Of the middle and high school students across the county, 7,000 are nominated by their music teachers to perform at the Suffolk County Music Educators Association festival.
Out of these thousands of band, orchestra and chorus performers, only 2,800 or so in grades 5-12 are chosen to participate in elite concerts.
And of that number, just a few hundred are asked to play at the NYSCAME all-county level, the highest standard of SCMEA performances.
Three of the musicians chosen to perform this year are Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School students: juniors Carla Fortmann of Bellport and Olivia Geppel of Mattituck and senior Stephanie Muller of Manorville.
“It’s cool to be around a bunch of people who have the same interest as you and to perform together,” Stephanie, 17, said of the SCMEA experience.
In order to attend, the girls had to receive a perfect score for the New York State School Music Association solos they performed last year. They also had to be nominated by their music teachers with a letter of recommendation before they were ultimately chosen by a selection committee board.
McGann-Mercy music director Jeff Trelewicz said he nominated Carla, Olivia and Stephanie because they’re all “exceptional” musicians who “demonstrate excellence in their musical abilities.”
The performance groups are broken down by band, orchestra and chorus, as well as by grade level.
Carla, 16, began playing piano at age 3 and can also play guitar. She plays clarinet at Mercy and in precollege programs at The Juilliard School and Mannes School of Music in New York City. She qualified to play clarinet at NYSCAME.
Olivia and Stephanie, who have been singing their entire lives, both qualified as soprano vocalists, although Olivia usually sings alto. Olivia also learned to play the violin at age 5 and Stephanie took up piano when she was 6.
“I like performing with a group and everyone is so supportive and nice,” said Olivia, 16. “And we’re singing really cool music.”
While all the girls have been passionate about music since they were young, they were surprised to learn they’d be performing Friday, Nov. 18, at Northport High School.
“It’s a lot harder and at a different level,” Stephanie said. “It challenges you to really try and make the effort to get in by doing well and getting a 100 on your NYSSMA scores.”
In order to prepare for their performances, the girls practice their selections for hours each day — something they agreed is the hardest part of the process. They’ll also attend a handful of hours-long group rehearsals before the concert.
All three agreed they’re excited about the opportunity because it allows them to explore their passions in a new way.
“Music is a universal language and everyone from each culture can understand it,” Carla said. “It brings people together.”
Photo: Mercy senior Stephanie Muller (from left) and juniors Olivia Geppel and Carla Fortmann were recently selected as NYSCAME/Suffolk All-County musicians. (Credit: Nicole Smith)