This morning was a bittersweet ending to an amazing trip. The kids were checked out of their rooms and made our ways to breakfast. We loaded the buses with our suitcases, carry-ons and instruments and we were off for Six Flags Great America.
We got to the park, unloaded the instruments and the choir kicked off our performances at the main gate for the guests entering the park on opening weekend. The performances were, again, amazing and it was finally time to enjoy the park. We loaded the instruments onto the bus for a final time and headed for roller coasters, corn dogs and giant plush animals/hot dogs.
The weather was perfect and the lines were reasonable. I got to hang out with some of your students and they are truly a great bunch of kids. We are heading to Indiana for dinner and then it's back to CT.
Stay tuned for more updates!
CONGRATULATIONS to the VRHS Madmen, Women's Choir, Madrigal Consort, Concert Choir, Percussion Ensemble, Jazz Band and Concert Band for an incredible day of stunning performances.
Here is a recap of Friday and Saturday (we have a 45-minute bus ride so get ready for a long post!):
After rehearsals Friday morning, we made our way towards Chicago but before we got to Chi-Town, we stopped off for some food at a nearby shopping plaza. Panda Express, Jimmy John's (a much better version of Subway), Chipotle, a pizzeria (I don't know how much more pizza I can take) and a Super Target were all within walking distance of each other. The buses unloaded and we made our ways to our respective lunch destinations. I headed to Target with a group of kids and yes, we did eat food and it was awesome. I had a chance to take with some of the seniors about their plans next year and it's great to hear that they're going off to do amazing things (be sure to remember me when you're famous!). After lunch, some of the senior girls bought some things for a "spa" night including nail polish, gossip magazine, face peels and yes, a cucumber for their eyes.
After lunch, we headed to Chicago for a jam packed day of site seeing and exploring this incredible city. A little bit of grey skies and a light mist didn't stop us from enjoying the Wendella Architecture Boat Tour. Many of us braved the elements and sat outside to get a truly incredible experience of the architecturally-rich, Chicago. The tour guide was extremely knowledgable and many of these buildings simply took my breath away. The sheer magnitude of these buildings, the history behind them and their continued use was enlightening and made us appreciate the city more than we have already. Despite the cold and a little rain, I say that boat tour was a great success.
We loaded onto the buses and made our ways to the Hancock Tower. There was a mall next door with 8 floors and an abundance of different your stock department stores, mall food and some speciality stores including a store called the Pepper Zone, which specializes in the sales of hot sauce. Sten, one of our brave seniors decided it was a good idea to try the store's hottest sauce. "Mr. Lam, my mouth burned for a half-hour..." I also heard that after he tried this sauce, he immediately ran to the frozen yogurt shop (conveniently located next store) and started shoveling the cooling yogurt before he could even pay for the pound of dessert he already had in his mouth.
I was able to meet up with a high school friend and catch up with her doings in Chicago. She even gave me a short comic book called "Band Nerds" which was signed by both Chicago-based authors! At 6:30, students with bags in tow and coffees/jamba juice in hand, checked in and were all accounted for. "What are we even going to do at the top of this thing? I'm afraid of heights! We're not going to be able to see anything, it's so foggy." We were all a bit skeptical about our ascent up 94 floors since it had overcast the entire day and heavy cloud engulfed the Chicago skyline. We had paid for the tickets so 14 at a time, we made our way up the super-fast elevator to the 94th floor of the Hancock Tower. The floor was entirely surrounded by 1.5 inches of bullet proof glass and the view was incredible. It looked like we were floating in a cloud. More and more students made it to the top and incredibly, the cloud began to disappear. In 5 minutes time, the clouds had cleared enough so that we could see the entire city skyline and Lake Michigan. This was truly a moment from a fairy tale. The clouds lifted, the skyline beautiful and there was even a gelato bar on the floor (the kids definitely took part in this). Something that could have been dreary and disappointing immediately became a moment that many of these kids, and myself, that I was remember forever. Cameras/phones were immediately at the ready to capture these lifelong images and I cannot tell you how many times I heard, "THIS IS SO COOL!!!" There was a portion of the floor where there were no windows, just a mesh screen protecting you for the elements outside. Hancock Tower did not disappoint but with rumbling stomachs and aching feet, we bolted back down the elevator and headed to our buses.
