ATLANTIC CITY — Barry Manilow bounded into Boardwalk Hall just a few hours before his concert Saturday night to greet some special guests - members of Atlantic City High School's marching band.
The youngsters were invited to sit in on the Grammy Award-winning vocalist's rehearsal, filling up two rows of floor seats. Before his turn at the microphone, Manilow chatted with the students, telling them that when he was their age, he would attend shows and watch mesmerized from the audience.
"I sat here like you are and I said, ‘This is what I want to do,'" he told them.
Behind him, the 60-piece New York Pops practiced the concert's opening song. The sounds of strings and drums and brass reverberated through the arena.
"They have been working in the business all of their lives," Manilow said of the professional players. "Maybe that's what you'll end up doing."
Some of the students said they dream about becoming musicians when they're older.
"Mr. Manilow, how do I make it big as a drummer?" asked Ramier Brown, 16, of Atlantic City.
"Do you read music?"
"A little bit," Brown said.
"That's the trick. That's the way you make a living. If you can read, you can work," Manilow advised him. "You can be as talented as you want, but you got to spend a couple of years just diving in and reading it. Then you can find out if you're brilliant."
Demetrius Hart, who graduated from Atlantic City High School in June and played the snare drum in the band, was captivated by the intricacies of the concert. Sound check workers rushed the stage while the musicians played, the back-up singers grooved and mixing board professionals made sure it all came together.
"Is some of this prerecorded?" asked Hart, 17, of Atlantic City.
"This whole thing is live," Manilow told him before rushing up to the stage to practice his entrance.
Besides giving students a chance to see the "Copacabana" crooner up close, Manilow and his charity also donated about 15 instruments to Atlantic City High School for its music program.
Started in 2008, the Manilow Music Project collects money from ticket sales to purchase instruments for public schools. It also collects and repairs used instruments.
Atlantic City High School band director Darryl Robinson said the instruments "come at a great time," as school districts are being squeezed by budget cuts and funding for ancillary programs such as music are jeopardized.
But just the chance for some of the school's band members to witness a legendary performer in action was appreciated, the students said.
"It's an honor to be invited to something this big," said Dominic Marinucci, a 16-year-old trumpet player from Ventnor.
"We're going to remember this," added Josh Roldan, 15, of Ventnor, who plays tenor saxophone and wants to study music in college.
Manilow, wearing a button-down shirt and black pants, belted out the final note to a song. The high school students fist-pumped and cheered him on.
After more than an hour of watching, they were given tickets to the night's show - but they wouldn't get to go. They had their own performance.
In a couple of hours, the youngsters would be at Showboat Casino Hotel to play for the Atlantic City High School Class of 1970's 40-year reunion. There, an audience would be clapping for them.
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