John Jay seniors discuss the music festival, and music’s role in their lives
They are both 17, both seniors at John Jay High School in Cross River, both accomplished musicians.
Flutist Rachel Rodgers, of South Salem, and violinist Yanni Metaxas, of Katonah, also share the confidence that comes with years of practice.
Last month Rodgers and Metaxas joined about 900 other New York students (including nearly 80 from Rockland, Westchester and Putnam counties. Find the list of names at LoHud.com) at the prestigious All-State festival held in Rochester by the New York State School Music Association.
All-State is the Super Bowl for student musicians, the pinnacle of a high-school music career, a weekend of intensive rehearsals culminating in concerts by vocal jazz ensemble, instrumental jazz ensemble, wind ensemble, string orchestra, women’s chorus, mixed chorus, symphonic band and symphony orchestra. Rodgers was in the wind ensemble; Metaxas played in the symphony orchestra.
The John Jay seniors are as accustomed to standing out as they are to practicing their instruments: The soft-spoken Rodgers has been playing the flute for nine years; Metaxas the violin for 13 years.
But at All-State, the playing field was level — and elevated.
“Being one of 40 violinists, in an orchestra where everyone has the same level of intensity and commitment and passion and drive, was just insane,” Metaxas says, an air of wonder in his voice. “It’s like making an all-star team, seeing the ability that kids 16 and 17 years old can bring to the table when it’s the best of the best.
Taking a seat among such accomplished musicians didn’t mean conquering nerves, the artists say. All-State, they say, is not about competition.
“It’s more about being excited than nervous,” says Rodgers, who plans to study jazz and classical music in college next year, although she’s not sure where that will be. This month, Rodgers will start auditioning for schools, with about a dozen tryouts scheduled.
“I actually like auditioning,” she says with a shy smile. “I’m kind of weird that way.”
They study with John Jay teachers Steven Morse and Jeffrey Richardson, and have private instructors: Metaxas studies with Tatiana Feigin at the Music Conservatory of Westchester; Rodgers with Linda Chesis at Manhattan School of Music.
New York’s top vocal and instrumental students audition each spring to be considered for the following fall’s All-State festival. Once there, they fit their performances into a well-chosen ensemble. It’s different than playing a solo, says Rodgers, who has played in more than her share of orchestras, from Tanglewood to Interlochen, and has been featured on the public-radio show “From the Top,” which spotlights young musicians.
“There’s a different mindset,” she says. “When you’re playing a solo, you’re telling a story just through yourself and how you feel. In an orchestra, you’re all coming together as one and tell one story, but all these people are telling the same story together.”
“The thing about All-State is that they give you the music and everybody memorizes it and knows all the notes. But it sounds completely different.
“In all orchestras, there are always differences in the ability level of the performers,” he says. “When I played in the All-State orchestra, it was tremendous how in sync everybody was and how together it sounded.”
Music finds its way into their extracurricular activities, too.
Rodgers’ Girl Scout Gold Award project is Visiting Young Musicians, a program she created to bring music to children’s hospitals and nursing homes. She drafted Metaxas to play on one visit.
Rodgers made it to All-State for her classical chops, but she is an equally interested and accomplished jazz flutist. Some weekends, she can be found playing jazz on the sidewalks of New York, where some areas allow license-free performances. While her classical influences are flutists — Robert Langevin, Paula Robison, James Walker and Linda Toote — her jazz influences include flutist Herbie Mann, bassist Esperanza Spalding and trumpeter Miles Davis.
“Trumpet and flute share a lot of melodic lines,” Rodgers says. “I get a lot of my ideas and inspiration from listening to (Davis), and to John Coltrane. I feel like jazz is more thinking on the spot, because a lot of it is improv and classical is more about mastering it and memorizing it.”
Metaxas has appeared on local stages, as the fiddler on the roof at Bedford Community Theatre. At John Jay, he was Max in “The Sound of Music,” Rev. Moore in “Footloose” and Arvide in “Guys and Dolls.” A Mets fan, Metaxas was a baseball catcher until freshman year when aches and pains led him to conclude “that music is the path I should follow throughout high school.”
But that path may not continue into college, he says, at least in terms of a major. He won’t go to music school, planning instead a liberal-arts education. Still, he knows music will play some role.