We boarded and made our way to Gino's East Pizza. Many of the chaperones were apprehensive about the traffic and time because if we didn't arrive in our 15 minute window of time, our reservations would have been surrendered and there aren't many restaurants that can accomodate a group of nearly 140 on a moment's notice. Luckily, we made it to the restaurant with 4 minutes to spare and were immediately seated in the Chicago-favorite restaurant. The walls, tables, chairs and even the ceilings are adorned with signatures, phrases, anniversaries were all scribbled on its walls. Our pizzas were brought out and for those who have never experienced a Chicago deep dish pizza, many of the students and parents described it as an upside down pizza where the red sauce made up the majority of the delicious dish (think about taking a pie tin and filling it up with the contents of a pizza, but better!). Olives, sausage, pepperoni, cheese, pepsi, sprite and finally cookies were enjoyed by all. We left the restaurant with bellies full, spirits high but mixed with a bit of sleep deprivation.
As we made our ways back to the hotel, Miss Hilton called me to work out some logistics for the next day's itinerary. I mentioned to her we should probably double check on our breakfast reservation since we've run into so many scheduling snafus. At the moment, she thought it might not be necessary but we should check anyways. It was a good thing we did because when I went to the front desk to check for our 5:30AM breakfast, they informed us they had us down for 6:30...which did not work since we had to leave at 6:30 for the festival. Another curve ball, but with the help of the gracious hotel staff, they were able to call their chefs and servers and moved our breakfast back to the original time of 5:30AM...
We checked the kids in, told them the time for breakfast (always followed by groans, one student did shout with [sarcastic] excitement) and all of them were in bed pretty soon after.
Here's where the fun begins...
5:30AM Wake up. The students were pretty chipper considering all the events from the previous day and the early wake up call (I even heard a very interesting rendition of Dirait-on by one of the rooms across the hall from my 210 room, you know who you are!). We ate, we loaded and we were off!
We arrived at Plainfield East HS for the vocal portion of the competition and the school is massive. With a student body of 3,500 students, even the parking lot was enormous. Mateo said that the parking lot was probably the size of Valley, I think he's right. We loaded into the cafeteria where the Women's Ensemble began their vocal warmups immediately. The MadMen got their bowties and headed into the warmup room because they were the very first ensemble of the day's competition.
The MadMen were incredible and received some compliments but more importantly, constructive feedback! Next were Women's who all woo-ed us with their gentle but energetic voices. Madrigals came out and had a stellar performance despite a small mishap at the end of one song. And the Concert Choir just took it home. There's a moment in Oh Captain, My Captain where the entire choir sings an incredible chord on the word "exalt" and it gave me goosebumps and reminded me that it's musical moments like these that we live for. Such amazing performances by all choral groups and as soon as they were done, we rushed onto the bus and headed toward Plainfield North HS.
Plainfield North was a bigger school than Plainfield East but had similar layouts and building facade. The band hurried into the cafeteria where we were greeted with boxed lunches from Jimmy John's. The sandwiches were delicious but twenty minutes later, we were unloading the bus and warming up for the Concert Band performance. The band's performance is exactly how we wanted to perform. There was so much energy, passion and musicality in all of the pieces...I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear the entire time. The rush of adrenaline was unreal, everything locked in and the band sounded incredible. We held the last chord for Ride and the release and resonance of the last note was astounding. I am SO proud of all of the band kids and you have all met my expectations and blown them out of the water. The clinician that worked with us said we sounded great and had an incredible amount of energy that gave their performance a little some special.
Jazz Band had incredible performances despite the limited amount of rehearsals due to storms, or more storms, and holidays. They all brought an energy that I have never felt before and I couldn't have been happier. Just thinking back to these performances are giving me goosebumps, incredible job.
Percussion Ensemble was the last instrumental group and they wowed the crowd. As a new ensemble to Valley, these kids have done something that no other Valley student has done and they should be incredibly proud of their accomplishments. They had two strong performances of Rondo alla Turk and Run and got some constructive feedback from our clinician regarding cymbal technique (crash/suspended) and some mallet suggestions.
We packed our things onto the bus and thanked all of the coordinators from the festival. We were all exhausted, musically drained and hungry. The Heritage Festival had all of the performing members out for an evening of food, medieval games and awards at Medieval Times. We were seated in the red section where we ate chicken and ribs with our hands, watched a bunch of medieval games, cheered on our knight and our knight ended up winning the medieval tournament! The games and dinner came to a close and it was finally time for the awards.
Madmen - Gold Rating, 1st place
Women's Choir - Gold Rating, 1st place
Madrigal Consort - Gold Rating, 1st place
Concert Choir - Gold Rating, 1st place
Festival of Gold invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall
Concert Band - Silver Rating, 1st place
Jazz Band - Silver Rating, 1st place
Percussion Ensemble - Gold Rating, 1st place
There were many sweepstakes won by the choral group and one won by both the choral and band ensembles. I will post those later along with a description of each sweepstakes award.
