Hazleton Area Jazz Band Plays At The White House
Members of the Cellar Dwellarzz jazz band played their hearts out at a White House holiday open house last week.
“Oh, it was just beautiful. It was an amazing opportunity and such an honor,” the band’s director, Neil Forte III, said of the performance at the president’s residence. “All the kids are still flying high.”
The 26-member group performed holiday music in the White House’s East Room.
“We got to play in the biggest room in the White House where all the important addresses to the nation are made, which I found very interesting,” said trombone player Kaitlynne Drennan, a sophomore at Hazleton Area High School. “We also couldn’t bring any of our electronics in so we had to play without speakers and mics, which was a very odd experience for us, but I thought that we still filled the room very nicely with sound.”
Forte said dozens of people heard the band.
“Politicians and people from all over the world were there,” he said.
Cellar Dwellarzz members are talented musicians —many of whom take private music lessons outside of school, Forte said. In fact, participation in the group is voluntary. Students learn challenging pieces, practice after school and perform at community events. Most are students at Hazleton Area, although one member attends classes at Crestwood High School.
And while they’ve traveled throughout the region, the White House gig was by far the most memorable, members agreed.
“It means so much to many of us because music is what we are choosing to do with our future careers,” said vocalist Ainsley Segedy. “We are so thankful for the opportunity we were given to perform at one of the most prestigious places in our country.”
The group learned last month that it had been chosen for the 90-minute performance. Two days before the event Forte was told that the group would be playing for two hours — and needed to arrive for a 9 a.m. start time.
Members put in last-minute practices and boarded a Motor Transportation bus to Washington, D.C., at 4 a.m.
“We were still a little bit late,” Forte said. “We went through security and that took about an hour. They had to go through all of our stuff — our instruments and everything. They took us to a holding room and then moved us to the performance area.”
The program went off without a hitch. And once it was done, the group was treated to a tour of the White House.
“Seeing the White House, something most people only ever see in pictures or on TV, was definitely a very surreal experience. All of the holiday decorations were amazing to see so close,” said trombonist and Hazleton junior Marissa Clatch.
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