Young musicians find Oriole Park 'awesome'

May 11, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Melanie Hoffner made her debut last night on the home field of Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. and power hitter Rafael Palmeiro.

No -- Melanie did not try out for the team. The Ellicott City seventh-grader was among the 42 members of the Patapsco Middle School wind ensemble that played the Canadian and American national anthems before last night's game between the Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

"It was awesome," Melanie, 12, shouted as she rushed off the field with her oboe, moments after playing before the sellout crowd of 47,194.

In November, band director Robert Chamberlin had sent an audition tape to the Orioles of the group playing "The Star-Spangled Banner." It was the first time he had done such a thing since he began teaching music at the Ellicott City school in 1986.

"I just thought it would be something neat for the kids," Mr. Chamberlin said.

To be heard by all the fans in the stadium, the young musicians played louder than they usually do. Instead of reading musical notes, they had to memorize the two an thems.

Learning the Canadian anthem was a particular challenge for the students, who weren't as familiar with "O Canada" as they were with "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"It's not a hard melody, but it's hard for me to remember," said Jason McMullen, a seventh-grader who plays trombone and violin.

Many students said they practiced more than usual to prepare for their big night.

Jason, 12, said he separated the Canadian anthem into sections, memorized them individually, and then played the entire piece on trombone.

Rebecca Twigg, 13, said she practiced six hours one day and four hours another day.

"I usually practice one hour a day," the eighth-grader said.

Playing at Camden Yards also helped the students become better musicians, said student-teacher Cathy Kuespert, who came along to help Mr. Chamberlin. She will graduate next week from the University of Maryland College Park.

"It forces them to watch the conductor and listen to the music around them," Ms. Kuespert said. "They'll mature as players."

To play at Camden Yards, the ensemble's 57 members tried out for spots for last night's performance because the stadium has a limit of 45 for group performers. Forty-two members of the ensemble played last night.

Getting to the stadium seemed just as exciting for the students as being there. Before their performance, they stopped at a McDonald's on U.S. 40 where they wolfed down shakes, fries, Bic Macs and soft drinks.

After reboarding their two yellow school buses and enduring one of many head counts, they belted out such songs as "Wild Thing," "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round," and verses from the Village People's "YMCA."

But as they drew closer to the stadium, the children grew more serious.

"Now I'm nervous," said 14-year-old flutist Sarah Esbrandt, an eighth-grader who had been bouncing up and down in her bus seat.

"It's a really big thing" to play at Camden Yards, explained Tim Yendall, 13, a seventh-grade trombone player. "The Orioles are a big part of Maryland."

Even those who don't follow baseball said they enjoyed the experience.

It was "kind of neat to stand on the same field where all the players spit," said Stephanie Moller, 12, a sixth-grader who plays the French horn.

Although the students' performance lasted barely five minutes, last night's experience will stay with them forever.

"It was wonderful," said Vimal Gopal, a seventh-grader who plays baritone sax. "It was the experience of a lifetime."

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