We concluded the evening with a dance reception put on by Medieval Times and the kids had a great time of fist pumping, jumping and screaming. We went back to the hotel for some well-deserved rest before we packed our bags in the morning to start making our way back to CT.
Continue reading for our day at Six Flags!
Good morning from beautiful, overcast, rainy Chicago!!!
Since our departure on Wednesday afternoon, the VRHS Music Department has been thrown a lot of curve balls. We know we have an exceptional group of students and chaperones when we can handle the many changes that have been thrown our way with professionalism and calm.
Travel time, sight attractions, dinner arrangments, rehearsal times...all of these things have been tweaked (quite a bit) and have made for a very interesting trip!
We arrived into the Chicago-metro area around 9:45 and could see the familiar Chicago skyline off in the distance. As we drove closer, you could hear the kids becoming more an dmore excited. "Look at that! Whoa, what's that? Did you see that graffiti? Look, another Sonic!" We finally arrived into the Chicago area at 10:15 and were amazed by the diversity in people, shops and most strikingly, the architecture! New mixed with old, glass mixed with stone, traditional mixed with modern, Chicago has it all.
Like with any big metro area, traffic was hectic but our bus drivers handled it like champs. Turning corners that didn't seem possible, parking in spaces we didn't think could fit a coach bus, these guys are awesome.
We made our way to Millenium Park where the Concert Choir would be performing the Star Spangled Banner. We parked right in front two water pieces that spilled water and displayed various pictures on their LED screens. Cameras and iPhones were immediately whipped out and group shots, poses and funny pictures were taken before we could even unload all of the kids.
Our next stop was at the imfamous Chicago "Bean" which is an enormous metallic piece of artwork that has been modeled into the shape of a bean (picture can be found on the previous post). After pictures and fun with the bean, we made our way to the War Memorial in Millenium Park. A jet fountain was the main focus of the memorial with the perimeter surrounded by a beige stone structure with beautiul columns. the choir gathered around the fountain and sang our national anthem. The few spectators that were there applauded our performance and the kids were happy they could continue a Valley Music Department tradition in Chicago!
We made our ways back to the buses for our next stop: Navy Pier. With some courageous and skilled driving, our bus drivers got us safely to the famed Chicago attraction. We realized why Chicago is called the Windy City when we got to the peer as many of us were almost blown over by the strength of the wind. We gave the kids their instructions to eat lunch, enjoy the sites, and be back on the buses at 2:00PM.
The water is beautifully blue and if you didn't know it was a lake, you'd mistaken the body of water for that of a tropical island. "This water looks like we're in Bermuda," said one of the freshmen while at the end of the pier. The views were breathtaking and weather was perfect! Many of us headed into the enclosed area for food and happily, we didn't see any kids in the line for McDonalds. Some of the chaperones made our way to Bubba Gump and enjoyed a variety of salads, chicken and seafood dishes. It was 2:00 and time for us to depart for the hotel. All kids were back (we actually had a couple of late stragglers...not kids, but some of the adults!!! They were 2 minutes late...tsktsk).
We drove an hour to Oak Brook and you can imagine what it must be like with 130+ people who are exhausted, hungry (yes, even after lunch!) and needed a well-deserved shower. Miss Hilton took the bull by the horns and organized room check-in, luggage unloading and why not throw in a change of schedule! The kids got into their rooms, had some time to relax and then they hit the ground running (literally) in the gym while others enjoyed the pool, and the remaining students did homework or play games in the lobby. Everyone was in great spirits and having a good time.
Because of a scheduing change, WorldStrides provided last night's dinner and got a chance to relax and enjoy each other's company as the day winded down. After dinner, students had the opportunity to swim/workout/hang out. There were some pretty heated card games being played and I even headed a game of ERS (Egyptian Rat Screw) in the lobby. The chaperones had a meeting about the next day's itinerary (which had to be changed anyways!) and the kids headed up to their rooms to be "In for the Night." Room checks went with out a hitch and the students immediately quieted down after a long, tiring journey from Deep River, CT.
Breakfast was at 7:30 this morning and in keeping with the trend, another schedule change (out of our control!). But with a level head, Miss Hilton came up with a plan to fix all these problems. We had breakfast, tweaked the schedule and now, the students are relaxing/studying before rehearsals start with Concert Band and then Concert Choir (the select choral groups reherased outside for a little while).
After rehearsals, we're off to a mall area for lunch and then to the Magnificant Mile, Hancock Observatory and some good Chicago-style deep dish pizza at Gino's East. Tomorrow is going to be a long, music-filled day so I probably won't get a chance to post until Sunday...maybe even after we leave for CT.
