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Local Music Students Play NYCB

Center Stage students join The Piano Guys on stage

On Dec. 11, eight lucky young music hopefuls were granted the dream of a lifetime— strutting their stuff on-stage while playing with a celebrated popular music act in front of a packed auditorium.


 Westbury’s Center Stage Music School sent an elite selection of hand-picked violin students to play on the stage of the NYCB Theater at Westbury with The Piano Guys, a music group and YouTube sensation whose unique calling card involves catchy combinations of classical and popular music.


 Veronica Sanchez, Center Stage Director and co-owner, said that the opportunity for some of her kids to play a gig with The Piano Guys came through a chance meeting she had with the manager of the NYCB Theater.


 “The manager of The Piano Guys contacted the theater and said that they wanted to do something with some local community kids,” she said. “Through our previous meeting, NYCB’s manager knew about Center Stage and how passionate our students are about performing, so she called me.”


This was less than a month before the scheduled concert. In that time, Sanchez had to select eight students (plus one understudy) and start intense rehearsals to ensure that the kids would be ready for their brush with the big-time. The Center Stage musicians performed during one song during The Piano Guys’ set— a mash-up of ‘Beethoven’s Fifth’ with a song by the rock band One Republic.


“The cellist of The Piano Guys played the song by himself, and then my students came in at the end of the song and played it with him,” she said. “Just the fact that they got to rehearse with them and be at a real professional concert was an amazing experience.”


Center Stage, which opened its doors two years ago, specializes in a variety of musical styles and nearly every musical instrument under the sun— violin, cello, viola, piano, voice, trombone, and more. They have 15 instructors, and each of them centers on a specific family of instruments.


“Response to the school so far has been great,” Sanchez said. “Right now we have about 150 students, so we have a good following.”


Alexander Huang, age 17, from Carle Place, has been playing the violin since he was four years old. Despite having played in big venues such as Lincoln Center throughout the years, the chance to get on stage with The Piano Guys was still a prospect he looked forward to.


“This is the first time I’m performing with a well-known group, so there was a little bit more pressure than I usually feel,” he said. “However, I was very excited and couldn’t wait for the show.”


Westbury's Aashini Shah, 13, from Westbury has been playing violin for five years and said she was nervous at the thought of playing in front of an entire auditorium filled with paying customers.


“But I was very excited. I think it’s going to be good exposure for me and it will help me get into a few summer camps that I’ve been wanting to get into for a while,” she said.  


10 year-old Joshue Aquilar of Westbury started playing violin in the fourth grade, and genuinely relishes the experience of being able to create music. He said that making his official stage debut at NYCB Theater only doubles his dedication to the art, he said.


“I feel so excited and grateful for this, because without all the people here at Center Stage I wouldn’t have made it this far,” he said. 


Playing at NYCB Theater isn’t the only place where Center Stage students get exposure; they also put on music recitals several times a year, as well as playing at senior centers and other venues.


The drive that the teachers at Center Stage instill in each and every one of their students, as well as the opportunities they receive to hone their skills to the public, is a huge part of what makes her school different from others says Sanchez.


“We believe in the art of music, and we believe that music should be shared and given back to the community,” she said. “We want to bring that feeling into Center Stage, and that’s how the kids feel too. Three rehearsals a week, five rehearsals a week, they don’t care, that’s how dedicated they are.”