McEachern student Khalil Payne plays Carnegie Hall — Again

Khalil Payne holding his cello, standingKhalil Payne (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

For the second time, McEachern High School sophomore Khalil Payne will display his talents on the cello at Carnegie Hall.

The sixteen-year-old has been selected to perform in this year’s Honors Performance Series, and leaves for New York City on Thursday.

The website for the series describes the program as follows:

The Honors Performance Series was established to feature talented young musicians on stage at one of the world’s most famous music halls: Carnegie Hall.

Selected performers come together in New York City for several days of rehearsals with renowned conductors leading up to their life-changing performance at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage. In addition to performance preparation, networking with peers and experiencing the sights and performance arts of New York City are also important parts of the experience.

Payne told the Courier in an interview Saturday that the first step for being selected for the program is to make a recording playing excerpts of pieces that are posted on the Honors Performance Series web site.

If selected, the instrumentalist is assigned to the band, string orchestra, or full orchestra. Those chosen will be sent links to the music they will be practicing and performing for the 2020 Honors Performance Series concert.

Payne was chosen for the string orchestra this year.

“My pieces are ‘Point Lookout’ by Brian Balmages, ‘Overture to the Wind’ by Kirt Mosier, and ‘Academic Festival’ by Brahms,” said Payne.

Why Khalil Payne chose the cello

Khalil Payne with his cello (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

Asked to explain how he began playing the cello, Payne said that when he was a sixth grader at Tapp Middle School, the school gave Payne a choice between band, orchestra and chorus,and he decided to try the orchestra.

“I picked up the violin. I didn’t like holding it up, and then everything was like, so small, and I had kind of big hands for a 12 year old,” Payne said.

He then tried the viola, which he said was better, but he still didn’t like holding it up.

“So I got to the cello. I was a little bit nervous, because it’s a pretty big instrument,” he said.

Payne said that when he began playing the cello he felt an immediate bond with the instrument.

He said he considered choosing the double bass, but when they took it off the shelf he was terrified. “I thought it would fall over on me, and I didn’t even know how to even begin to hold it up.”

Payne said that when he began playing the cello in sixth grade the selections the orchestra performed included “Dragon Slayer” by Rob Grice, and “Cinnamon” by Albert Stoutamire and Kenneth Henderson.

Khalil Payne’s goals

Payne said his goal is to become a solo cellist. “As of right now I don’t know exactly which kind of music I’m going to be playing. I kind of want to do contemporary and classical at the same time. I know I want to be a solo cellist in the future.”

Asked if there were any prominent cellists he admires, he listed Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Kevin Olusola, Two Cellos (a duet with Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser), and Yoyo Ma.

Nadine Payne

Khalil Payne with his grandmother and adoptive mother Nadine Payne (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

Nadine Payne is Khalil’s grandmother. After the tragic murder of Khalil’s mother eight years ago, Nadine adopted Khalil, his brother Jordan and sister Amira.

Nadine said that when Khalil decided to join the orchestra in middle school, she told him “Come on baby we’ll get you this brand new violin.”

Khalil said, “Mama, save your money, I want a cello.”

Nadine said, “Cello? That’s my whole check!”

She said that when he was in middle school a teacher from McEachern High began interacting with Khalil, and when he entered high school, “She taught him things that he never knew or thought that he could even imagine to do.”

Nadine said that Khalil is acting as a role model for his younger brother and sister.

She named a long list of people and organizations she wanted to thank for their help in making sure that Khalil was able to attend the concert, including the fraternities Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi, Jeff Bell, Leroy Carson, Geneva Vanderhorst from STING, Inc., her church Turner Chapel, Deacons Darryl Griffin and Henry Bunn (who she mentioned is a former Tuskegee Airman), “Mama Dee Dee,” Myron Washington, Khalil’s grandfather and adoptive father Brent Payne Sr., and Camp Hope.

Asked if he had any closing thoughts, Khalil Payne said, “I want to thank everyone who supported me … I just want to thank all of you truly from the bottom of my heart. This is not something that you had to do, but I truly, truly, truly, truly, thank you so much. I can’t start thanking you all for making this actually come true. And I mean I still can’t even believe that I’m going next week.”

Video of Payne performing