The day had finally arrived, competition day with the Heritage Music Festival.
Because of our early performance time for the VRHS Concert Band, we went down to breakfast a bit early to get a head start on the day. The breakfast spread was similar to the day before but bacon was replaced with sausage and French toast with pancakes. The students boarded the buses with the day's gear and we were off.
We arrived to the instrumental site in no time, the beauty of weekend non-traffic, and the band members quickly unloaded themselves and their instruments off the buses. Concert Band headed straight into the gym to start general warmup and we were escorted to our official warmup space.
We warmed up, tuned and it was showtime. The VRHS Concert Band played phenomenally and I'm not just saying that because I'm biased. The students played their hearts out and it was evident in all three pieces we performed. The clinician came on stage, congratulated us on a job well done and gave some helpful feedback to help us take it to another level. We thanked him for his help and exited the stage. This was the start to an amazing and unforgettable day.
Percussion Ensemble quickly got their instruments together for their portion which mostly included filling up tuned water glasses for a piece entitled Soup's On. Percussion took the stage and began with an auxiliary (mainly non-pitched instruments) percussion piece and went directly into a mallet heavy composition (you'll have to come our concert to listen!). Then they set up for Soup's On which required them to sit on ground, bang forks and knives of the ground and assorted kitchenware. The percussion ensemble was a hit and the clinician gave us some great comments and feedback.
Finally it was time for Jazz Band. These kids were amped up after their Concert Band performance and the Percussion Ensemble gave more fuel to their fire. The Jazz Band took the stage and absolutely "killed it" (for those that don't know, it means they performed really, really well). The timing, rhythms, solos and overall style lined up perfectly and it was the best performance the Jazz Band has ever performed. The clinician was helpful and gave us some different approaches to the music. We quickly cleared off the stage and as they kids were leaving, it was all smiles.
There was no time to rest and we flew over to the choral site which was about 20 minutes away. We unloaded the choir students and the Madmen began preparing as the first Valley vocal group of the day. The performances were running about 15 minutes behind schedule but in true Valley fashion, we rolled with the punches and adjusted to the change. The Madmen took the stage and gave the audience an entertaining performance of their pieces including an annual favorite, Cooney Island Baby.
Concert Choir was up next and they took the stage as the largest competing concert choir in the entire festival. They all sang beautifully and the soloists were captivating. All 80 choir members sang their hearts out and the audience responded with a standing ovation.
Women's Choir came up next and I'm sure you're getting tired of the same adjectives coming back over and over again, but it's hard to select words when the performances deserve the praise. Women's Choir put on an incredible performance and again, received a standing ovation. Performance times kept on getting pushed back because the adjudicators kept on wanting to work with our groups longer and longer.
Finally, about 30 minutes behind schedule, the VRHS Madrigal Consort took the stage as the final performing group of the festival. The Madrigals also "killed it" and gave an incredibly emotional and moving performance. The judges were in awe of the students' talents and gave some great feedback and different approaches to their songs. As soon as the clinic ended, it was back on the buses to head to the awards ceremony at Medieval Times.
Valley was seated in the yellow and red section and we were all excited for the dinner theatre and the awards ceremony. The show started off with a bang with horses, knights, speeches from the King and Princess and a delicious meal of half a chicken, baked potato and corn on the cob. The show was filled of Medieval games including horse showmanship, jousting and other Medieval games. Our yellow and red knight did not disappoint and performed very well in every challenge. It was time for the final joust and the excitement was overwhelming. We rooted for our knight and in the end, he was victorious! He came up into our section and selected Indigo to be his Queen of Love. She received a sash, a tiara and a photo with the Princess and our winning knight. The show ended, the general public exited and it was time to announce the placements and awards.
To be perfectly honest, this whole next part was a blur. So much excitement, screams of joy, applause for other groups, and general happiness filled our section. I cannot officially tell you what prizes we took but I can tell you that all Valley Regional ensembles took 1st in their division and received gold ratings across the board! There were a number of sweepstake awards received and other accolades but I cannot official tell you what they are until I figure out what they are! Whenever Valley's name was announced, a burst of screams, shouts and applause masked the tail part of the announcement so we couldn't hear what we received the award for. However, 2 Valley students received the prestigious Maestro award given to outstanding soloist that is selected by the adjudication panel. Colton K. and Richard P. received maestro awards for their solos in Jazz Band and Concert Choir, respectively.
So many happy faces, so many faces filled with complete joy. I honestly cannot tell you how incredible this moment was. Hugs/high fives were exchanged, pictures taken with the trophies...this evening was truly unforgettable.
