Allyson Luo took up clarinet because the instrument was shiny and "looked nice."
David Flyr began playing the French horn because his mother said it might be a path to scholarships.
At some point, both River Hill High School seniors discovered they were on to something; through those instruments, their talents shined. Now both have been recognized among some of the best school musicians in the state and nation.
Luo and Flyr were among 670 students nationwide to be named to the National Association for Music Education's All-National Honor Ensemble, which will perform at the organization's conference in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 30.
Luo and Flyr were among four Howard County band members selected for the ensemble. The other two were Katie Tich and Yong Yang, both of Marriotts Ridge High School. Other students from neighboring counties were also selected from 2.5 million applicants, based on an audition as well as recommendations and success at local- and state-level bands.
The All-National Honor Ensemble is composed of student performers in band, choir, jazz and orchestra. Students selected are sophomores through seniors from all 50 states, Washington, the Department of Defense School in Europe and other foreign venues.
"It's caught on with the major school districts in the nation as far as being an opportunity for students to grow and really be represented among the great music programs across the country and the great musicians," said Joe Fischer, River Hill High School director of bands.
Students earn a spot on the ensemble partly with a two-minute audition recording.
"You basically just have to show what you've got in two minutes," said Luo, who was named to the band roster, while Flyr was named to the orchestra roster.
She and Flyr have earned all-state honors this year as well; Luo was named to the All-State Senior Orchestra, while Flyr was named to the All-State Senior Band. Flyr was also named to the National Association for Music Education's All Eastern Honors Band made up of students from D.C. to Maine as well as Europe.
"Allyson and David have represented River Hill as members of the all-state band and orchestra, and therefore represent some of the most talented musicians in the state of Maryland," Fischer said. "They really are exceptional in all respects."
Both River Hill High students say they gravitated toward their current instruments after playing others. Both said they discovered what seemed natural fits.
"I just liked playing French horn for fun," Flyr said. "It wasn't until middle and high school that I started seeking out extracurricular playing opportunities. Currently I'm hoping to major in music and become a band director."
The list of colleges he's considering include the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Delaware.
"I am the only musician in my immediate family," Flyr added. "It's been kind of a blessing and a curse, because on the one hand, my family really doesn't know how to help me, but on the other hand, they blindly support me in whatever I do."
Luo, on the other hand, said she likely will venture toward biology or economics after high school. She balances both disciplines, making her mark in music as well as being school president of the Science National Honor Society. She's considering Duke, Dartmouth and Brown.
Luo says that though science, technology, engineering and math-related field are her focus, "music has always been there as a way of keeping me grounded, and I've always enjoyed doing it. I played piano really heavily when I was younger, so when I got into clarinet it was easy to pick up. I've been to math camp and to band camp."
Fischer said the two students' successes — locally, statewide and nationally — benefit all band members.
"We always feel like this recognition, from a student perspective, makes our program stronger," Fischer said. "The students going and having these experiences on a national level, sitting beside other national musicians and guest conductors, come back to us with new experiences and opportunities to share what they've learned with all of us."