TRAVERSE CITY — It's probably the only chance they will have to set foot on such a special stage, Ellen Boyer explained looking out from her Traverse City Central High School classroom office toward a group of her symphony students rehearsing nearby.
The gravity of an invitation to play on the Kennedy Center stage probably won't hit most of them until they touch the stage, she said. The same stage where all of the greatest names in music have played.
Boyer has been trying to impress on 60 of her students what a special opportunity they've been given with an invitation to play in Washington, D.C., in March.
"To play in a great hall is, we wouldn't call it life-changing, but it is a big deal," she said. "I don't think they'll get it until we walk into the building. In all of my years here, that was the first invitation. I wasn't going to sit on it."
Boyer began teaching music 26 years ago and has been teaching at Central High School for 16 years, but never has she been invited to bring a group a students to the Kennedy Center. This year, her students were invited to play as part of the Capital Music Festival, a four day event that features high school orchestras.
The last trip she took with a group of students outside of Michigan was four years ago to San Francisco.
"When I read the invitation, I ran with it," she said.
Organizers asked Boyer to send them recordings of her students playing to finish the acceptance process. They passed with flying colors, she said.
Ellis Begley, 18, played his violin alongside his classmates in the rehearsal room nearby. The group spent Monday afternoon dusting off its strings after summer break. They prepared for a concert scheduled for Oct. 5. But it is the March performance that has everybody's attention, Begley said.
"I've actually never played in any performance hall outside of Traverse City," he said. "This is a really big deal. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We're all nervous together. But it's more than nerves. I'm really hoping we can raise the money."
Immediately Boyer, parents and students began to meet and plan fundraisers to gather the $1,000 per student cost for the trip. Young musicians will sell decals, Subway discount cards and calendars. They will work several community events to raise money. And they will write letters to donors.
"If it was possible in the past then we can do it," Begley said.
Boyer estimates that she has at least 15 students who want to go on the trip but don't have the resources to pay the expenses out of pocket. It is an opportunity she will work to ensure every one of her students gets.
"I don't want anybody not to go because of the money," she said. "It does take a community sometimes. I'll probably be making some calls and sending some letters."
If you want to help send students to the Kennedy Center by making a donation, go to www.tcaps.net/csh/AthleticsPerformingArts/Orchestra/tabid/2549/Default.aspx or email Boyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.