Sorry for the long post but everything/everyone is doing well and we're excited to perform for Chicago! HAPPY FRIDAY!
Good morning from Indiana! (We literally crossed the border as I opened this post)
We continued our drive through Pennsylvania and finally reached Youngstown, OH about 3:30AM to switch bus drivers. We have great kids at Valley and this was reaffirmed when a student told me to thank the bus driver if they weren't awake for the switch over.
Driving and more driving, the sun came up over the beautiful, flat terrain of Ohio. We stopped for breakfast, bathroom and leg stretching. As soon as the bus doors opened, a wave of kids rushed off the bus to none other than the Starbucks. This particular scene reminded me of Paris when Hanna P. walked away with not one but two, venti triple shot caramel macchiato. Today, she only had one!
We are about 3 hours away from Chicago so I'll update when we get there!
Thursday - May 2nd
8:30-9:30AM Millenium Park, Sing at the War Memorial
9:40AM Depart for Navy Pier
10:00AM-12:00PM Navy Pier (breakfast and shopping)
12:00PM Depart for hotel
1:00PM Approximate arrival at hotel, Chicago Marriott Oak Brook. Room condition check and walk to mall for lunch/shopping.
3:00PM Leave mall to return to hotel
7:00-8:00PM Pizza Dinner
8:00-9:30PM Evening Activity
9:30PM Students in rooms
10:00PM Room check/"In for the Evening"
Friday - May 3rd
7:30-10:00AM Same schedule
11:00AM-1:00PM Mall for lunch and shopping
1:00PM Load buses, depart for Wendella Boat Tour
Schedule stays the same for the remainder of the day
...and yes, I am posting this at 4:15AM. Yay for sleepless bus rides!
All the kids are awake and well. Some are attempting sleep, others have accepted the sleepless bus ride and are staying up. I'll let you know how this goes in the (later) morning. Only 7 hours until our destination!
Here is a recap from Day 1:
You could tells the kids were excited from the moment they stepped into school today. Everyone seemed to be buzzing about Chicago (even if they weren't on the trip!). Students brought their carry-ons into Miss Hilton's room and excitedly made it through the school day.
Something that most of the kids didn't know was that our buses were ready to go way before anyone was even awake! Miss Hilton got a phone call at 6:00 this morning from Mr. Russell saying, "Your buses are here." The travel company mistakenly put down AM and not PM. I'm sure the bus drivers were happy to have some extra time for the long drive ahead.
We received another interesting speed bump around 2:00, which has changed our schedule for tomorrow and Friday. I'll post an updated schedule when we get to the hotel tomorrow.
The buses arrived at 4:15 and we immediately began loading instruments. The arranging of instruments was seriously a life-sized game of tetris. Moving this here, adjusting there, putting that on top of that over here...we packed this bay like pros. Big thanks to Dan R. for organizing bags and instruments. Shortly after, we got on all the luggage with room to spare! After a short delay on bus 3, all of us were on our way to Chicago! DVDs were quickly popped into the on board player and the bus 3 seniors picked Back to the Future Part I. I'm pretty sure I enjoyed this movie more than most of the kids on the bus, am I starting to feel a bit old?! Bus 2 started off with Lilo and Stitch and I haven't had a chance to catch up with bus 1, yet.
After departing Deep River, we hopped right onto I-95 for a straight shot down the shoreline and into NY, NJ and now, PA. We stopped at exactly 9:00 for a quick stretch and "short" food stop. As we got off the exit, the not-so-familiar blue and yellow lights appeared over the coach bus seats and I heard, "OMG, it's a Sonic! I've never seen one before, I need to take a picture!" Maybe we didn't need to go to Chicago for a cultural experience, just next door to Bartonsville, PA!
All kidding aside, the trip thus far has been as smooth as a well-played musical phrase (I had to...). The buses are gorgeous, with bright LED lights, immaculate bathrooms, flat screen TVs, personal electrical outlets AND wifi...well, only Bus 3 has wifi (which is how I'm blogging right now). Sorry buses 1 and 2 :0(.
We're back on the road headed towards Youngstown, PA where we will switch bus drivers and drive until Chicago. I'll post pictures as wel go but all the kids are well and happy that our bus ride is no longer 24+ hours! Bus 3's bedtime movie of choice, Ratatouille. Goodnight everyone!
Bags packed, instruments loaded, kids enjoying the free wifi and their own personal electrical outlet...we are on our way. Sort of. Bus 1 and 2 have pulled forward but bus 3 is just making sure our bus is at full capacity. No worries, just double checking. I'll check in with more information as I get it!
CHICAGO, HERE WE COME!
As I'm posting this, all three buses are en route to Youngstown, OH for a change of bus drivers!