More pictures taken, a visit to the gift shop, still more pictures...and shouts of joys...lots of shouting! It was finally time to head back to the hotel. We boarded, got back and checked the kids in for the night.
I will not update about our events from today, we are performing at Six Flags Great Adventure and the rest of the day is for the kids. Their hours and months of hard work has paid off and this is the least we can do to give back to them.
Now to the sappy part...I am obviously speaking from my perspective but I am sure Miss Hilton would agree with everything that I'm saying. Your children are beyond incredible. Not only are they superb performers, they are respectful, responsible, caring and overall incredible young adults. We are so lucky to have such great students from the towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex. As we were leaving Medieval Times, so many kids came up and thanked us. We should not be thanked, it is them and you, the parents/family members/friends that deserve the thanks. Some of the most memorable quotes from the evening, "This is better than winning the football state championships!" "I am so happy right now!" "This is the best moment of my life."
This trip has been incredible, amazing, awesome...any other adjectives you can think of. It is truly an honor to have the opportunity to teach these wonderful young adults. They are all going to become wonderful human beings and I cannot wait to see what is in store for these kids. Until next time...!
The day had finally arrived, competition day with the Heritage Music Festival.
The day started off nice and early with a 6:30 breakfast time. Today was going to be a long day of sightseeing and concerts and the kids came downstairs ready for day's events. Breakfast was a selection including French toast, pastries, bacon, scrambled eggs, a multi-colored assortment of potatoes and coffee/juices/milk.
We boarded the buses at 7:30 and made our ways to Arlington National Cemetery. DC traffic did not disappoint and a normally 45 minute drive became an hour and a half. It was a good time for the kids to nap and "gently" wake up into the day. The skies were blue and not a cloud in the sky could be seen but the temperature was quite brisk. We met up with our tour guides, bus 1 had Phil, and started our tour through the iconic memorial. Phil gave us some background about the cemetery and how a person can apply to be laid to rest in the cemetery. He also told us how the tombstones were categorized and uniformity of the etchings on the back and front of the markers.
Our first stop was the amphitheater where the VRHS Concert Choir sang our national anthem. The arced up on the dome covered stage and began singing. The experience was quite surreal as you could hear a bugle playing taps in the distance for a full Naval burial and the overall silence in the cemetery. Unfortunately, park rules state that groups cannot perform on stage and a guard waved down Miss Hilton in the final 16 measures of music. Miss Hilton "didn't see" the guard and continued on to the end of the piece. When she finally did see the guard, she explained to them that we had permission from the company we are touring with to do just the Star Spangled Banner. The guard apologized and thought we were doing a full concert and Miss Hilton assured him that it was not the case.
We walked a short distance to watch the 10:00 changing of the guard. Phi had told us that to be a part of this division of the Army is extremely prestigious and the training that goes into it, is intense. The precision of the rifle, steps and seconds paused had to be perfect. The changing of the guards was flawless and the guards were successfully switched. A changing of the wreaths occurred afterwards and was accompanied by the commanding officer, a bugler and the family/friends that dedicated the wreath. Taps was played, the wreaths exchanged and the ceremony was over.
99% of the group continued on to see the Kennedy Memorial where the Eternal Flame is located. Two Valley students have two relatives in the cemetery and we went on a mission to find their relatives' graves and pay their respects.
11:00 rolled around and it was time to continue our whirlwind tour through DC. We stopped off at the Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and the Vietnam War Memorial (and it's surrounding statues). Since we were on a tight schedule, we pretty much had time to walk out to it, explore a little bit, take a couple of pictures and it was back to the buses.
By this time, it was 1:00 and we had walked nearly 4 miles, given a lot of great information and we were a bit hungry. Lunch was eaten at the Reagan Center. After standing in a pretty sizable security line, the students had a variety of choices in the food court area of the government office building. I think some of the students thought we were going to a traditional mall (or traditional by our students' standards) and expected some time to shop and visit stores. Unfortunately, this was not the case but this time spent at the Reagan Center was a good time to eat, decompress and relax before the rest of the day.
3:30 and it was back on the buses to the Naval Academy. Again, a 45 minute bus ride ended up taking 1.5 hours but we got there just in time to start walking through parts of the Naval Academy and towards the Navy Chapel. Upon entering the chapel, there was a sense of patriotism and awe. The chapel's pull-knob organ was the focus of the demonstration and the organist did not disappoint. He gave us some background on the instrument, played some examples and then played a mini-recital including pieces by Back (Toccata and Fugue), Stars and Stripes Forever by JP Sousa and the main theme from Harry Potter by John Williams. The sheer massiveness of the organ had us all shaking, literally and figuratively, in our seats. After the demonstration, the vocal groups from the various schools had the opportunity to sing, a cappella, in the acoustically rich chapel. The VR Madrigals took the stage and sang one of the songs there were performing for the competition. The resonance was incredible and the performance well-performed.
