5 Wheatley students earn all-state in music

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Five Wheatley School students have earned all-state musician status, and no one is more excited about it than David Vakili, who will be making a second trip to the four-day All-State Musical Festival in December.

“It was great.,” Vakili said of last year’s festival. “You meet so many great musicians with the same passion.”

Vakill also attained all-national recognition as a viola player last year.

Vakili will be joined in Rochester by Kristen Lee, Liting Chiang, Rochelle Schnitzer and Jonathan Fisher.

Lee, who plays both viola and violin, grew up playing duets with her older sister Allison. Her sister attained a perfect score in the demanding New York State School Music Association audition as a Wheatley senior last year and achieved alternate status.

The keen competition in New York State means all students who audition must achieve perfect scores performing difficult musical pieces to earn all-state status.

“I feel very relieved,” Lee said about making the cut. “If I hadn’t made it in my senior year, I would be upset.”

Like all of the Wheatley virtuosos who will be going to the all-state festival in Rochester, Lee has been studying privately since she was in elementary school. And like the other Wheatley musicians, she has performed at Carnegie Hall.

Lee was performing with the Children’s Orchestral Society in her appearance at Carnegie Hall when she found herself accompanying a cello soloist named YoYo Ma.

“I was star struck,” she said, recalling the moment.

Vakili and violinist Chiang have also performed in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center as members of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra. Vakill and Chiang are also both National Merit semifinalists.

Like many young musicians, Lee and Chiang said they went through periods of time when they hated practicing. But now, playing music is part of the fabric of their lives.

“At a certain point, I realized I loved it and couldn’t imagine my life without it,” Lee said.

Chiang said he particularly enjoys playing in the Wheatley string orchestra, and along with the sense of accomplishment, he’s looking forward to playing with friends he’s made in the Metropolitan Youth ‘Rochestra again.

“It’s nice because I have friends from other schools and I’ll share the experience with them,” Chiang said.

Schnitzer, who was selected as an all-state musician, had a leading role in the Wheatley production of “Les Miserables” last year. She has been taking private singing lessons since she was 11 years old.

“I love singing. It’s my biggest love in life,” she said.

Schnitzer ignored the conventional wisdom of singing an Italian aria for her audition, selecting “Your Daddy’s Son” from “Ragtime” as her audition piece. She said the experience of singing in recitals at Carnegie Hall was nothing compared to the NYSSMA audition in which students perform for a single judge.

“Everyone thinks it’s harder for instrumentalists. But for vocalists, a few wrong notes and you’re done.” she said.

In his audition, Vakili recalled that he had played only two measures when the judge took out a metronome to monitor his tempo as he continued his audition piece

All the Wheatley students who qualified for as all-state musicians are seniors, except for Fisher, a junior who was elated at the news last week that he would be going to the December festival after initially being designated as an alternate.

Fisher also went counter to form for his audition piece, singing the poignant Irish ballad “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” He said he knew he’d have a better chance at making all state if he performed the demanding tenor solo piece.

“There are so many boys auditioning. If you can go for tenor, you should,” Fisher said.

Fisher, who has performed in a group called Camp Broadway in Carnegie Hall, said he also was looking forward to performing in Rochester with friends he’s sung with from other Long Island schools.

None of the Wheatley students said they’re aspiring to careers in music. But all of them said they are considering music as part of a double major in college, and will continue playing beyond their current involvement in their high school’s performance groups.

At the December music festival, the students will audition for one of several all-state ensembles, including string orchestra, symphony orchestra, jazz band, jazz choir, women’s choir; mixed choir and jazz band.

After three days of rehearsals, they will perform with their respective ensembles on the final day.

Reach reporter Richard Tedesco by e-mail at rtedesco@theislandnow.com or by phone at 516.307.1045 x204

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