While their friends headed home for spring break, more than 100 members of the Gardner Edgerton High School band boarded buses headed for the Magic Kingdom – and they returned with plenty to talk about.
A total of 114 band students traveled to Walt Disney World in Florida from March 10 to March 17 to participate in a competition, get pointers on becoming better musicians and march down Main Street in front of a crowd of thousands.
The high school’s symphonic, concert and jazz bands all performed for judges in Festival Disney, a competition that pits high school bands against one another from all across the country. According to band director Janet Wittkopf, in all, the school took home seven trophies and won several accolades. Those include ‘superior’ and ‘best in class’ ratings for the symphonic band, an ‘excellent’ rating for the concert band, a Magical Performance trophy for the marching band, and ‘excellent’ and ‘best in class’ ratings for the jazz band. The symphonic band also received a silver trophy overall in Festival Disney.
But their hard work wasn’t done just yet. After performing for judges – and even getting personal tips from one of them – the band members suited up and marched down Main Street. Wittkopf said she estimates 20,000 people got to see the ‘Blazer band march in step down the street.
“We were pretty happy,” she said. “There’s nothing like marching down Main Street with people from all over the world watching you. We made a lot of great memories.”
Wittkopf said that despite the large size of their audience, the band members felt no apprehension going into their performance.
“I don’t think they were nervous at all,” she said. “They seemed to be having so much fun. They were there to enjoy themselves. They’ve done all the hard work here at home.”
Their memories aren’t only made up of competitions and marching, however. The band students, despite a busy schedule, still had time to take in some of the sights of Walt Disney World and surrounding attractions. They visited Epcot Center, Hollywood Studios and even relaxed beachfront in Clearwater, Fla., to unwind.
Band members even received some pointers from one of the competition’s adjudicators after their performance.
“Getting a different viewpoint from an adjudicator reinforces what (the students) already know or presents a totally different concept from what they’ve already done,” Wittkopf said. “Anytime you perform for a different group of people, you mature and improve.”
Ernie Biggs, assistant band director, said the students organized fundraisers to help pay for the trip, and that the band also has traveled to Washington, D.C., to perform.
“(The trip) was fairly expensive, so the kids had to do a lot of fundraising on their own,” said Biggs, who took several pictures of the band on the trip. “But these kids are absolutely crazy about it. They go on trips every two years, so each kid gets to go on two trips during their high school career.”
When students returned from spring break and classes at GEHS resumed on Monday, the students gathered to discuss their experience at the Magic Kingdom. Band members chatted excitedly about their trip at the beginning of Wittkopf’s 11:10 a.m. class.
Sophomore Kelsey Schaefer said she was nervous during the parade, but that she thought the band’s performance was second to none.
“I was shaking through the entire thing,” she said. “You just want to do really good.”
Junior Carley Lintz said her favorite part about participating in the parade was hearing the crowd’s cheers, while other students laughed about finding a live jellyfish on the beaches of Clearwater.
Sophomore Brendyn Wyland, a student originally from Florida who has only lived in the area since the beginning of the school year, said he enjoyed feeling the Florida sunshine instead of the chill of Kansas temperatures.
“It was like being home for me,” Wyland said.
For at least one student, senior Kayla Cloud, the trip was a bittersweet end to their high school band career.
“My favorite part about the trip was knowing that my last parade (with the school) was in the Magic Kingdom,” she said.