Just the Facts

From small town to Carnegie Hall

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Deena Bouknight

At the Jan. 22 Macon County Board of Education meeting, it was announced that Franklin High School (FHS) freshman Elias Peek, the band’s percussion section leader, would perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Feb. 10 for the WorldStrides Honors Instrumental and Choral Performance. As far as band director Daniel Ball is aware, no other FHS student has experienced such an honor. 

“This is an incredibly significant opportunity for any student,” said Ball. “For one, Carnegie Hall is one of the performance venues that everyone knows, whether or not they are a part of the music world. The ability to add that onto a resume looks incredible for future performance opportunities or applications for colleges.”

ELIAS PEEK, the Franklin High School percussion section leader, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Feb. 10 for the WorldStrides Honors Instrumental and Choral Performance.

Elias returned last week from his star-studded moment at Carnegie Hall, constructed in the late 1800s and the site of some of the world’s top talents since its opening. It was Elias’s first time in the nation’s largest city, and he came away from the experience “excited.” 

“I was nervous for a lot of the time due to the high level of skill in the ensemble, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the experience of the big city and performing at a high level,” said Elias, who traveled to New York City with his parents, Katie and Michael Peek. “It was definitely challenging, exciting, and worth the time!”

At Carnegie Hall, along with other young, top musicians, Elias was involved in the presentation of three songs: “Shepherd’s Hey by Percy A. Grainger,” in which he played the bells; played the snare drum in “American Hymn Song Suite” by Dwayne S. Milburn; and, “A Deep Reverberation Fills with Stars” by John Mackey in which he played the vibraphone and the tambourine. 

To prepare, Elias practiced with the WorldStrides Honors Instrumental and Choral Performance band for two and a half days in New York City prior to performing at Carnegie Hall. Approximately 80 students were part of this honors-level band and were selected from all around the United States. 

“There were also two other high school performances besides the honors band that evening [Feb. 10]; they were the honors string orchestra – string instruments only, and the honors symphony – string instruments plus some brass/percussion. His performance was the last of the evening, and the largest of all three, with the 80 students,” Katie Peek explained. 

From small town to world stage

It was Thomas Graham, band director at Macon Middle School (MMS), who recognized Elias’s talent and encouraged him last year to audition to perform with the WorldStrides Honors Instrumental and Choral Performance. Once the nomination was complete, Elias was required to submit a video of himself performing a marimba etude (short musical composition), snare etude, and timpani etude. A judging panel selected the participants to perform at Carnegie Hall and the Peeks learned last fall that Elias was one of them. 

OUTSIDE CARNEGIE Hall were the featured posters for the Feb. 10 event, in which Elias Peek was chosen to perform with several other top young musicians from around the country.

“We always knew Elias was interested in music; from the time he was a toddler he loved to sing along and keep beat,” shared Katie. “He plays the piano and all percussion instruments, but he particularly likes the mallet instruments, marimba, vibraphone, bells, but also plays snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, and others. He started taking piano lessons when he was around 6 years old, then began on the marimba at MVI [Mountain View Intermediate]. Then, when he moved to MMS, he started playing all percussion instruments.” 

“I have enjoyed playing in several different bands – honors, jazz, all district, symphonic, and marching, and appreciate how students can come together to learn music,” said Elias. “Music is something I want to be part of my future, including as a player and possibly even a composer. I spend much of my time in my room playing different instruments, including the keyboard and drums. In particular, I like to create my own music using software as I have always enjoyed playing by ear and being able to make music.”

Ball, who stepped into the position of director of bands this year, “had the pleasure of teaching Elias at East Franklin [Elementary School] during my first two years teaching. He surprised me then with his musical abilities playing piano at the EFS talent show. With that being said, it isn’t necessarily just his musical skill that is impressive about Elias, but his work ethic and determination in his playing. He can often be found in the band room after school working on different pieces. 

BESIDES THE thrill of performing at Carnegie Hall, Elias Peek also traveled with his parents, Katie and Michael Peek, around New York City to experience such sites as the Statue of Liberty.

“Elias has continued to impress me … his ability to take critique and immediately apply it is a testament to his maturity as a musician. At the high school this year, he has impressed me with his innate leadership. He holds himself to a high standard and I can observe others following his example in their own right. I cannot wait to see how Elias continues to grow during his time at FHS and am happy that I get to be a firsthand witness along the way.”

Ball said that other than the sheer thrill of performing on Carnegie Hall’s stage and meeting other like-minded and talented young musicians, Elias’s “unforgettable” opportunity provides networking avenues. “He [joined] other musicians that may go on to pursue music as a career and having those contacts can prove useful in the future. I don’t think Elias truly realizes quite how rare of an opportunity this was for him. This was very cool.”

Katie credits Elias’s middle school and high school band directors with not only establishing a firm foundation for his talents, but also with inspiring, motivating, and assisting him. 

“Mr. Graham has been the most amazing director, teacher, and mentor for Elias. He has always focused on his students and how he can help each one grow as a musician,” Katie shared. “He pushed Elias to try out for different competitions, and because of this he also qualified for the All-District Band, Western Region – 1st Chair, 1st Band (Symphonic) on mallets in his 8th grade year at MMS. And, Mr. Ball has also been wonderful and has helped Elias practice his music for both the tryout portion and his Carnegie Hall music. This has been particularly helpful as Mr. Ball specializes in percussion instruments. We are extremely grateful to both of his band directors.”

While in New York City, the Peeks experienced not only the iconic Carnegie Hall, but also toured such attractions as the 9/11 museum, Central Park, Top of the Rock, Statue of Liberty, Broadway, and more.

“These types of opportunities are not always available for students in smaller towns, so it’s amazing that he could be part of this trip. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us. The sound at Carnegie Hall was unlike anything else, and the music that was performed by high school students sounded like a professional orchestra and band,” Katie added.The public can see and hear Elias perform during the FHS Band Spring Concert on May 6.