ON THE ROAD WITH TOUR CHOIR #2
Dear families and friends,
Yes, we are now actually ON THE ROAD! It is Tuesday morning, Day 2, and we are heading east out of Fort Morgan, with the mountains behind us and Wray on the horizon. The tour has thus far been “BRILLIANT,” to quote a first grader at the school show yesterday. And I have to say I agree with her! On our way out of town we stopped for a school show at Iowa Elementary in Aurora. The kids were convinced that Andrew, our ever-faithful, reliable, cheerful and favorite driver, had taken a wrong turn and we were adding a state to this tour! After recovering from that shock, they knocked off a BRILLIANT school show. The audience was enthusiastic and loud, RTC was brave and engaging, and I loved my spot in the middle, with unbridled energy hitting me from all sides. Winning the award for biggest smiles? Joey and Devin. I think their cheeks are still hurting.
WE INTERRUPT THIS LETTER FOR THE QUOTE OF THE DAY: Mrs. DeSantis, commenting on the microphone about the unique odor as we drive through the rich cattle country of eastern Colorado, “Who didn’t take their shower this morning?” Reply from the back of the bus, “Cows.” Thank you, Royce!
Following our quick jaunt into Iowa, we headed for Fort Morgan. We had stowed away the homework in the overhead compartments, and now we pulled it back out to get organized for the week. After a rousing version of the “Happy Study Time” song, Mrs. Proffitt, tour tutor, made her rounds, getting to know everyone and assessing the homework challenges. Everybody did a fantastic job of planning and paring down the amount of books and supplies needed. We were able to get straight to the task at hand. Our goal is to finish all of the homework before Friday, so that we can celebrate the final day of the tour with free time and perhaps a movie. I’ll keep you posted!
Going to Fort Morgan is a bit like coming home for us. We have visited here at least every other year since I can remember. For literally hundreds of Tour Choir members, Fort Morgan was their first tour and first host family…and they have very fond memories of time spent here. As always, we were warmly greeted by music teacher, Kim Pflug and her Lake Street Choir. This is one of the best elementary school choirs I have ever encountered, if only due to sheer numbers and enthusiasm. They are 120 voices strong and over the years Mrs. Pflug has embraced the performance training and experience witnessed with a visit from the Children’s Chorale. They are disciplined, focused, musical and absolutely delightful to work with. RTC was undaunted by their numbers, with everyone in charge of four workshop “buddies.” Ms. Burke kicked off the workshop with her usual style, silliness and fun, and everyone was making incredible “singer noises” in spite of themselves. Our kids taught “Do Re Mi” and “Monkeys in the House” in record time, and we were off to the Fort Morgan Museum.
If you are a long-time recipient of these letters, you know that one of our favorite tour activities is the “Name Game,” which consists of striving to find everyone’s name on a sign throughout the course of the tour. Thank you, Mr. Wolfe, for one of many ingenious methods for getting the kids to look out the windows of the bus and pay attention to their surroundings, rather than worrying about braiding someone’s hair or seeing how many pieces of paper you can stuff between the bus seats. The quest is progressing nicely, with the following signs spotted: Kenny’s Electric Company, Madison St., (Ben) Stone St., (Clare) Hough Realty, (Kellie) Davis and Assoc., (Chris) Woodley’s Fine Furniture, (Paige) Brown Paint Shop, and (Larissa) Hunt Brothers.
The Fort Morgan Museum is always a hit, with everything from an 11,000 year old saber-tooth cat skull, a butter churn, corn husker and various other farm items, and clothes worn by the cavalry, to Glenn Miller (Fort Morgan’s claim to fame) memorabilia including his 1940’s “tuxedo plunger,” used for making that famous “wah…wah…wah…” Everyone worked diligently to complete the “What Am I Discovery Hunt.” I’m never sure if those activities are worth it or not. They go as fast as they can, finding and identifying the objects in the hunt, ignoring the millions of other items and information along the way. With a bit of staff re-direction, we eventually discovered most everything in the museum. The lower floor housed a temporary exhibition, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institute and State Humanities Councils serving rural America, “Between Fences.” It was a small, but well-done, exhibit about our homes, land and the creation of communities throughout our country, exploring all different kinds of fences, where and how they’re used, and the materials used to make them. Why do people build fences? To keep things in…or out? What does your fence say about you and your lifestyle, as well as your relationship to your community. Hmmmm… As you can imagine, this inspired a journal entry, creating our own fence, including a sketch, materials list and purpose. Most fences of choice are quite imaginative and going to make the world a much better place. If only… Trystan, Landon, Kate and Paige were treated to a special showing of the museum storage area, consisting mostly of old televisions and typewriters, by one of the very nice volunteer curators. They were appropriately thrilled, complete with admiring “oohs and ahs.” This museum particularly spoke to Michael, as he is a trombone player just like Glenn Miller, and was able to learn many things about his Native American ancestors.
