Colorado Springs 8th grader selected to play at Carnegie Hall

A military kid here in the Springs isn’t just a talented musician: she’s among the most talented young musicians in the country.
Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 11:07 AM MDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - A military kid right here in the Springs isn’t just a talented musician -- she’s among the most talented young musicians in the country.

To listen to her play, you’d never believe 13-year-old Aria Pielak has only been playing the tuba for the last year and a half. But like many kids, it was her middle school band where she first tried her hand at playing an instrument.

“I started with the trumpet, but couldn’t figure it out,” Aria said. “Clarinet, that lasted two days. Went to trombone; that lasted a couple of months I think, like two months-ish? It was really fun, I enjoyed it, it just wasn’t my thing, though. I tried another woodwind -- that did not work. Tried the bassoon [shakes her head]. Then I walked up to my teacher and said, ‘Mrs. Hascall, I can’t figure out what I want to do!’ and she goes, ‘Why don’t you try the tuba? We don’t have any tuba players right now.’ Because our old tuba player quit and went to percussion. So, I ended up playing the tuba and sticking with it.”

“The second she made her first little ‘doot’ on the tuba, she was sold,” said Aria’s mother, Leisha Pielak. “It was silly, it was heavy, it was big, it was a challenge.”

And though it’s only been 18 months for this eighth grader, her natural talent with the tuba is already gaining her national attention. She is among the select few chosen for an incredibly prestigious honor.

In the months since Mrs. Hascall convinced Aria to pick up the tuba, her dad got orders for Peterson Space Force Base, and the family moved from California to Colorado. But Aria, now at District 11′s Jenkins Middle School, clearly left an impression on her former band teacher.

“We just received this big manila envelope in the mail, and we’re like, ‘I don’t know what Honors Performance Series is,’” Leisha Pielak recalled. “We kind of figured it was a junk mail kind of deal, but we opened it up anyway.”

Inside was a certificate, stating that Mrs. Hascall had nominated their daughter for the Honor Performance Series.

This highly selective program assembles some of the most promising young musicians around the country to perform at world-famous venues, including Carnegie Hall, while under the tutelage of world-renown conductors.

“It was all a surprise. Once we got that envelope ... we started looking in to it and it was like, ‘Wow, this is big,’” said Aria’s dad, Daniel Pielak.

Being nominated is only the first step -- now, Aria would have to audition.

“It took a while because I had to figure out what piece I was going to pick, and then once I picked my piece, I had to practice for it. There was one day where I practiced for four hours straight,” Aria told 11 News reporter Lindsey Grewe.

“We went through a bunch of pieces that she’d previously done in school, added a little bit of stuff that she’d never done before, and she learned that too. Mixed and matched a whole bunch of stuff. It was a three-to five-minute piece she had to do,” Daniel Pielak said.

The night Aria finished her audition piece, Daniel said he worked with his daughter for hours to get it just right.

She then submitted it, along with tens of thousands of other students. Only around 350 would be chosen.

“I think she did fantastic, and the fact that we spent so much time -- she spent so much time, especially, getting it just right, was really good and gave me a lot of confidence, but at the same time, it’s a national-level thing, 350ish students selected across the nation, it’s very selective, but I had really good hopes that what we did, how much effort we put in, was enough for her.”

And it would be enough! In early March, Aria got the big news.

“We got the notification she was selected, she came home from school, we layed it nonchalant, I recorded the whole thing. and she went a little crazy,” Daniel said.

Now, she’s on her way to New York City this June for a whirlwind four days of rehearsals, sight-seeing, more rehearsals, a Broadway show, more rehearsals, and of course, a performance in front of a live audience at Carnegie Hall, where some of the most famous musicians in the world have played.

“My daughter is playing on the same stage as Michael Buble -- what?!”

“It’s a big feat. There’s one other person that we know of from Colorado that was selected from middle school for this,” Daniel Pielak said. (The program takes middle schoolers and high schoolers, roughly 50 per grade.)

“They get to be directed under some world-renown conductors, and it’s an entire experience. It’s not just -- I mean ‘just’ -- performing in Carnegie Hall, it’s a whole thing that they put together over the course of four days. ... Four days of non-stop ‘go go go’ of anything you can imagine in New York City, plus being able to perform in Carnegie Hall,” Leisha said.

In an amazing full circle moment, Aria is following in her grandmother’s footsteps -- who once performed on that celebrated stage as a teenager herself. Leisha told 11 News that her mother cried when she learned her granddaughter would be performing there too.

Lindsey Grewe: Did you dream your daughter would be doing the same thing [as her grandmother].

Leisha Pielak: No, no.”

Daniel Pielak: “No way.”

While Aria’s selection is an incredible honor, families do have to pay for the trip, which includes such expenses as flights, meals and instrument rentals, among others. Her parents are working to raise funds to get their daughter there, as well as to get the family there so they can watch Aria perform. The family has a GoFundMe set up, which can be accessed here. Their goal is $7,500, and at the time of this writing, they are about a third of the way there.

But while needing to fundraise, the Pielaks say they are over the moon for their daughter.

“We’re so flipping proud of her!” Leisha said. “We’re so excited that she took up this intimidating instrument and has flourished. She loves it so much. Being able to watch her face light up every single time she plays. Knowing she’s the only girl, you know, in almost any setting, playing the tuba. She gets so excited and you see her glow.

“To be able to watch her do this, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”