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Upright success

Luca Buckley, 16, plays his cello at his home in Santa Fe. Buckley recently became the first student from Capital High School to earn a spot on the New Mexico Music Educators Association All-State Honor Orchestra. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

For Luca Buckley, playing the cello has been a passion since he was about 8 years old.

And that passion recently paid off as the 16-year-old Capital High School junior became the school’s first to earn a spot on the New Mexico Music Educators Association All-State Honor Orchestra.

“I think it’s very exciting that I was given the opportunity to do that,” he said. “I’ve had years of experience in the youth symphony, so to be able to get in and play with the top musicians in the state is an exciting accomplishment.”

It’s an honor Capital orchestra director Zach McGee has been hoping one of his students could attain.

“The Capital orchestra program has been around for nine years,” he said. “It’s been a goal of mine for the program to get some students on the all-state orchestra.”

But it did not come without quite a bit of hard work from both Buckley and McGee.

“It certainly wasn’t easy. About a month in advance, I received the solos, as well as the excerpts,” Buckley said of the compositions he needed to perform in his audition. “The first week, I was attempting to figure them out on my own, but there are a lot of complex sections. I asked (McGee) to help me and he was able to coach me, and it was just like I had private virtual lessons almost every day with him.”

The two spent numerous hours working on the music.

“At least a month,” McGee said. “An hour, sometimes two hours, every day just really diving into super-fine details. That’s just counting the time he spent working with me, in addition to the hours and hours he spent to implement those changes on his own. I can’t even know how many hours he put in on his own time, just practicing and making sure he was ready. It shows how willing and able a student is to push himself to succeed and pursue excellence.”

The effort, however, was well worth it, McGee said.

“For all activities, like DECA, athletics, etc., when a student receives this kind of state-level recognition, it signifies that he earned a spot among the best in the state,” he said. “It’s a huge step forward for our program and for Luca, too, to be the first kid in the school to reach that level.”

As a matter of fact, Buckley’s success has already jazzed up the program, McGee said.

“It was amazing how immediately some of Luca’s peers responded to it,” he said. “I already have kids talking about how excited they are to audition for next year. It’s great seeing that friendly competition. It was such a pleasure to see how immediate a response it was on the rest of my students.”

It gives the younger musicians a true goal, McGee said.

“Younger students can say, ‘I can see that in my future.’ It’s so nice to see that positivity and forward thinking, especially with so many kids being stressed and anguished with online learning. It’s wonderful to see how it helped bring back so much positivity and have kids look to the future.”

Inspiring his classmates is wonderful benefit to the achievement, Buckley said.

“In orchestra, I’ve formed really strong friendships, (and) I’ve been able to inspire others to give it their best and try as hard as they can,” he said. “It’s a really good feeling that I’m able to inspire people to try and give their all.”

Buckley comes from a family of musicians as his father plays guitar, his mother the clarinet and an older brother the viola. Buckley started out with the violin when he was about 5, but found an immediate attachment to the cello on first trying it.

His goal now is to improve on his score as a senior.

“I did it this year, and I think I can improve and get a higher score on my audition,” Buckley said. “Maybe not just getting a higher score, but getting into the first chair or second chair.”

As part of the reward for his achievement, Buckley and the others from the all-state orchestra will have a chance to practice online together, and attend virtual clinics and other events. The entire ensemble also will produce a virtual performance that is scheduled to be released April 25.

As for his future as a musician, Buckley said he’s pretty sure he’s not going to be a professional. But playing the cello always will be a part of his life.

“I never really thought of it as a career, but I will continue it as an activity,” he said. “It’s a good way to release stress. It’s lot of fun to play and it’s very relaxing. It gives me a good opportunity to develop very strong friendships.”