RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas Tech Universities bands have gotten to play in some pretty cool places, but never as big as this. In December, the wind ensemble will play in one of the biggest concert halls in the country.
"They just worked really hard to build it back, and I just can't be more excited to be going to New York," Senior Andrew Garrett said. "I mean, it almost feels like it's not even real, you know?"
Arkansas Tech's wind ensemble will play at Carnegie Hall on December 15th, alongside bands from Russellville and Cabot High Schools.
But this song has a beginning two years in the making.
"Like you said, when it got canceled, a lot of people were thinking that this is the end," Garrett said.
The bands were supposed to play there in 2020. When the pandemic hit, Carnegie Hall shut down, leaving them without a place to play.
"It was so surreal that my brain just didn't register that I was actually going to get to," Junior Allison Spears said. "Then it got canceled, of course, it was very sad cause it was like what would have been."
Time has passed since the cancellation, and seniors have come and gone. But the director of bands Dan Belongia says he has a fix for that.
"They are more important than any performance quality," he said. "They are more important, the effort to find a way to seamlessly put them in is important, because this trip's always been about them."
Those who've graduated were invited back to perform with the ensemble.
Belongia says they're not a true family, as nothing can replace blood relatives, but this group is close.
And he's not alone in thinking that.
"It almost feels, in part, like a big vacation to go and make music with my musical family," Garrett said.
So while the members of the wind ensemble practice, there's something else they're carrying with them – representing where they're from on the biggest stage.
"To be part of that group of musicians who can say, 'I have performed at Carnegie and I am from Arkansas,' to represent Arkansas in that way is super special to me and I couldn't be more humbled to do that," Garrett said.
Belongia says donations from Alumni, the university, and current players chipping in helped pay for the trip.