When she tried out for the All-State Orchestra as a junior, Julia Leone didn’t make the cut.
Going into her senior year at Gateway High School in 2018, the flutist resolved she would.
After months and countless hours of practice, she did.
Leone, 18, will be the only piccolo instrumentalist playing for the All-State Orchestra during the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) annual conference next month.
Getting there isn’t easy, said Jim Hoeltje, Gateway’s director of bands.
The first step was “making” the PMEA honors band in October, for which Leone auditioned. When she received that honor, that meant she qualified to play in district orchestra. When she auditioned for a seating placement for that concert, she earned first seat out of six flutes. The top spot meant she could move on to play flute in the western region orchestra, where she auditioned again for a seating placement as piccolo player.
Leone once again ranked first.
“Which advanced her as the piccolo player on All-State (Orchestra),” Hoeltje said. The band director said Leone also played flute on district and regional band levels, but could only move on to the state level in orchestra, per PMEA rules.
Like many good flutists, Hoeltje said, Leone also plays the piccolo, a half-size flute that also belongs to the woodwind family of instruments.
But only the best get to perform in Leone’s spot.
“There are so many flute players in the state of Pennsylvania. There’s got to be thousands. And there’s got to be a hundred that are as talented as her. But to have her talent, plus her work ethic, plus her determination to set that goal — to be the one at the top? … I might never have a flute player as good as Julia in the next 25 years that I’m here,” Hoeltje said.
Leone started playing flute in fifth grade after trying piano and violin.
“The other two didn’t work out,” she said, adding that practicing those instruments was a chore, but“Flute was fun.”
She hopes to study music — either on the pedagogical or performance side — in college. She is applying and auditioning for schools like Penn State and Duquesne universities.
She particularly enjoys the piccolo because of its “cute” size and sound.
“And I like playing it in an orchestra because it’s the only instrument like that in the orchestra so you can hear it above everything else. It doesn’t sound like any other instrument,” Leone said.
When asked if she was surprised to learn she qualified to perform in the PMEA All-State Orchestra, her reply was simple.
“No. Last year I wanted to make it and I didn’t. And I knew this was my last chance so I told myself, ‘I’m going to do it.’ And that was my only option,” Leone said.
The resolute response reflects her work ethic, Hoeltje said.
“She’s here for multiple hours a day in that practice room back there just up and down and up and down, just playing and playing and playing,” he said. “I admire her work ethic.”
Leone will play the piccolo in two high-level symphony pieces during the All-State Orchestra concert, which will be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh on April 6.