WEEKI WACHEE — One of the instruments 16-year-old Lauren Ballard plays is bigger than she is, but that's not the one she hopes to carry to a special performance in New York City.
"Lauren was accepted into the American High School Honors Band at Carnegie Hall," said proud mother Carol Ballard, a musician herself. "She is one of two bass clarinets that will be there."
Besides the bass clarinet, the Weeki Wachee High School junior plays the electric bass guitar and the giant contrabass clarinet. It's so big, her mother said, its carrying case is about 6 feet long.
Lauren said she was invited to apply to American High School Honors Band after being part of the University of Florida Honor Band as a freshman, the University of Miami Honor Band as a sophomore and also participating in All-State Band.
"October 31, 10:08 (a.m.) we were notified that I got into it," Lauren said.
She knows that, she said, because she remembers her mother screaming into the room to announce it.
Lauren's selection is all the more remarkable because practice is difficult for her. She suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and prolonged practice can become very painful for her.
"When I'm playing for long periods of time, my hands swell up and it gets difficult to do the fast runs in the music," she said. "I usually ignore it and keep playing because I like it."
Lauren travels to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Chicago for treatment twice a year. Her mother said Lauren gets excellent treatment there.
Lauren's musical career officially began just before middle school.
"I started the regular B-flat clarinet the summer before sixth grade," she said. "Ever since I was little, I wanted to be in a band because of the shakos (marching band hats)."
When she was in seventh grade, Wayne Raymond, the West Hernando Middle School band director at the time, lent Lauren a bass clarinet.
"I like lower-pitched things," she said. "I thought it sounded prettier."
In ninth grade, she was introduced to the contrabass.
"Mr. (Mike) Miller (former Weeki Wachee High band director) came in and asked if I wanted a new toy," Lauren said.
He brought it in; she tried it out.
"It sounds cool," she said.
Currently, she plays the electric bass guitar in her school's marching band — sadly with no shako — and the jazz band, and the clarinet in the concert band, under the direction of Trevor Rigby.
Right now, Lauren's biggest obstacle is raising the money she will need for the trip to New York in February. Her mother, a teacher, figures it will cost about $2,500. She welcomes donations and is also considering ideas for fundraising.
Carol and Lauren Ballard both play with the Hernando Symphony Orchestra, Lauren being a brand new member. The other family member is Lauren's younger sister, eighth-grader Kristen Ballard, who sings in the chorus at Powell Middle School. The girls' father, Kevin Ballard, is deceased.