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Practice, practice, practice ... to Carnegie Hall

Spot Kyle Manley on a street corner in his classic tan jacket and silver rimed glasses, and it might not surprise you to learn he is an aspiring jazz musician.

Things are going pretty well. In May, the 2008 Rosemount High School graduate will play his saxophone on-stage at Carnegie Hall.

The concert, which will be performed by the National Collegiate Wind Ensemble and presented by MidAmerica Productions, is an annual event in its 12th year. The concert will feature five concert band pieces, played by 70 hand-picked college students from across the United States, and this year, Manley is one of them.

Manley, who began playing saxophone in fifth grade, first heard about the National Collegiate Wind Ensemble from a friend who had auditioned for the concert. Though Manley was excited for his friend's announcement, his initial reaction was to wonder what the "catch" was.

Manley knew Carnegie Hall, a grand theater in New York, played home to some of the nation's greatest musicians. With the theater's reputation, Manley thought it suspect they were allowing college students to play there. However, after receiving more information about MidAmerica and the National Collegiate Wind Ensemble, Manley only had one question: How do I audition?

Because the formal audition dates had passed, Manley had to contact a MidAmerica representative to ask if they were still accepting submissions. When the representative said they had openings for saxophone players, Manley jumped on the opportunity. He quickly filled out an application and recorded some music to submit. A few months later, Manley received a letter in his college mailbox at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire stating he had been accepted.

"I didn't think I'd actually get in," Manley said. "The great legends of music play at Carnegie Hall regularly, but I thought I would never get to play there. It didn't really hit me until a few days after, then I was like: 'This is really real. This is going to be fun.'"

Though the five or six songs the ensemble will play at the concert are difficult, Manley is accustomed to putting in a lot of practice. Manley said on any given day, he will practice between one and three hours. He approaches music as an art rather than a field of study.

"You have to practice music," Manley said. "It's not like math where you do your homework and you're done."

Manley said he grew the most interested in music when he began taking private lessons, and it was during those lessons he learned the art and structure of practicing. Manley's main instruments, and the ones he will play at the concert, are alto and soprano saxophone. However, he also plays flute, clarinet and piano, and therefore must arrange practice sessions to get the most out of each instrument.

A typical session for Manley usually begins with scales and warm-ups, moving on to solos and finishing with classical and jazz music. Manley said he leaves classical and jazz for the end because they take the most effort and energy to play well. Jazz is also Manley's favorite musical style.

"I like playing with a lot of people and creating good quality music," Manley said. "With jazz, you can loosen up and show your personality when you play. The more individual you make it the better it sounds."

While Manley hopes one day to work as a jazz freelancer, his major field of study at UWEC is music education. Manley said many students do not realize the stature of Eau Claire's music program. The school has five jazz bands and has had multiple Grammy nominations.

Manley chose to enter the education program at UWEC because he recalled a time when he was able to teach students about music.

"It was gratifying to see (students) grow," Manley said. "That's really cool. Sharing music is a really big thing to me. Sharing music is always better than keeping it to yourself."

Apart from being involved in the UWEC music program, Manley takes part in the marching band and plays with various quartets. He credits support from his family and friends and instruction from the music teachers at Rosemount Middle School and Rosemount High School for his instrumental success.