When Trudy Gildea was a child of 10, she sat in the audience at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, awed by the music of Austrian-born violinist Fritz Kreisler. More than seven decades later, Gildea, the founder of Columbus’ Suzuki Strings program, plans to return to the premier concert venue — this time to perform on its fabled stage with the Suzuki Strings Advanced Ensemble.
The group has been invited by Music Celebrations International as one of four to participate in the Viennese Masters Orchestra Invitational June 23 at the historic landmark. The cost of getting all the musicians and their instruments there will run about $50,000. To help defray expense, the orchestra presents Valentines for Carnegie, a benefit party from 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Rosenzweig Arts Center in downtown Columbus. The event includes music by the ensemble, a live auction, hors d’oeuvres and door prizes.
The rare opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall comes at a special time in the life of the Suzuki program, said Director Diane Ford. Not only will the program’s founder, Gildea, be able to perform with the group, Ford is about to mark her 30th year with Suzuki.
“And it’s coming at a time when we have some really dedicated musicians that have risen above the top,” Ford noted. They have worked hard to consistently receive Superior ratings at federated music festivals, earn top seats in all-state orchestras, and audition for and perform with the Starkville-MSU Symphony Orchestra.
“They have soloed with the Tupelo Symphony, Starkville Symphony and are playing for weddings and events all over the Golden Triangle and Tupelo,” Ford added with pride. They represent Columbus, Starkville, West Point, Smithville and Oxford.
Suzuki parents play an important role in the musicians’ success.
“We have some very dedicated parents in this advanced ensemble that help make all this work,” Ford said. “Trudy and I have poured our hearts and souls into this program … A teacher can put everything into something, but the student has to be on board, and the parents have to be behind it.”
For the Sandifer family, Carnegie Hall is a joint endeavor. Mom Denise Sandifer is pianist for the ensemble. All three children perform. Twins Laura and Lucy Sandifer play violin. Son Scott is a cellist.
The girls picked up the violins at age 4. They are now 20.
“It’s rare for a small-town group to get an opportunity like this,” said Laura Sandifer. Does she expect nerves? “For me personally, I think it’ll just be excitement.”
For her mother, the biggest thrill is to see her children perform at the storied venue. It won’t come without much hard work. Extra rehearsals will focus on everything from entrance to exit and, of course, the musical selections themselves.
“We’re buckling down to get everything done,” said Scott Sandifer.
It is, of course, the chance of a lifetime — one not possible without support of the community, including merchants who are donating items for Saturday’s Valentines for Carnegie live auction.
“We’ve been going 100 miles per hour since Christmas,” said Ford about the decision to commit themselves to the performance and the fundraising.
“It’s more than just saying you played at Carnegie Hall. It’s making a decision, taking a leap of faith, getting supporters behind you, working hard on the music to prepare a quality program and professional presentation.
“I think it’s showing our musicians that you can do what you put your mind to.”
Trudy Gildea’s inspiring childhood experience at Carnegie Hall was thanks to the support of someone else.
“The only reason I got to go when I was 10 was that my violin teacher wanted me to,” she said. Even though Gildea’s family geographically lived not far from the grand hall at the time, “(My teacher) had a sympathy to help someone who could not have afforded to go.” The performance that day inspired Gildea’s life in music. Now she hopes the community will help others have such an experience.
How to go
Tickets to the Feb. 4 Valentines for Carnegie are $20. Reservations must be made in advance by calling 662-549-3539. The Rosenzweig Arts Center is located at 501 Main St., Columbus.
Tax-deductible donations may be made toward the Carnegie Hall trip by check to the CREATE Foundation, P.O. Box 1053, Tupelo, MS 38802. Designate “Columbus Suzuki-Carnegie” on any check. Donations by credit card may be made at createfoundation.com.
Contributions of any amount are welcome. Levels of donation include Carnegie Choice, amounts below $100; Carnegie Silver, $100; Carnegie Gold, $500; Carnegie Platinum, $1,200 and Carnegie Prime, $2,400.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.