It hasn’t quite sunk in yet for Preston Spisak. It hasn’t settled in his mind that Spisak, a percussionist, Wade Hampton High School junior and Fine Arts Center student, will be headed to New York in June. It doesn’t seem quite real for him, yet, that he’s been selected to be a part of Carnegie Hall’s national youth ensemble, the NYO2 (a sister ensemble of the National Youth Orchestra for musicians aged 14-17).
“It probably won’t sink in for a while,” Spisak says. “I’ve never actually been to New York. Probably the biggest city I’ve ever been to is maybe Atlanta or D.C., so I have no idea what it’s going to be like. I haven’t even been on a plane since I was four.”
But Spisak will indeed be headed to Purchase College outside of New York City, joining more than 200 of his peers for lessons, master classes, workshops, rehearsals and mentoring sessions with Marc Damoulakis from the Cleveland Orchestra and Jauvon Gilliam, the principal timpanist of the National Symphony Orchestra.
In one sense, Spisak’s path to New York started when he joined band class in middle school. But his literal journey started last summer. He’d been accepted into Julliard’s summer percussion seminar in 2020, a less-than-stellar experience because of the pandemic.
“It had to all move online,” he says. “And so it was just a few weeks of Zoom calls.”
After the Zoom calls were over, Spisak got back to work.
“Around August, I asked my teacher about different summer programs and things I should do,” he says, “because I always want to be doing something with music and I want to be getting ahead of the curve. And one of the ones that he suggested was National Youth Orchestra. It seemed like a really fun thing to do.”
Spisak went to the NYO2’s website, checked out their audition repertoire, spent about a month learning it and then sent in a tape of himself playing. Then he waited.
“It was a really long wait,” he says. “I sent in my tape back in December and they didn’t get back to me until, like, February or so. I guess it must be a long judging process. You’re just kind of waiting for that email and then when you get it it’s just the most amazing feeling. I started jumping around and celebrating. Luckily, it was a classroom that I was alone in. No one else could hear me.”
As Spisak talks about this one-of-a-kind opportunity, it’s obvious how driven he is to be one of the best percussionists around.
“I worry a lot about getting ahead of all the other percussionists that are my age,” he says. “I worry a lot that I might be behind. I want to make sure that I’m going to be ahead of the curve in college and things like that. I really felt like I needed to win it and winning it makes me feel a lot more comfortable in my position as far as how strong my playing skills are.”
New York might be Spisak’s destination, but he gives Greenville a lot of credit for helping him get there.
“Greenville is the coolest small city, ever,” he says. “Our music scene is just incredible for the size we are. And the Fine Arts Center is one of maybe 10 places in the country where I can do what I’m doing right now. I’m really lucky to have been born where I am and being in the school district that I am because I owe it all to the Fine Arts Center and my teachers.”