicago Symphony Center, we have to put our program on the map.”

McKeown said he was humbled by the selection of Samohi’s wind ensemble, which won the prestigious San Jose gig through a competitive application process administered by the California Music Educators Association.

His students have been asked to demonstrate the potential of a high school music program for an audience of music teachers from around the state, who will listen to them play music from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” and Mason Bates’ “Mothership.”

“[The educators] want to see what it sounds like when you have a really fun ensemble,” McKeown said. “What’s capable? What’s possible? We have that responsibility to show other communities and other teachers in the state of California what we have in Santa Monica and why it needs to be supported in the community. It’s pretty awesome.”

The Samohi musicians will have the help of McKeown and several guest conductors, including Thomas Lee, Travis Cross and Michael Stone. Lee was a longtime faculty member in UCLA’s music department, Cross has served as a professor and vice chair in the same department and Stone is currently the president of the state music educators association.

McKeown, who graduated from Samohi in 1992, developed his music skills under Stone when the latter was a student teacher at the local high school.

When McKeown took students to Carnegie Hall last spring, they played music from “Aurora Awakes” by John Mackey and “O Magnum Mysterium” as well as the Arthur Sullivan-inspired “Pineapple Poll” comic ballet.

McKeown said he submitted the live recording “on a whim,” and that he was honored by the selection of Samohi students to the state conference. It’s likely that many of the students will try out for the various all-state honor music groups during their time in San Jose.

The ensemble plans to raise money for the February trip by holding a local concert a few days before heading north.

“This has so much importance, so much value,” McKeown said. “They’re going up there for one reason and one reason only: to share a great performance with people who are there to be inspired and see how hard work and support of a music program that starts in elementary school, what that does.”

Photo by Dan Caldwell

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