MDI band improvises to make London trip a success

Posted Jan. 03, 2011, at 4:21 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 05, 2011, at 7:07 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Members of the local high school band and the Mount Desert Island residents who traveled with them got the experience of a lifetime last week despite the winter weather that jeopardized their scheduled performance in the New Year’s Day parade in London.

After unexpectedly spending several days in Boston while waiting to get flights overseas, they managed to make the trip they had been planning since September 2009.

All 70 people who made the trip are expected to be back home by late Tuesday.

About half of the group was expected to complete the final leg of the trip from London to Mount Desert Island late Monday night, according to people connected with the MDI High School band. The rest are expected to arrive by bus at the high school between 11 p.m. and midnight Tuesday.

Boston was supposed to be a brief stop for the high school band members as they traveled to London for the second time in four years to perform in the city’s New Year’s Day parade. The band also performed in the 2008 parade.

The group left the island Dec. 26 on buses bound for Logan International Airport, but ended up being stranded in Boston for several days as airlines struggled to get their operations back to normal after massive weather-related disruptions. A blizzard dumped up to 20 inches of snow on parts of New England Dec. 26 and 27.

Evelyn Wehrfritz, whose daughter Lorelei Wehrfritz is a freshman clarinet player in the band, said Monday that some members of the group may have ended up spending more time in Boston than they did in London.

Wehrfritz said the group left MDI knowing that their originally scheduled flights had been canceled, but they hoped that by the time the weather cleared, they’d be in good position to get on the next available flight. The 50 students and 20 chaperones did not want to miss out on making the overseas trip of a lifetime, she said.

“They’ve had quite an adventure,” Wehrfritz said. “They kept going at it.”

The lingering effects of the blizzard were substantial, however, especially when it came to air travel. As airlines tried to regroup by getting planes and flight crews where they needed to be, the band and its entourage cooled their heels in Boston for one day, then another, and then another, according to Wehrfritz. Virgin Airlines, the group’s carrier, found the group places to stay while the adult chaperones, including band director Daniel Granholm and MDI schools Superintendent Rob Liebow, kept the group busy practicing for their European performances and seeing sights in Boston.

Eben Salvatore, director of local operations for the hotel and resort firm Ocean Properties Ltd., said Monday that the company offered to provide lodging for the band and chaperones while they were in Boston. He said he thinks the airline took care of the needed arrangements, however.

Among the local sights the group is believed to have seen while stranded in Boston, according to people familiar with the trip, are Faneuil Hall, the Museum of Science, New England Aquarium and a Blue Man Group performance.

Despite the welcome distractions, Granholm told The Boston Globe newspaper last week that he was concerned the band would be unable to get to London in time for its scheduled performance in a Dec. 30 concert.

“It’s looking very grim,” Granholm told the newspaper. “It’s going to be difficult.”

Wehrfritz said the group ended up splitting into three smaller groups to fly to London, with the first leaving Dec. 29 and the third two days later. Thus the first students to land in London had to perform in the Dec. 30 concert without many of their band mates, she said. All members were able to march and play in the New Year’s Day parade, she said.

Matthew Garrity-Janger, principal of MDI High School, said Monday that he has heard much about what the band did, where they stayed, and how and when they traveled.

“I’ve been told so many things I can’t even keep track,” he said.

The students who managed to perform in the Dec. 30 concert did well, Garrity-Janger said, despite not having everyone present. He said the trip, funded solely by donations, cost about $2,800 per student. Many of the teens put in a lot of time and energy collecting returnable bottles and arranging fundraisers to generate the money for the trip.

Garrity-Janger said that, with all the planning and fundraising the students did, they weren’t about to let bad weather ruin their plans. He said this was part of the motivation for driving to Boston early on Dec. 26, despite the approaching blizzard.

“That was the only way to make it happen,” the principal said.

With the help of Virgin Airlines and parade organizers, the band was able to extend its stay in London for a few days and managed to do some of the things it originally had planned, such as taking a bus tour of the city and seeing Big Ben and the Tower of London, according to Garrity-Janger. He said that he expects the experience will end up being a good one.

“It made for a more powerful experience than if everything had gone smoothly,” he said. “It will build not just character, but confidence in these kids. It’s good for everybody all around to see that the kids can do it.”

He said he expects to get the entire band together at the school on Monday, Jan. 10, to hear from the students about their journey.

As for recovering from the trip, the principal said each busload of students will be given a day to unwind and rest up after they get back to MDI.

“We’ve told them they should take a day to sleep,” Garrity-Janger said.

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