French horn wasn’t Grant Wilkie’s first choice when he signed up for band in sixth grade. In fact, it didn’t make the top three.
“But the band director had a different plan for me,” said the Summit High School senior.
So far so good.
Wilkie’s got a gig with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on Dec. 7, when he and 14 other top Mansfield high school band members who have worked much of their school lives mastering their instruments will take part in the orchestra’s holiday special in Mansfield.
The students – three were selected from each of Mansfield’s five traditional high schools -- will supply part of the brass in “A Big Brassy Christmas with The Dallas Symphony Orchestra,” at the school district’s Center for the Performing Arts at 1110 W. Debbie Lane.
The DSO has provided its Christmas cheer at the Mansfield center each of the past two years. But this is its first time to offer a valuable evening of experience for Mansfield students who spend much of their extracurricular activity in rehearsal hall and marching on the football field, said Linda Bacsik, director of the Mansfield ISD Education Foundation.
“Can you imagine somebody saying to you that you have the opportunity to sit down and play with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra?” Bacsik said. “That’s never going to happen.”
The district also will host a silent auction during the event, and small ensembles of other Mansfield band student will perform in the foyer, outside the auditorium. Proceeds from ticket sales and the auction will benefit the education foundation, which funds special grants to teachers and campuses.
Band directors at each school selected three of their best students and informed them in mid-November, giving them about 3 ½ weeks to prepare, said Wilkie, who turns 18 on the day before the two-hour symphony performance.
“I know my pieces,” he said. “But I’m going to practice to make them better than just ‘know’ them.”
DSO officials wanted students who not only have good grades and skills but also are “passionate about it and really are excited about playing,” said Chuck Roe, assistant fine arts director of the school district.
The 15 students, who specialize in French horn, trombone, trumpet, tuba and euphonium, where chosen from among more than 1,000 band members.
“Initially, we asked for two students from every school, but there was such a response from the directors who wanted more students involved,” Roe said.
Understandably, he added. “There are several benefits to it: the students will get to see a real life application of what their craft could become,” Roe said. “They could all aspire to be symphony musicians. If students are going to pursue music at college, that would be a good line on their resume.”
The DSO agreed to accept a third student from each high school.
Methodist Mansfield Medical Center is the lead sponsor of the symphony, which will cap a busy weekend in Mansfield. The Festival of Trees, Hometown Holidays festival and parade, a tree-lighting ceremony and other attractions are set for Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Details can be found on the city website at www.mansfieldtexas.gov/calendar.
“It’s a great weekend in Mansfield,” Bacsik said.
The selected students set to be part of the symphony will get to have one rehearsal with Ryan Anthony, principal trumpet of the orchestra, at the arts center, Roe said.
Wilkie, who also is a semifinalist in the 2015 National Merit Scholarship Program, said that while he hopes to play his instrument always, a career in the business “is not for me.” But said he’s looking forward to his date with the orchestra as a true test of his skills.
“I would say the most important thing is what it feels like to perform for other people than family and friends and the band,” he said. “If I play for strangers, there’s no incentive for them to say ‘that was great.’ I think I’m going to enjoy playing with people like that.”