When he was 3 years old, Grady Ivie received a plastic saxophone as a Christmas gift from his parents, Terry and Keith.
“It only played, like, two notes, but I played with it forever,” Grady said. “It was the coolest thing.”
That gift sparked a passion which has not diminished, even 15 years later.
That passion will take the Bridgeport High School senior to New York City next week.
Grady, an alto saxophonist, will be one of about 100 musicians worldwide to perform in the 2014 High School Honors Performance Series band concert at Carnegie Hall.
According to Morgan Smith, a spokesperson for the event, participation is limited to the highest-rated high school performers from across the continent and select schools internationally.
“Carnegie Hall is the most famous and renowned music hall in the world,” Grady said. “This will be the highlight of my musical career – getting the opportunity to play there. Anyone who’s anyone, classical literature-wise, has played in Carnegie Hall.”
Last summer Grady’s band director, Jeff James, received a letter from the Honors Performance group seeking nominations for the 2014 concert.
James had no hesitation in recommending Grady, who performs in both his marching and jazz bands.
“I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Grady,” James said. “He’s not your typical student.”
In the last two years, Grady has earned national recognition from band directors. As a sophomore, he won the Louis Armstrong award, awarded to an outstanding musician in jazz band.
Last year as a junior, he won the equivalent honor for marching band as the recipient of the John Philip Sousa award.
“Those awards typically go to seniors,” James said. “He’s been doing very well for a long time. He’s pretty special.”
After the nomination, Grady was invited to submit an audition.
In addition to the music required by Honors Performance, Grady was to select a second piece.
“The audition music for the alto saxophone was taken from the third movement of a really renowned piece of saxophone literature called the Crescent Sonata,” he said. “It’s fast, so I selected a slower all-region piece as my second piece. Usually when you do an audition, you have two contrasting pieces.”
Grady rehearsed the music for several months and in October took to the band hall’s uniform room to record.
“It’s really live; there’s nothing to kill the sound,” he said. “We only did one take. I thought it sounded pretty decent.”
“It was awesome,” James clarified.
“I was crying by the end of it,” Grady’s mother, Terry, added.
Just to be safe, Grady mailed a recording of his audition through the post office and sent an MP3 file via email.
On Senior Night a month later, he received word that he’d been selected.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s unbelievable to get the chance to do this.”
Grady, his parents and his band director leave for New York City next Thursday.
They will cram sightseeing, rehearsals and a performance into the four-day trip.
“There will be a lot of rehearsing with a world-renowned clinician,” he said. “When we’re not doing that, we’ll have the chance to see a Broadway show, visit Liberty Island.”
Although Grady has already made the band, he will undergo another audition process to determine the chair order for the performance, slated for Sunday, Feb. 9.
“This will determine who’s No. 1 and so on,” James said. “It’s about a 100-piece group, so I would guess there are probably four to six alto saxophonists.”
Although Grady already considers the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall the pinnacle of his musical career, he’s accomplished a number of impressive feats along the way.
“I joined band in sixth grade, and I was average,” he said. “When you exit sixth grade, there’s an audition process for middle school band because there’s two different bands – white band and maroon band, which is the top middle school band made up of mostly eighth graders.”
Grady was placed in the white band, but halfway through the school year, he was moved up to maroon band.
“We always say it can happen, but it doesn’t happen very often that you have somebody that gets put in the intermediate band and then they work really, really hard to get moved up,” James said.
That was just the beginning of his successes.
Grady was also a featured soloist in the marching band’s halftime performances at football games as a sophomore and senior.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” James said. “That’s a group performance. You don’t feature a soloist as much.”
Every year since the eighth grade, he has qualified for all-region band. He advanced to area competition in marching band and all-region in jazz band both his junior and senior years.
“We have the hardest region and the hardest area in the whole state so if you can make it into area or even region band, that’s a really big accomplishment,” Grady said. “But this is only in the state.
“Carnegie Hall takes players from across the world. There are players from the U.S., from Canada, from European countries, from Japan … This is the best youth in the world – not my state, not my country, but the world. That just blows my mind.”