NORMAN — Music consumes nearly every waking moment of Dillon Downey’s world.
But this Norman North High School senior wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s a passion that is taking the 17-year-old trombonist all the way to Carnegie Hall in New York City this weekend for a performance with the American High School Honors Performance Series Orchestra. Downey is performing as the first chair to an already sold-out audience 8 p.m. Sunday.
“I’ve thought about being an engineer or being a doctor or a lawyer, or something like that, that could typically make much more money than a musician,” he said, “but music is my life. I’m so passionate about it, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’d be lost without music.”
Downey, son of Alfred and Debbie Downey, is performing with other elite high school musicians around the country, Canada and select international schools, under the direction of renowned conductors Dr. Eph Ehly, Jeffrey Grogan, Sharon Lavery and H. Robert Reynolds.
The students were asked to rehearse a set repertoire before arriving for the five-day-long program, including “Nabucco Overture Finale” by Giuseppe Verdi, Dimitri Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 5” (fourth movement), and “Dusk” by Steven Bryant.
Downey participated in the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute orchestra under the direction of Grogan. He recommended that Downey audition to participate in the program.
Downey didn’t need much more prompting. He is now excited to learn from both the experienced and inexperienced musicians he will be joining.
Performing in Carnegie Hall is a significant musician milestone not missed on the young talent. Grogan described the experience as a pinnacle experience for any musician.
“I’ve conducted this group before at Carnegie Hall, and it’s some of the best kids in the U.S. They come from all over, so everyone in that group is top notch, very serious and hard-working,” Grogan said. “You put a group of kids like that together and it’s pretty amazing what they can do in three days.”
Downey will leave Thursday to attend the program. A portion of his time will be spent rehearsing for Sunday’s performance. He also will have the opportunity to be heard by collegiate music programs and participate in a music seminar featuring an industry professional.
Students also will experience New York City by attending a Broadway show and a nationally televised morning show.
Getting to Carnegie Hall didn’t happen overnight. Downey picked up the trombone in elementary school seven years ago. He now participates in his high school’s band, orchestra and jazz band, as well as conducting a school ensemble. On top of that, Downey receives private lessons from two instructors, Irv Wagner, University of Oklahoma music professor, and former Norman Public School band teacher Arthur Lantagne.
Downey has been receiving instruction from Wagner for four or five years. Wagner said Downey not only has the fundamental skills down, but he is also a passionate, self-motivated musician.
“He’s got the kind of ability and mentality he could be a professional trombonist and make a mark in the music world because he’s that good,” Wagner said. “Sometimes to make it in the business, there has to be that determination and burning desire to take advantage of your opportunities and create your opportunities. Dillon’s got all that going as good as anyone else I’ve ever come across.”
Though Downey doesn’t know the college he’ll be attending yet, he’s sure that music will continue to be a life-long love affair.
“Beethoven had a quote that, ‘To play the wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.’ I just think that’s really true in general. Music can impact so many people. It doesn’t matter where you’re at in the world or who you’re dealing with, but it’s really incredible for me to see that music can have such a heavy impact on people.”
For more information on the American High School Honors Performance Series Orchestra, visit honorsperformance.org.