By Linda Lane
Three charter buses carrying 144 Vicksburg High School band students and 12 chaperones brought home impressive trophies from Orlando, Fla., and their spring concert tour to Disney World. The program was honored with first-place gold trophies for the Big Red Machine Marching Band and the Top Dawgs Jazz Band. The Early Dawgs Jazz Band was awarded a third-place bronze trophy.
The trophies are awarded by judges who assess competing marching bands and jazz bands performing over a three-to-four-week period at Disney World.
Two individual awards for Outstanding Jazz Soloist performances were awarded to Nik Zazula and Clayton DeVries. While Zazula’s solo wasn’t technically listed in the jazz chart, Disney judges opted to give him the honor because he did such an outstanding job on the solo.
The Big Red Machine, as Vicksburg’s Marching Band is fondly referred to, won its gold trophy for a half-mile parade performance through Epcot. In addition to performing, band members and chaperones also spend three days enjoying Disney World, including Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and a water park.
The entire trip is not just fun and games. Students and chaperones come together for a Community Service Day while on the trip. This year, the entire group spent three hours in the heat of the day, clearing a parcel of land to be used for a STEM Research Park for underprivileged students, a curriculum-based program to educate students in science, technology, engineering and math. The project involved hard work: clearing brambles, shoveling a dry river bed and readying the site for a park. This is the second time the group has done a project in cooperation with “Hands On Orlando.”
“If students are privileged enough to spend a week on vacation at Disney, then they should find the time to give back to a community,” Band Director Ben Rosier said. Rosier taps the Community Service Day to build character within the band program, engender a sense of giving to others and instill future community service as high schoolers move on in the world.
What makes it worth all the headaches of putting together a trip of this magnitude? “Hearing kids say when the trip is over, that their favorite part was the community service project and giving back to others, makes it totally worth the effort,” Rosier said.
“The tour company that I work with was surprised by our Community Service Day. No other band program does it. When kids come back after graduating, many of them have told me the community service project really had an impact on them. The experience of everyone working together to make a big improvement really sticks with these kids. It’s something special that we will keep doing,” Rosier said.
“These kids are really fantastic during the community service project. They’re not afraid to get dirty, and really love to pitch in and help. But they also get really excited to be on stage in the Disney halls and perform nationally. The whole experience for these kids makes it worth all the hassle, time and work. Ultimately it’s about the kids, it’s not about us,” Ravenna Kahler, VHS assistant band director, said.
The kids, chaperones, and staff take home many memories. “During the parade march through Epcot, a Festival Disney guide broke up a marriage proposal to make sure there was enough room for the Big Red Machine to get through. So the Big Red Machine is on the proposal video … and she said, ‘yes!’,” Rosier said.