High school cellist reflects on how he landed on the stage at Carnegie Hall

Justin Taylor, who plays cello at Northern High School, had the opportunity in January to go to New York City and perform in at Carnegie Hall. He is the first student from Northern selected to participate in Carnegie Hall’s Honors Performance Seri
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Justin Taylor, who plays cello at Northern High School, had the opportunity in January to go to New York City and perform in at Carnegie Hall. He is the first student from Northern selected to participate in Carnegie Hall’s Honors Performance Seri
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Durham County

A Durham high school cellist lands a seat at Carnegie Hall. How did he do it?

By Joe Johnson

jjohnson@heraldsun.com

March 05, 2018 06:00 AM

DURHAM

Playing Carnegie Hall is a great gig if you can get it.

That’s exactly what happened for one local high school orchestra student.

Justin Taylor, who plays cello at Northern High School, had the opportunity in January to go to New York City and perform in the venerable concert venue. He is the first student from Northern selected to participate in Carnegie Hall’s Honors Performance Series.

“It was amazing,” Taylor said. “Playing in Carnegie Hall was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. A lot of people dream, really strive to perform there, and I got to do that. So yeah it’s amazing. I would definitely do it again if I ever get the chance.”

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Taylor was recommended for the audition that got him to the Big Apple last summer. His orchestra instructor Maria Valencia nominated Taylor, and they spent weeks rehearsing for the video audition as well as perfecting an essay explaining his desire to participate in the program.

“I just practiced, practiced and practiced,” Taylor said. “I really didn’t think I was going to get in because I was thinking ‘Wow, this is Carnegie Hall and a lot of good people are going to audition for this.’ I didn’t think going get in.”

Taylor learned that he was chosen last fall and then the hard work began. He received his acceptance and a packet of music that he needed to learn.

“I was excited for him because he’s a very good cellist,” Valencia said. “But I was more excited that he was going to meet better musicians in New York City.”

Carnegie Hall is a long way from Durham but not far enough away for a young cellist to dream about even if the bass was his first choice as a beginner.

Taylor, a sophomore at Northern, has been a cellist for a little more than six years. He took the instrument up because it was the closest thing to the bass he could get as a fifth grader when he started playing.

“I wanted to play bass but it wasn’t offered so I just picked the next biggest instrument,” Taylor said.

But the cello is what got him to New York. He was one of 15 or 16 cellists in the orchestra.

Taylor didn’t have as much free time to see New York as his mom did, he said.

“New York was very overwhelming, very different from here,” Taylor said. “I’ve never been anywhere like that before.”

He was in rehearsals for most of the two days leading up to the Sunday afternoon concert.

They performed three movements from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” along with a Spanish dance piece and another work based on the Langston Hughes poem “Dreams.”

But seeing Carnegia Hall was treat enough for Taylor.

“I liked seeing behind the scenes,” Taylor said. “They had this place where they had pictures of different musicians who had performed there. It blew my mind to see them and know I was on the same stage, like Yo-Yo Ma and many other people. I was and there where they were.”

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6678, @JEJ_HSNews