By BRANDON LaCHANCE
MENDOTA – If you’re breathing and understand the English language, you’ve heard the saying, ‘It’s the most magical place on Earth.’
The saying has been used by millions of people for millions of different locations, but somehow it always links back to Disney.
The Mendota High School Music Program plans to take the Disney magic and pour all of Tinkerbell’s pixie dust into their music notes during its Spring Break music trip April 10-15, 2023 to Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
“Part of it was COVID-19 and we wanted to celebrate that we made it through the pandemic. But now it’s time to go,” said MHS Band Director Paula Baker. “Disney puts on a firework show every night and that’s what our kids deserve. There is a special spark with Disney.
“When you’re trying to sell kids on a trip, it’s not always easy if you say, ‘We’re going to Cleveland, Ohio.’ But if you say ‘Disney World’, instantly their mind goes to magic. You add that spark of interest.”
This is the first voyage for the MHS music program since 2019 and the first trip Baker has been involved with as this fall marks her third year with the MHS band.
Baker knows about the history of Mendota’s band taking trips since the 1960s and the choir hitting the road since the 1980s and wants to keep the tradition going.
“Mendota has a pretty strong tradition of travel. They typically travel every two years as a band program and every two years as a choir program,” Baker said. “We are trying to maintain and regrow that. Part of the big transition is we’re going to maintain the every two years tradition, but we’re going to combine the band and choir together.
“This way, we can have more people performing and have more opportunities for performances. It’s more fun when you travel with a bigger group of people. It’s also going to get more kids involved.”
Some of the benefits of having the two sections become one outside of Mendota is they won’t be fundraising for four small trips, but one medium/large-sized trip where the students could be gone for 5-7 days every two years, gives more people the opportunity to travel, and it doesn’t hit the charge card as hard.
Once the Disney trip was announced, the MHS band and choir students have been as excited (Ok, more) than Baker and James Younger, the MHS choir director, have been to plan, organize, and make the magic happen.
“The buzz has been great. I think there is so much energy being generated by just the students alone in the sense some of them have never left the state before,” Baker said. “This is an opportunity to do that in a very safe fashion of travel. The kids will be taken care of as we’ll make sure they’re feed, clothed, and they’ll have a place to bathe. Parents can trust we’re going to take care of their kid.
“For some kids this may be the biggest trip they take for a long portion of their life. Some of them recognize that this is a big opportunity for them to grow. Maybe for some kids it’s their first time away from home, ever. It’s kind of scary for some of them, but very exciting as well as they’ve put a lot of faith and trust in our music programs.
“The kids are pumped. They’re jumping at fundraising opportunities. They’re showing up for extra rehearsals. They’re becoming leaders and organizing their own fundraisers. They’re just finding ways to engage in the spirit of getting ready for a trip.”
Baker and Younger will not only treat the students like their own trip while at Disney, they’ve already started in the planning process.
Fundraising is always a tough assignment and calls for a lot of responsibility.
For this trip, which roughly equals $1,500 per student, a lot of the fundraising has been put in the student’s hands (with guidance and assistance of course) as the music program will run concession stands, hold a Halloween carnival the week before Halloween, and there is a Foundation Drive.
The idea behind the carnival is to involve the community, offer a safe way to leave with bags full of candy, it’s indoor where the sometimes-gloomy October weather won’t interfere, and everyone can have fun wearing a costume.
The Foundation Drive is asking for larger donations in the sense that they’re creating a foundation of finances that we can help pay our students who are putting in extra hours with private lessons for younger kids, students who are organizing the music library, students working extra hours for the choir or the band.
Baker said they would have funds to pull and help them pay for their trip, which helps the young musicians feel they’re helping for the trip in a fair and honest way.
“The music boosters have organized where they’re going to incentivize kids working and fundraising. We are actually giving them a small hourly wage when they fundraise for us,” Baker said. “Some kids don’t have an opportunity to have a side job or their parents don’t have the means to put aside for the trip, so we offer these fundraising opportunities where they can work the concession stand.
“With that, we can pay a little bit of money toward their trip.”
While at Disney, the students will see Mickey Mouse and the rest of the iconic characters, but they will also experience a new dimension of music as they will work behind the scenes with a Disney musician on Disney songs not released to the public.
The Disney trip will also go outside of Disney as MHS will spend time at Cocoa Beach on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and Universal Studios.
Younger, a 1992 Mendota graduate who took trips to New Orleans, New York City, Toronto, and Disney World with the band, believes traveling while in high school opens up students’ eyes and ears to aspects of music they never knew existed.
“I think a musical ensemble ability is built upon the bond between its musicians. It requires trust and listening between the musicians and between the musicians and the directors,” said Younger who taught music at Blackstone and Lincoln for seven years and Northbrook for the last seven years before accepting the MHS choir director position beginning this fall. “When you take a trip, you’re traveling together and putting students in positions where they have to communicate with each other. They have to live with each other and it’s going to create strength in the ensemble. Not just for the rest of that year, but for the upcoming year.
“Another thing great about traveling is how to respond to audiences that are not your home audience. How we respond to our audience is a big part of how a musician performs. When the audience includes all of your family and friends, they’re always going to respond positively and supportively. Getting in front of an audience that’s new, let’s our young musicians have a different experience. They learn how to play to their audience. It’s a growth opportunity for them to put them out of their element.
“I see kids grow a lot with their confidence and their independence after a trip like this. They realize they can function away from home. They can be in a new place, enjoy it, and thrive.”
Younger agrees with Baker that Disney is a perfect place for the music program to restart the travels as everyone will find something they enjoy, Disney gives a lot of different opportunities in terms of different performances, venues, and clinics, and everything is available at one spot.
And once the students take the trip, enjoy, learn, and grow as musicians, they’ll bring their Disney experience right back to the ears of the community.
“I’m so grateful for the community and its support of what we do in the school with music,” Baker said. “The parents and the family members that are part of the program as well, James Younger and I are so thankful to have a supportive administration, community, and families.
“We see with this community so much growth in the fine arts department, which helps create such well-balanced students in our schools. Even people showing up to listen to our kids play and sing, we love that.”
If anyone would like to make a contribution to help fund the music department’s trip, call 815-539-7446 for more information.