The Night Rochester Academy of Music & Arts Owned Carnegie Hall


A view of The Carnegie Hall Stage from the Mezzanine during our performance

In How do you make it to Carnegie Hall? Go to the Rochester Academy of Music & Arts!  we reported on a planned trip to Carnegie Hall, including the live debut of “Big Coconut.”

The performance in the Weil Recital Hall brought down the house. Today, Brigid Harrigan, Assistant Director of Rochester Academy of Music & Arts, reports back on the trip from Brighton to Manhattan.

The Night Rochester Academy of Music & Arts Owned Carnegie Hall

“You own Carnegie Hall tonight.”

That’s what the dapperly dressed man in the ticket booth said to me, hours before our performance. “Go anywhere you like.”


The Rochester Academy of Music & Arts set list taped to the backstage Carnegie wall.

It’s an offer you don’t refuse. So I began weaving my way through the tower floors, determined to see every nook and cranny.


Students Milla & Etta Sorensen view the New York City Skyline

Not nearly as ornate as the hall itself, backstage Carnegie is a labyrinth of functionality. All dressing rooms, stairs, and steel elevators. At one point I came across the set list for that night’s show taped crudely to the wall. A once-in-a-lifetime experience for performers is just a day in the life for those who call Carnegie Hall home.

But for one evening, on September 24th, Carnegie Hall was our home. Several hundred local families made the long trek from Rochester to Manhattan, in support of students from the Rochester Academy of Music & Arts. 50 of the Academy’s 450 students were scheduled to perform on the world-famous Carnegie stage, and the hall was reserved just for them.


Brigid Harrigan and Academy director Brannon Hungness on the Carnegie Stage


Student Brody Schenk performs Johnny B Goode with his teacher Edward Klingenberger

As emcee for the show, I was able to observe the audience from the stage. From the sea of familiar faces, I located the performers—some looking excited, others nervous. Most a little bit of each. Not that they had anything to worry about. They had been preparing for months, and it showed in the confidence and grace with which they took the stage. Every musical genre imaginable was represented, performed by students as young as five, up to adults, and everyone in between. Rock drummers followed by classical violinists. A diverse group brought together by a love of music, and an awesome opportunity.

The show culminated with the debut performance of “Big Coconut,” a song written by Academy director Brannon Hungness, and sung by several students. The song, a charity single to benefit Earthworks, speaks of the power of positivity. And nothing could have been more apt for the night.

Never have I witnessed a more supportive atmosphere at a show. The crowd erupted in cheers when a parent offered up a piano book to a student who had forgotten her music. They gave words of encouragement to a singer battling a cold. They grinned ear-to-ear watching the performers having the time of their life singing “Big Coconut.”


The closing performance of Big Coconut! With singers Katie Petix, Isabelle Kovacic, Diamond Carter, Jyonnah Ware, Justin Rodriguez and Tommy Castronova, plus teachers Ed Kilingenberger, Bob Pycior and Brannon Hungness

Carnegie Hall was our home that night, not because we had the hall to ourselves for three hours, but because we brought the best of ourselves to the hall that night. Positivity and compassion, the Rochester spirit, sparkling a little brighter under the light of a crystal chandelier.

“Big Coconut” can be purchased online at All proceeds go to Earthworks, helping to protect our beautiful planet.

— Brigid Harrigan is the Assistant Director of Rochester Academy of Music & Arts in Brighton


How do you make it to Carnegie Hall? Go to the Rochester Academy of Music & Arts!

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