The 6:00 community performance was every bit as fun as the workshop, with the Lake Street Choir performing one number on their own and then joining us to show off what they learned that afternoon. The stage has a bank of stairs in front of it, so we reverse our staging for this show, using the steps as risers and the stage behind for choreography. With one short rehearsal, our little troupe easily executed these changes and the show was a rousing success.
We slept last night at the Fort Morgan Comfort Inn. All of the hotel training we started back in Vail paid off, with 36 kids in the hotel and in their rooms with nary a sound. Okay, the occasional dropped suitcase, but pretty darn near nary! Five minutes to get into swimsuits and the girls were in the pool while the boys got started with journals. Hotel pools are quite small, so swimming in shifts makes it possible to actually swim. They don’t generally swim, but it would be possible if they were interested. Which they’re not. “Swimming” actually consists of a lot of bouncing, splashing, dunking, screaming and singing. The girls filled the hot tub wall-to-wall and then filled the pool area and lobby with “On Top of the World.” Then back into the pool for “Ching a Ring,” creating a bit of a challenge for Emily and Sarah R. as they had to dance into the 5 foot end! Switcheroo, and the boys were doing a slow-motion version of “Grandma’s Feather Bed” with all of the fancy footwork under water. By 9:15 all was quiet in the kid’s rooms, and by 9:30 all was quiet in the staff rooms.
Up at 7am, we shifted our way through breakfast with a very accommodating hotel staff. Plenty of food, plenty of choices. And plenty of compliments on the behavior of the greatest kids in the world! I was convinced that my two rooms of boys were the best, winning the prize for neatness and speed, though Ms. Smith challenged me. We finally agreed on a tie between Rm. 311 (Greer, Lauren, Blaise and Madi) and Rm. 220 (Joey, Ben, Zach and Matthew B.). Rm. 220 returned their room to its original condition – bed perfectly made, complete with welcome card and mints; swimming towels tightly rolled and piled; bath towels hanging on the rack and accordion pleated. It was really pretty amazing!
Well, we’re pulling into Wray, so I will sign off for now. More to come!
Wednesday, Day 3, finds us on the big blue bus again, heading back west, then north to Casper. It’s a bit rainy this morning, and Andrew is not looking forward to the predicted snow in Wyoming. It is quite cozy on the bus, however, and I have to admit to enjoying a rainy bus day on tour. The kids are studying, all is quiet, and we are humming right along to our next adventure.
Back to Tuesday. We arrived in Wray on schedule, and moved in to the high school auditorium, our home for the day. Wray is a charming little community, with a population of 2500 or so. There are two school buildings, one that houses both grades K-4 and 9-12. The middle school, with grades 5-8, is on the other side of town. It is not ours to question why, but we do, occasionally, see the wisdom in this plan! We did a workshop for about 65 kids in 5th and 6th grade, with some very interested high school seniors sitting in the back of the auditorium. Turns out THEY were in 5th grade the last time we were here, and were re-living their time on stage with us. “Do Re Mi” has been a workshop favorite since way back then, so they were able to sing and dance right along with us. Everyone agreed that, as fun as the Fort Morgan workshop was, this one was EVEN BETTER! In their minds, the kids in Wray were just different. In reality, our kids had just that much more confidence in what they were doing and so it seemed much easier. Whatever, we had a grand time, with 65 new friends performance-ready in 45 minutes or less!
