A Jerusalem music conservatory has been invited to participate in the 2014 New York Wind Band Festival, to be held March 1-4 at Carnegie Hall in New York.

The Jerusalem Conservatory Hassadna Senior Wind Ensemble, a group of 45 high school musicians led by conductor Sagit Mazuz, will join five high-school concert bands from Texas, California and Arizona for a week of musical seminars, workshops and guest conductors, culminating with a gala concert on the main stage in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium on March 3.

“It’s a phenomenal honor to be invited to such an exclusive festival,” Mazuz told The Jerusalem Post. “Most of all, it is a tribute to these kids, who have worked so hard over the past several years and have made terrific progress, both as individual musicians and as part of a larger group.”

According to Mazuz, the ensemble was formed seven years ago, a year after she was hired as a clarinet instructor. Although the conservatory was founded in 1973, programming for brass and woodwind instruments took a back seat as most of the music program focused on string instruments, piano instruction and music theory classes.

That changed when Mazuz joined the faculty. A year into her tenure, she noticed the quality of the wind teachers and students at the Conservatory, but felt their development as musicians was being held back by the lack of ensemble experience.

She convinced Sadna officials to offer a concert band option for wind players; two years later they created a second group for younger musicians.

Nearly a decade later, Conservatory officials consider the senior group as the Hassadna’s representative ensemble, a fact that has gained expression via invitations to perform at events hosted by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, former education minister Gideon Sa’ar, at a VIP ceremony during last summer’s Maccabiah Games, at band festivals around Israel and farther afield.

Sitting in a noisy rehearsal theater on Emek Refaim Street, the secret of Mazuz’s success is clear. In many ways, the four dozen teenagers form a classic picture of adolescents the world over – rowdy, happy, talkative, goofy. But with Mazuz at the helm, the scene is far from out of control.

Amid the banter and general silliness, there is also a clear feeling of seriousness in the room.

Most of the band is seated and warming up even before Mazuz steps to the front of the group, and the musicians begin tuning even before she taps her baton on a metal music stand. Of course, the rehearsal is punctuated by bouts of talking (the flute section is a particularly chatty problem), but teacher-student rivalry is notably absent.

To the contrary: the interactions are marked by obvious admiration, in both directions. The teenage musicians in the group describe Mazuz, 36, as a role model and a friend. In the other direction, it is abundantly clear that there is nowhere the conductor would rather be. With a baton in her hand and a rash of cheeky teenagers keeping the atmosphere in the room light, her position affords her the opportunity to meld together two passions of her life: music and kids.

“It isn’t just that Sagit is a terrific musician.

It is that she knows how to talk to us, how to relate to us. She pushes us really hard, but it doesn’t feel hard work, I guess because we know that she enjoys it all so much. That makes everybody want to work hard for her, and it feels really terrific to share our accomplishments together,” said Shalev Friedman, a ninth-grade trumpet player.

Conservatory officials say that if there is any downside to the trip, it is the fact that local and national governments have been slow to back the trip financially. Jerusalem Mayor Barkat did invite the group to apply for a $20,000 grant (no decision will be made until March, when the band is already in New York), and several private foundations have backed the trip.

But appeals to Israel’s ministries of culture and education, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and other government bodies to help fund the trip resulted in a grand total of zero shekels.

“Obviously, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for our kids to meet and listen to other high-school musicians, to work with some of America’s leading band clinicians and to perform on stage in such an exclusive setting,” said Ronit Berman, artistic director of the Jerusalem Conservatory Hassadna.

“But there is more to this story, I think, than just a private one for our kids and for our conservatory. We are also representing the State of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, so it’s also a terrific chance for the country to chalk up some good PR.”

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