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Student honored to take N.Y. stage

There's an old joke that says a pedestrian in Manhattan once stopped a prominent violinist and asked, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"

The violinist replied: "Practice, practice, practice."

Well, that's just what Charlotte Christian School junior Hayley Buckner has done.

And in a few of weeks, the 16-year-old bass clarinet player will unpack her instrument on the much-revered stage as one of the highest-rated high school performers in North America.

This fall, Buckner submitted an application and audition tape to the selection committee for the 2011 American High School Honors Performance Series, which has an honors choir, honors orchestra and honors band.

Only the most talented, dedicated and accomplished students in the United States and Canada are considered.

Within a month of submitting her application and tape, Buckner got a letter saying she'd made the honors band.

"I couldn't believe it," said Buckner. "I was in shock."

One of the most prestigious musical venues in the world, Carnegie Hall opened in 1891 in the heart of New York City's Manhattan, just two blocks south of Central Park.

It's main auditorium seats more than 2,800 on five levels. The imposing Hall is so tall that visitors must climb 137 stairs to get to the top balcony.

Its history is awe-inspiring. Since it opened, only the best-of-the-best classical musicians have played there.

Even pop icons, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, once graced the stage.

Martin Luther King Jr., Booker T. Washington and 13 U.S. Presidents have delivered speeches there.

And come Feb. 19, Buckner will stand where they stood and sit where they sat when the honors band puts on a special performance for the public and representatives from collegiate music programs.

On the five-day trip, the students will practice every morning, take a lunch break and then practice into the evening. Then there's some time for hanging out and sight-seeing. Buckner's mother, Sharon, is coming, but Buckner will be rooming with other students.

"It's going to feel different, being with students (who aren't) my classmates," said Buckner. "But it'll feel awesome hearing the music and getting a feel for it in such a big place, knowing such big people have been there and knowing that I was chosen. It's an honor."

It's hard for Charlotte Christian Upper School band director Jane Mendlik to reiterate that enough.

"I've had a lot of wonderful students in 42 years (of teaching), but I've never sent one to Carnegie Hall," said Mendlik. "This is fantastic. This is a real honor."

Buckner's first year of band was in fourth grade. She played the clarinet. Two years later, she had the option to switch to bass clarinet and she took it. And since then, she's sculpted a resume filled with music awards.

She's been selected to the North Carolina All-State Honors Band, the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools Honors Band and the Winthrop University Honors Band.

Last Friday, she went to Virginia Tech for their Honors Band, as she's done every year since sixth grade. She also plays the tenor saxophone in the school's jazz band.

"I love the feel of the music," said Buckner. "I love when the whole band is together and we can just all play. I love deep music, like the hard, raspy, deep, low voices in the trombones and baritones...It sounds so beautiful. It's very eye-opening, I guess, what we can do as students with music. I love the feeling when I play and how I play the instrument and what the instrument can do."

In Buckner's free time, she plays in her church's orchestra and sings in the praise band. She also tutors and mentors a sixth-grade band student at Charlotte Christian.

"Aside from being a fabulous musician, (Hayley) is a fabulous person and student," said Mendlik. "She's very humble, as sweet as they come....She helps everybody else reach their potential."

Buckner has started the college hunt, and she knows she wants to be a veterinarian. But she says she'll probably double-major in music.

"She's got so much natural talent," said Mendlik. "(And) if there's anything she doesn't get the first time around, she works until she does. She's always there, always on time, always got her instrument and music ready. She's got a fabulous work ethic. No matter how talented you are, you still have to work at things."

For now, leading up to her Carnegie Hall debut Feb. 19, Buckner plans to do what she does so well: practice, practice, practice.

"But I play to glorify God and just do everything for Him," she said. "That's my main goal. Whatever is His plan, I know that is what's right."