“The first day, I’ll walk into the conductor’s office and introduce myself and hope to play in as many orchestras and ensembles as I can,” he says, adding that he might go on to graduate school for music, but that decision is a long way off.
His musical influences include Itzhak Perlman, Maxim Vengerov and Leonidas Kavakos, who is Greek.
“I’m Greek. And Kavakos is Greek and good,” he says with a smile.
All-State might be the Everest of some high-school careers, but Rodgers has one more height to climb. She has been chosen to play in the All-Eastern Honors Ensemble, an all-star festival drawing students from 12 Eastern states and Washington. It will be in April in Hartford.
The last time a student musician from the Katonah-Lewisboro district was invited to All-Eastern was 20 years ago, when Rodgers was still a twinkle in her father’s eye.
Photos and videos by Tania Savayan/The Journal News: Yanni Metaxas and Rachel Rodgers represented John Jay High School at the NYSSMA All-State Festival last month. Rodgers will represent New York in the All-Eastern festival in Hartford in April, the first John Jay student so honored in 20 years.
Here’s a list of this school year’s participants in New York State School Music Association’s All-State conference, held in Rochester in November: Sean Selinske, Nanuet; Wesley Troeger, Mamaroneck; Rebecca Abraham, Clarkstown South; James Barry, Brewster; Rebecca Blanco, Bronxville; Jennifer Brooks, North Rockland; Rebecca Canziani, Horace Greeley; Jessica Cerasoli, Boces (Putnam-Westchester); Jonathon Comfort, Pelham; Victoria Dieck, Mamaroneck; Sean Fahy, North Rockland; Max Levy, Byram Hills; Rebecca Lipstein, Suffern; Emma Lohrs, Carmel; Liam Lonegan, Brewster; Justin T. Maldonado, Pleasantville; Urenna Nwogwugwu, New Rochelle; Brooke Robbins, Byram Hills; Benjamin Stevens, Suffern; Kristina Terwilliger, Suffern; Emily Ultan, Pleasantville; Kenny Xue, Bronxville; Daniel Young, Rye Neck; Eugene Bisdikian, Horace Greeley; Sarah Campbell, Mamaroneck; Camille Dietrich, Clarkstown South; Sarah Gourevitch, Ardsley; Sarah Horowitz, Byram Hills; Charles Miller, Nanuet; Aron Szanto, Scarsdale; Julia Wells, Scarsdale; Yerin Woo, Green Meadow Waldorf School; Melissa Aleles, Tappan Zee; Zachary Berro, Byram Hills; Kathryn Kilgus, Carmel; Robert E. Levine, Ossining; Jeffrey Michaels, Byram Hills; Kristin Quill, Nanuet; Lily Sands, Sleepy Hollow; Jeremy Straus, Nyack; Jacob Sweet, Carmel; David Weissman, New Rochelle; Thomas Wolfgang, Hackley School; Surin Ahn, Mamaroneck; Saul Backer, New Rochelle; Jemmin Chang, Somers; Anna Diyamandoglu, Nyack; Michael Genecin, Mamaroneck; Emma Goodman, Byram Hills; Issei Herr, Pleasantville; Andrew Kim, Byram Hills; Yanni T. Metaxas, John Jay; Rachel Nierenberg, The Masters School; Alexandra Panov, Nyack; Michael J. Park, Yorktown; Jaylin Remensperger, Green Meadow Waldorf School; Charles D. Reuben, Spring Valley; Jakob Ebers, Fox Lane; Desmond Shangase, Ramapo; Leigh Tooker, Fox Lane; Elizabeth Ojeda, Mahopac; Rachel Rodgers, John Jay; Sarah Ackerman, Blind Brook; Brianna Brickman, Nyack; Nadia Briones, Lakeland; Jasmine Canziani, Horace Greeley; Adaugo Ezike, New Rochelle; Rachael Langton, Ardsley; Sophie Laruelle, Scarsdale; Mackenzie Lesser-Roy, Mamaroneck; Julia Lin, Horace Greeley; Halle Mastroberardino, Harrison; Jennifer Morris, Hendrick Hudson; Julia Myers, Croton-Harmon; Samantha Park, Suffern; Rebecca Primoff, Scarsdale; Sara Romanello, Pelham; Ursula Seymour, Fox Lane; and Emmalisa Stangarone, Pleasantville.