We enjoyed a delicious hamburger lunch in the atrium cafeteria, and REALLY enjoyed the rock-star status achieved simply by pulling into the school parking lot in the big blue bus, then well-earned after the morning workshop. We watched the track team practice hurdles in the other end of the atrium. They were amazing and we now understand why there are so many trophies in the cases lining the hallway. Obie found his name on one of the trophies, a win in a wrestling invitational, competing against “Oakley,” Kansas. And, of course, we wouldn’t pass up a good playground. The weather was beautiful and we climbed and ran with the wind. With a bit more rehearsal time, we were ready for the afternoon school performance and almost ready for our evening show. The school performance was ROCKIN’! As my mom used to say, “What goes around, comes around,” and RTC discovered the wonders of that phenomenon during this school show. We had talked about the fact that the audience responds to our enthusiasm – if we’re engaging, they’ll be engaged; if we’re exciting, they’ll be excited; if we’re having fun, they’ll have fun. And it worked. It was a fabulous show, with the kids in the audience easily moving from rapt silence to loud cheering. Keith won the smile prize for that show!
We took advantage of being OFF the bus for the day and settled into the music room for some map work and study time. With maps spread all over the floor and highlighters in hand, we traced our route from Denver to Aurora to Fort Morgan and then Wray. At this point many of the kids thought we were already in Wyoming and were shocked to learn the truth. Still in Colorado and actually closer to Nebraska and Kansas than Wyoming! Map work is good. As is study time NOT on a moving bus. And even better? NAP TIME!! Close your eyes, close your mouth, hold still and…presto…snoring happens. Well for most, anyway. Mathew G. “sleeps” with his eyes open, either in a “stage four” sleep or a mesmerizing stare. Hmmm.
We were hosted in Wray by “Up With Music,” and they provided a delicious dinner of spaghetti, salad, garlic bread and brownies. We finished our preparations for the upcoming homestays just in time to put on formalwear for the evening concert. Shannon and Becca, tour grads extraordinaire, had our dressing rooms ready to go and we hit the stage with more than a few butterflies. Within minutes I knew everything was going to be just fine. The kids were intent upon singing beautifully, with engaging smiles and enthusiasm beaming from their faces. They were incredible and the audience responded in kind. There were so many people to thank for making this performance, and the entire tour, possible: our sponsors in Wray, including the music specialists and the elementary and middle schools, the host families (who we hadn’t even met yet!), and our tour sponsors, Noble Energy, the Billings Family Tour Fund, Carol & David Driggs and Colorado Creative Industries. And, of course, 36 talented young performers and their families back at home who worked so hard to see us off on this tour and support us every day.
And finally, HOST FAMILIES!! The butterflies that we earlier sang away were back in hordes by now. You wouldn’t have guessed that, however, as you watched each pair meet their host families. With brave smiles and hands extended in a firm handshake, they introduced themselves and were off. The staff finished loading the bus and headed to our hotel, the Sandhiller. On the wrong side of the tracks. Well, actually, pretty much ON the tracks. Enough said.
This morning, we eagerly awaited their return and, as usual, it was wonderful to watch. Each host family pulled up and kids piled out. Photos, hugs, long good-byes, you would think we had been here for weeks! The kids bubbled on to the bus. Michael and Greg had been up early mucking out the goat pens, and arrived all smiles, pulling their suitcases in a big wagon. Emily and Kate slept on a heated Tempurpedic mattress. (Similar to what we enjoyed at the Sandhiller…) Callia and Maria had Caramel Dutch Babies for breakfast. Obie and Kevin arrived with warm, homemade cinnamon rolls. (Again, similar to our breakfast at the Sandhiller…) Chris and Joey stayed with amateur paleontologists, complete with a museum in the basement; Cait, Tatianah and Lauren stayed in a HUGE house; Sofia and Blaise had their own PINK bathroom; and Sarah F. and Greer were up early to play bocce ball in the yard.
The day has flown by, with homework, journal writing, playing, napping, and lunch at the Country Buffet in Cheyenne. I am happy, and somewhat shocked to report that GREEN BEANS were the entrée of choice. Followed by lots of bread, mac and cheese, fried chicken, the occasional meat loaf, and more bread. All followed by ice cream, of course! Combine all of that with the amount of snacks we have on the bus (thank you, parents!) and you can see that we are not going hungry.
Homework is progressing nicely. Lauren is doing an environmental study of plastics. Larissa is reading “Hamlet,” and Paige, “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Kevin is studying Attila the Hun and the Romans. Sarah R. now knows all about “I before E, except after C.” Cait has taken a test on the skeletal system, and Joey completed a math test. I’m not sure this really falls into the “homework” category, but Caden and Logan devised a very clever phone system on the bus using the sleeves of their windbreakers as communication tubes.
We’re heading into Casper. Everyone is healthy, happy and we’re having a great time. Wish you were here!!