WATERTOWN – It wasn’t until after taking a class given by Watertown music teacher Rebecca Rose in grade seven, when he was exhibited to Croatian duo 2CELLOS and The Piano Guys, that Connor S. Hall thought that the cello might be something to try.
Fast forward five years, and the senior recently received a perfect score on his NYSSMA Level VI solo – the highest level of difficulty ever.
The New York State School Music Association, NYSSMA, is the state affiliate of the National Association for Music Education that assesses student musicians in elementary through high school.
There are a total of six levels, each with its own requirements and an increasingly demanding repertoire. Levels I through IV are graded on a scale from zero to 28, with each section graded on four points. Levels V and VI are rated from zero to 100.
Due to his skills with the cello, Connor was invited to be part of the 2021 All-State Music Festival Symphony Orchestra. Auditions for All-State ensembles are very competitive and were conducted via a video performance. last year. Of the thousands of students who audition statewide each year, 350 are selected to perform at the All-State Festival.
“At first we didn’t get the score and the music from the orchestra because they had the wrong address,” Connor said. “I just thought I didn’t pull it off and that’s fine with me, that was just the way it turned out.”
“And then we got the call and the music,” he said. “It was very surprising.”
Having only played the instrument for a few years, when many of his NYSSMA and all-state peers honed their skills most of their lives, Connor said that receiving the perfect score in the difficulty solo a higher was a truly rewarding feeling.
The 17-year-old plans to study at Saint-Laurent University in Canton, with a major in biology and a minor in economics, followed by medical studies. His parents, Tracy and Kris Hall, are key supporters and have said they are so proud of what Connor has accomplished.
“The cello was something he basically begged to do in seventh grade and I was like, ‘Oh boy, like we need something else to do,’” Ms Hall said. “Five months after he started he performed ‘A Thousand Years‘ at his sister’s wedding. About six months later, he performed “You Raise Me Up” at his other sister’s wedding. From there it kind of took off.
The All-State Music Festival was held at the Eastman Theater in Rochester from December 2-5. The orchestra performed Johannes Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 6”, and two movements from Hector Berlioz’s “Fantastic Symphony”, of which Connor said the hardest part was certainly the fifth movement.
In solidarity and community support for the recent tragedy of a school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, the orchestra also performed a historic reminder: the Oxford High School Fight Song.
On Saturday, the last day of training, the statewide conductor brought up the idea of playing the fight song and recording it for posting on Facebook because Oxford High had asked people to play his song.
“It’s really powerful to know the effect it can have because music is such a strong thing,” Connor said of the tribute. “It is a universal language; It feels good to be able to send a message this way.
On November 30, a gunman opened fire on Oxford High School in Oakland County, Michigan, killing 11 people. Four students were killed and several others were seriously or seriously injured. A 15-year-old student was later arrested and charged with four counts of first degree murder and terrorism.
The tragedy struck a chord from near and far. The moving orchestral tribute was filmed by Ms Hall and shared on her best friend’s Oxford Facebook page, who later shared it on the Oxford community support page following the shooting.
According to Connor, this was the very first recall in NYSSMA history. The NYSSMA president heard of the orchestra and specifically requested the recall on Sunday morning.
During rehearsals for the remainder of the performance, the orchestra learned the Oxford High fight song in about an hour total.
“I thought it was amazing that Connor was able to be a part of this, that one of our students was able to pay tribute to another school,” said Patricia B. LaBarr, Superintendent of the Town of Watertown School District. “It was a beautiful tribute, very moving.”
Besides being interested in the cello, thanks to his teacher Mrs. Rose, another music teacher, Andrea Wischerath, was of great support. She pushed Connor into the orchestra, helping him with additional lessons – both virtual and in person – three times a week.
While he’s definitely talented with a cello, Connor pushed himself out because cello music hasn’t always been easy to play.
When he first received the music from NYSSMA, he didn’t think he would be able to prepare it on time. To calm him down, he trained for at least two hours a day for almost two months.
Fortunately, his senior schedule worked in his favor and he was able to accomplish the feat.
As a proud parent who has supported her every step of the way, along with her husband and Connor’s siblings, Ms Hall shared that the biggest lesson she has learned through Connor’s journey with the cello is the next :
“When your child tells you something that interests them, find a way to make it happen,” she said. “You never know how it’s going to affect their life.”