Since its creation 102 years ago, the 75,000-member National Association for Music Education has grown into one of the country’s most powerful advocates for arts education in schools. As part of its annual conference in the nation’s capital this year, the association is presenting what will become an annual event: a performance of its National Honor Ensembles at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
The ensembles are made up of the nation’s best of the best choir, orchestra, concert band and jazz students. They’re chosen through rigorous auditions and testing, and whittled down from tens of thousands of applicants to a few dozen for each of the four performing groups. When the National Honors Ensembles appear in concert on the Kennedy Center stage on June 27, Florida will be represented in the 85-member choir ensemble by three students.
All three are from Amy Fulmer’s choir class at Flagler Palm Coast High School: Boyd Fulmer, Caitlin Hannan, and Jeff McDevitt. Fulmer and Hannan had earned perfect scores in their Florida All-State exams, and all three had previously been to Florida State University’s week-long summer music camp (McDevitt went twice). Performing at the Kennedy Center is–many appearances at the Flagler Auditorium aside–by far their biggest stage. They’ll be singing six pieces, including works by Handel, Mendelssohn, and a spiritual by Andre Thomas.
“I’ve done it so many times I’m not really scared anymore of it,” Boyd Fulmer said. “I just think it’s going to be an amazing experience. I’m not going to be shaking, but who knows, this is the Kennedy Center.” McDevitt, who’s planning on music as a career–as a composer, producer or music manager–isn’t intimidated by the occasion, either. If anything, he’s looking forward to the rehearsals.
They’ll perform under Thomas’ direction, a composer of spirituals and the director of choral activities at Florida State University with whom Amy Fulmer studied when she attended the university. “I actually sang some of his compositions before he got so famous.”
The thousand-dollar-per-student cost of the trip was underwritten by fundraising through local businesses that proved so successful that Fulmer had money left over to cover the scholarships she provides to students who will attend Florida State’s summer camp.
The five-day trip (June 24-28) won’t quite be a vacation for the students. The days include several rehearsals and performances, including two public performances of the National Anthem, one of them in front of the Capitol (on the Senate side). That one is part of the music education association’s National Anthem Project, a five-year-old effort to re-teach the anthem to young Americans (most of whom don’t know the words) while also raising awareness of the importance of music education in schools. They’ll also be singing the anthem at the Drum Corps International competition. Not to worry: they’re getting a tour of the Smithsonian, the collection of some of the world’s greatest museums lining the Washington Mall.
It won’t be much of a vacation for Fulmer, either, who’ll be attending the annual conference of the music association, which takes place during nationaland culminates with the concert at the Kennedy Center.