Musical Gift: Eisenhower Senior Penley Picked For All-Eastern Honors Ensemble

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Amber Penley’s music talent continues to take her places. 

The most recent destination for the Eisenhower senior is the All-Eastern Honors Ensemble.  It’s the next and final step after the state competition.

Quite simply, only the best of the best make it. 

“Last May I got accepted into the All-State band for the first time, and although I did not get to perform in person, I was still very grateful to receive that honor,” Penley said. “After that, my director informed me that I was eligible to audition for the All-Eastern Honors Ensemble if I wanted, and even though I knew it would be very difficult to qualify, I decided to give it a try. 

“I had two songs to audition with, both being the most difficult pieces of music I had ever played, and I practiced an hour a day to prepare myself as best as I could. Within a month I submitted a recording of the music, and from there all I could do was wait for the results. Fast forward to the present, my recording impressed the judges enough for them to choose me as one of these lucky musicians.”

The moment she found out she was accepted was one of pure joy. It’s one of those moments when you feel all the hard work you have put into a craft pay off. 

“When Mr. N (Mark Napolitan, my director) called me and told me that I qualified for All-East, I was honestly so bewildered and shocked that it took me a few minutes to actually understand what he was saying,” Penley said. “Even making the All-State band was a dream come true, and although I knew I stood a chance for All-East, it was pretty much impossible in my mind that I could actually make it. It wasn’t until a couple hours later when the excitement actually came to me, and even now it all still feels a little unreal.”

Music is a labor of love for Penley, one that began at a very young age. That love and passion have only continued to grow over time. 

“I began playing trumpet when I was ten years old, and some time in middle school I started really dedicating myself to music,” she said. “My first year competing for PMEA (tenth grade) I auditioned and qualified for Region band, and the next year I qualified for Region band, All-State band, and as we now know, All-Eastern band.

“This year I have already made Region band, and at the moment I am practicing for my All-State audition. I also have a history of leadership in music, being the drum major for my junior and senior year in the marching band.”

The All-Eastern Honors Ensemble was scheduled for Hartford, Conn. in April, but had to be postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Instead, Penley will perform virtually, with the event now being held March 4-6. 

The virtual performance will be something new to Penley, but she is nevertheless looking forward to it. 

“Playing for a Region band concert two years ago, I can say that playing with other dedicated and passionate musicians is a truly unique feeling,” Penley stated. “Although this year I will not have that same feeling, I do expect it to be an amazing and memorable experience in other ways. I have never been part of a virtual performance so I cannot predict what it will feel like, but I have no doubt that a virtual concert would still create a feeling of unity and pride among all of us musicians.

“I know that those in charge are going to do their best to put together an amazing virtual concert, and I look forward to listening to all of our voices playing together, even though it will not be quite the same as it would be in person.”

If there’s anything the pandemic has taught everyone, it’s to adjust and adapt. The music world is certainly no different. 

And, while she’s disappointed about not being able to perform in person, Penley knows that all involved, herself included, will put together an amazing performance. 

“Honestly, it is an understatement to say that I am disappointed about not being able to perform with everyone else in person this year, especially since the same thing happened last year with Region and All-State band,” she said. “However, if everything with COVID-19 has taught me anything, it is gratitude. There is nothing I or anyone can really do about the situation we are in, and so I have tried my best to be thankful for what we ARE still able to do. We still had the opportunity to learn challenging music, compete and qualify for different ensembles, and even perform in a unique way.”

That adaptation obviously extends to school as well for a young woman who said her friends would describe her as ‘hard-working’ and ‘maybe a perfectionist’ as well as ‘creative and funny.’

“This senior year has been stressful considering all of the different regulations and inhibitions the pandemic has brought, but so far it actually isn’t too bad,” Penley noted. “I have had more success staying patient and optimistic during times of stress than I have ever before. My classes this year are also much easier than the ones I took last year, so I have been able to take more breaks and enjoy my senior year, doing more of what makes me happy.”

Beyond high school, she has big plans as well, ones that, not surprisingly, will include her musical passions

“I plan on going to a four-year college for biological anthropology, and after that, I will hopefully go to graduate school and earn my Ph.D.,” she said.  “In college, I also plan on continuing my musical pursuits through marching band and other school ensembles.”