Mt. Pleasant trumpet player hits the right notes
As Mt. Pleasant Area High School junior trumpet player Michael Sarnelli played “Taps” during pregame ceremonies prior to the Derry Area-Mt. Pleasant football game on Sept. 11, honoring victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, the crowd stood motionless and silent — not a movement, not a word.
Although the music may be difficult, what makes it a tough piece to play is “maintaining composure during this emotional time,” Sarnelli said. “Seeing people’s reactions and their emotions can make it difficult. I’ve watched as this song has brought people to tears.”
In addition to that pregame ceremony, Sarnelli, 16, has played “Taps” at military funerals, the Mt. Pleasant American Legion, the Donegal American Legion, Veterans Day parades and ceremonies at the Mt. Pleasant diamond.
“It is an honor for me to be asked to play at military funerals, for what veterans have gone through and sacrificed for this country,” he added. “I consider it my duty to perform ‘Taps’ live, rather than have it played on tape.”
While he may be used to the emotional reactions associated with ‘Taps,’ the most stressful time he encountered was the first time he played the music.
“I was playing it for my dad’s sister’s husband’s funeral, in front of my family,” which added to the stress. “But it worked out perfectly.”
For Sarnelli, who multitasks music, academics and athletics, there is no such thing as worry beads or stress balls. Instead, it’s music that is his stress reliever.
“Music enables me to escape from everyday routines, including school,” he reflected. “Music is a major outlet for me.”
Realizing that practice is the route to improvement, Sarnelli spends up to an hour each day honing his skills, and takes private lessons with professional musician Matthew Barabas, a member of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra.
Sarnelli began playing the trumpet in the fifth grade and has worked with Mt. Pleasant Area Director of Bands Frederick Collins since he was in the seventh grade. One year later Sarnelli was in the high school band as second chair.
He has been the lead trumpet since freshman year, a position selected by Collins, who chooses all student leaders based on their ability and maturity.
“Michael is a versatile musician and is in his fourth year with the Vikings marching and symphonic bands. In addition to being the lead trumpet, he is accustomed to playing the different types of music and feels equally comfortable performing classical pieces, jazz standards or modern pop songs.
Although only a junior, Sarnelli has already compiled an impressive resume. He has been selected to play in various county, district and honors bands where he has been a featured soloist, including performing “a moving a capella trumpet performance of Sam Hazo’s ‘Psalm 42,’” Collins said. “In 2014, he played the bossa nova great, ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,’ accompanied by the Viking Jazz Ensemble at both the Yough Jazz Festival and the Seven Springs Educators Convention.”
A member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society, Sarnelli has received the Outstanding Class Musician award three consecutive years and, as a sophomore, was named Outstanding Underclass Jazz Musician.
“Mike is a very gifted and unselfish musician, and a tireless worker,” Collins said. “He is a very strong player but also understands his role in fitting into ensembles as a whole. He is strong academically and is a major contributor to our school and community.”
When Sarnelli was selected as lead trumpet as a freshman, he admits to having early trepidations. Sophomores, juniors and seniors were ahead of him in terms of experience and seniority, and he learned valuable lessons from the upperclassmen, he said.
“At times it was tough because there was much I did not know and had to learn, but Mr. Collins helped me out,” he said.
As lead trumpet, Sarnelli’s tasks include making sure section members are aware of their responsibilities before, during and after games, and at music festivals and parades. His role is to organize students and make sure each member has his/her music, and set an example during rehearsals as to how music should be played.
In addition to his music activities, Sarnelli is a member of the Spanish Club, SADD, and Student Council, and maintains a 3.9 grade average, with a classroom schedule filled with AP (Advanced Placement) classes. He is a member of the Vikings track team, competing in the 800 meters, mile and two-mile events. Sarnelli is considering a career in the science field, either in medicine or engineering, but readily acknowledges that “music will always remain a part of my life, perhaps as a member of a small band.”
Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.