Dinner was a boxed meal prepared by the Naval Academy in a dry-dock building. After a short bit of downtime, it was time to head back to the chapel to hear the Naval Academy Women's Glee Choir perform. These women sang beautifully and the concert was incredible. 2 students from each respective choral program were nominated to sing God Bless American with the Navy Glee Choir and Miss Hilton nominated Indigo C. and Lily A. The concert concluded and it was time to head back for some much needed rest.
The students were in their rooms, given information for the next day and stayed in for the evening. Saturday is competition day and it is going to be a doozy.
We have arrived!
This drive was much, much shorter than our trip to Chicago and we are definitely thankful for not having to sleep overnight on a bus. After lunch, Bus 1 watched Princess Brides and it was just enough time to be about 45 minutes out of our first destination, the National Aquarium of Baltimore.
We entered the Inner Harbor and you could tell the kids were excited as we pulled up to the shopping/restaurants/aquarium. Bus 1 gave a resounding "YAYYYY" when we saw the signs for the aquarium. The students unloaded the bus and went right into to the aquarium to take some group photos. From there, the students had about 1.5 hours to roam and explore the incredible creatures the aquarium had to offer. Not only were there many varieties of fish, sharks and dolphins...the aquarium also had a section dedicated to the rainforest. You had to take a special escalator where you could feel the climate change from cool aquarium to humid, muggy rainforest. Birds flew freely, plants carefully placed throughout the exhibit and even a sloth could be seen hanging from the trees.
Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time for a dolphin show but the students did get to see them swim in the underwater viewing area. The aquarium is gorgeous and if you're ever in town, you must visit the National Aquarium.
After exploring the aquarium and browsing the gift shop, it was time to walk over to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. The walk was literally a stone's throw away from the aquarium and we were seated in no time. The students were extremely well-behaved and mannered and the waitstaff were great. Dinner choices: burger, pasta, salad, pulled pork. Everything was great and quick and in true music department fashion, a singing/dance party even broke out and the staff loved it! They even joined in on the festivities and had a great time with the students.
We said our thank you's and boarded the busses to the hotel. The drive was short (30 min.) and check-in process, simple. The room leaders got their keys for their rooms, other unloaded the busses and in a matter of minutes, the busses were empty and kids on the way to their rooms.
The hotel is gorgeous and roomy and we are happy to call this our home for the next couple of days. The students now have some free time before lights out at 10.
We are all doing well and excited to be in "Annapolis/Baltimore." Tomorrow is a 6:00 breakfast call and we leaved shortly after for a jam packed day of sight-seeing and a concert at the Naval Academy.
Yesterday's dress rehearsals and baggage check went on without any hitches. The VR Bands and Choirs have been working very hard this year and are excited to finally take our performances on the road.
This morning started early...very early, like 5:15AM early. Everyone started to stroll in around 5AM - bleary eyed, dragging their feet (and heavy backpacks) int o the auditorium where the lights were dimly lit to help ease the students into the long, long day.
Attendance was taken, carryon baggage checked, instruments and baggage loaded and finally, it was time for the students to race to the busses for prime seating - but not before some words of advice from Mr. Talmadge. He gave us his top 10 words of wisdom from his many years as a band director n New Mexico and at Valley Regional. His number one..."I hope you all break a leg." Good advice for musicians and actors...but really though, it's ok. We departed Deep River about 7:50AM and have been driving ever since. The Peter Pan busses are very nice and are equipped with all things a kid could ever dream of...on a coach bus at least - Wifi and electrical outlets (except for Bus 3...no wifi for you!). Back in my day...we were lucky to have air conditioning that worked and a bathroom that didn't overflow.
We hit some traffic through New Haven, Bridgeport and Greenwich. We finally made it to the NY and NJ borders and just stopped for a lunch/bathroom break on the Jersey Turnpike. As we pulled up, the all familiar green lady of Starbucks appeared over the horizon of the bus windshield. The doors opened and they were off...to Starbucks! Besides coffee, kids got food from the various vendors. The kids had 40 minutes for lunch (which is 20 more minutes than we get at Valley) and now we're back on the busses with an ETA of 3:00 in the Inner Harbor.
First stop, National Aquarium of Baltimore. After, we'll stop for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe and then it's to the hotel for check-in and maybe some rehearsals. More updates later.