Mt. Eden band plays at Carnegie Hall

May 4, 2009 7:49:45 PM PDT
You know the old joke, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The answer: practice." To an East Bay band director though, it's no joke, and he's spent the last five years turning the Mt. Eden High School band into one of the best in the country.

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Music director Kevin Cato used his original composition to achieve something remarkable. The band is now ranked fifth in the nation, which is a far cry from when he started five years ago.

"They could barely read middle school music. Some of the kids didn't know how to play notes on their instrument. They didn't know how to read time signatures," said Cato.

He spent his own money to get new instruments, the students believed, and they began to make beautiful music together. This is not an affluent part of town, kids struggle, and many come from single parent homes. They found band a way out.

"I'm their counselor, I'm their manager, I make sure they have good grades," said Cato.

And Cato has given them confidence. High school student Wayne Jopanda is a member of the National Honor Orchestra of America and ranked the 6th best bass player in the country.

"It's taught me persistence, continuity and passion. I think those three things are needed to be successful in whatever you do," said Jopanda.

"This has made everything clear as to what path I want to take," said student Javier Cisne.

Both of them want to follow music education.

"The band program teaches leadership skills and I doubt if I weren't in the band, I wouldn't be as involved in my community and my school," said Samantha Lee, a junior.

The payoff came earlier this month when the band played Carnegie Hall in New York.

"These kids, when they went to Carnegie Hall were crying backstage because of the feeling they had actually made it," said Ellen Howerton, the school principal.

Band has been life changing.

"Music is an intangible that shapes your personality and touches your soul. It also makes you a better character," said Cato.

Cato says music is essential and Sacramento agrees. The band will receive a state resolution on May 8, 2009.

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