Playing at Carnegie Hall an epiphany for local musician

Maitlyn Christman relaxes in the backyard of her Huntington home, holding her clarinet. The 14-year-old won an audition to play in the Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall in June.
Maitlyn Christman relaxes in the backyard of her Huntington home, holding her clarinet. The 14-year-old won an audition to play in the Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall in June. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Maitlyn Christman isn’t shy about saying she has talent.

But rather than a statement of boastful pride, it’s more like a confirmation – perhaps even an epiphany – that she only recently received, when she traveled to New York, NY, to play at Carnegie Hall June 22 to 26.

“I’ve realized how talented of a performer that I actually am – I don’t know how else to say that – in that I have a lot of potential in music and performing,” she says, somewhat abashedly.

Christman, of Huntington, who is only 14, won the prestigious gig to play in the Honors Performance Series held annually in the famous music hall, after she sent in a recorded audition of herself playing the clarinet as well as a written essay.

Her band teacher at Crestview Middle School, Doug McElhaney, helped her prepare her audition and even sent in a letter of recommendation to the contest, answering a plethora of questions about Christman’s musical potential.

Her family got word in March that she was invited to go to New York to play in the 2016 Honors Performance Series. But the cost to get there was around $2,000.

“I did a ton of fund-raising,” she says. “Businesses sponsored me; families sponsored me. We had a garage sale and a bake sale and all the proceeds went to it.”

She also spent every day before she left practicing the pieces she would play in New York, with assistance from McElhaney.

In addition to local businesses who supported her trip, Sweetwater Sound also contributed to get Christman to Carnegie Hall. She and her parents, Melissa Christman and Matt Taylor, made the trip by car, where the youth joined other middle school musicians from 42 U.S. states and Canada in the junior honors band.

She spent the week with her chaperone group while her parents enjoyed their own vacation time, taking in the sights of New York.

In the meantime, Christman spent seven or eight hours per day in intense rehearsals, in preparation for her the band’s public performance, under the direction of Jeffrey Grogan.

The young musicians got a two-hour block for lunch each day, giving them some time for sightseeing. She saw Central Park and Rockefeller Center. She also attended a Broadway show, “Finding Neverland,” took a turn around Times Square and visited the 9/11 Memorial.

“We had a private party for everybody in the series, with the band, the choir and the orchestra,” she recalls. “Then Saturday we got to tour Radio City Music Hall and met a Rockette. She talked a little bit about what it is they do and their practice schedule.”

Saturday night was the climax of her trip, as the band, choir and string orchestra performed at Carnegie Hall. Christman performed several musical pieces, including “The Cave You Fear,” by composer Michael Markowski, whom the musicians met and worked with during a rehearsal.

“It was intense at times,” she describes of the musical piece. “It was talking about going out of your comfort zone with things, so there were parts where we sounded like we coming across monsters, then other parts where it was like, soft and slow.”

It’s her parents who are the proud ones over her musical achievements.

“It was quite an honor for her mother to be able to watch her play at Carnegie Hall,” Melissa Christman says. “It was very impressive. And she loved it – she didn’t want to leave.”

Maitlyn Christman has played the clarinet since the summer of her sixth grade year, when she was 11. At first she taught herself how to play notes and scales by researching the instrument on the Internet.

“I like that there’s a big range of different notes you can play,” she says, “and that it’s small enough able to can carry around easier and do more things with. And it’s like a lead in the band, usually, so it’s fun to get to do and try different things with that.”

When she reached sixth grade Christman joined the Crestview Band, taking classes taught by McElhaney, who has become her mentor.

“She has admired Mr. McElhaney so much through all the years of junior high,” Melissa Christman says. “It was hard for her to leave him and go to a new school. He’s been a really good asset for her, musically.”

McElhaney, too, says he is proud of his first-chair clarinetist, the first of his students to go to Carnegie Hall.

“Obviously, she’s a very fun student for me to have the last three years. She’s done an exceptionally great job on the instrument,” he says. “She’s just one of those good kids that works real hard at things, and was a joy to have in class. … It was fun to see her do that.”

For her first time visiting New York City, Christman was enchanted with both the city and her honors band experience. She says she loved the fast pace and would relish the chance to live there someday.

“It was great to meet a ton of people from all over,” she says. “In my group alone for the week there were people from nine or 10 different states. We all got really close as the week goes on. We’re super-good friends now, so that was really cool.”

The experience has also potentially changed her future plans. She initially wanted to become a doctor, but she now adds musician or a Broadway performer to her dream list.

More information about the Honors Performance Series can be found online at honorsperformance.org/middle-school-honors-performance/.