Dear families and friends,
Day 4 of the RTC (Regional Tour Choir) tour and we can’t believe it’s almost over! The predicted snow has not arrived, though the Wyoming wind is making things a bit more cool than comfortable. The blue sky and the snow-capped mountains are unbelievably beautiful. We have been studying about Wyoming today, learning that the population of the entire state is way less than that of the Denver metro area. Speaking of population comparisons, we also figured out that the population of Wray, at 2,500, is about the same as some of the high schools in Denver!
We arrived at Casper’s Natrona County High School just as school was dismissed. The auditorium, shared by both school and community groups, is large, with a nice stage and a 1,000+ seat house. It is really quite beautiful, if a bit run down, but scheduled for a renovation sometime in the next few years. The resident staff was very helpful as we tested the sound and made the appropriate changes in spacing. There is an extension in front of the stage, getting us out into the auditorium and close to the audience, but also causing quite a bit of foot noise. That always takes some getting used to, but nothing these pros can’t handle.
We met the Casper Children’s Chorale and their director, Marcia Patton. Mrs. Patton was teaching in Cheyenne years ago when she decided to spend some time working with Duain Wolfe, finding out how to start a children’s choir. She subsequently founded the Cheyenne Children’s Chorus and then the Casper Children’s Chorale, and we were pleased to catch up with her. There are about 80 fifth through eighth graders in the Casper CC, and they joined us for a workshop. We had a great time learning one of their songs and they learned two of ours. Following the workshop, their parents had a wonderful lasagna dinner waiting for all of the performers, and the kids were able to sit and compare notes about music, rehearsals, tours, and conductors!
With no performance last night, the kids were off with their host families at 6:30, a welcome prospect for both kids and staff. With one home stay under their belts, and having met their host family kids during the workshop, everyone bounced out the door without a care. The staff shuffled off to the bus – we don’t bounce much anymore! – and headed downtown to a recommended Thai food restaurant. It was delicious and a nice change from the usual tour fare. As per usual, we were at the Ramkota Best Western and in bed by 10pm, with no train track in sight…or sound!
7:30am, back at NCHS, and the kids were arriving. Carolyn Deuel, our Artcore host and force behind this tour, was waiting and eager to meet us. Carolyn is a longtime friend, dating way back to when her nephew was in the Chorale, some 15 years ago. She runs arts programs in Casper with a determination and fervor that could take on the world. We spent the day in the high school auditorium, with kids from elementary schools throughout the region arriving in buses to see the shows – about 700 in the morning, and another 1,200 this afternoon. It’s nice to be in one spot. By the time we do two school shows, we pretty much have the evening show rehearsed.
We had some time before the first show to hear home stay stories, and there were LOTS of home stay stories! First of all, one family took eight, yes EIGHT kids – four boys and four girls. Kellie, Madi, Callia and Emily shared downstairs bedrooms and bath, while Ben, Mathew G., Trystan and Devin took the upstairs. The host father was thrilled with the plan and couldn’t wait to get home with his new brood. I expected there to be many stories here, but mostly just heard that the girls were boring and all they wanted to do was stay downstairs and braid hair until…MATHEW LOST HIS TOOTH!! It was evidently quite a dramatic event, with all eight kids, plus the host family, crammed into one bathroom in front of the mirror to watch the blood dripping down Mathew’s chin. And just in case I didn’t believe the story, Mathew appeared at the bus this morning with a Ziploc bag full of bloody paper towels and the offending tooth. This is the second lost tooth this week, with Ben losing one on Monday. Note to tooth fairy: all lost teeth have been safely stored in backpacks, some more bloody than others.
Another brave family, with one daughter, took six boys – Joey, Zach, Kevin, Logan, Greg and Landon – and they had a room in their house with a couch made out of an antique car. The daughter was a bit leery as they left last night, but by this morning she was happily hugging all of her new little brothers as they piled out of the cars. Obie and Michael shared their host home with a “wiener” dog named Stinky who like to lick Obie; Tatianah, Sarah R. and Maria fed horses. Ice cream was the snack of the evening, with Sarah F. and Blaise enjoying Dairy Queen and Kenny and Keith Cold Stone.
We had some good chunks of time today for studying, and most are finished with their homework, with only some reading and a few other projects that would be easier completed at home this weekend than in a theater seat or on the bus. They have worked incredibly well this week, attacking their homework with gusto and no complaints. For many this was the first week after spring break, and only a four-day week at that, so there wasn’t a lot of homework to be done. Friday movie day, here we come!
DAY 5, AND THE LAST DAY…ALREADY! This week has literally flown. Everyone is, of course, ready to get home, but it is always bittersweet. We are in a definite and comfortable tour rhythm, with performances easy and fun, home stays comfortable, the bus a cozy home-away-from-home, and new and old friendships securely sealed. These young ladies and gentleman have traveled many more miles than those logged on the bus odometer. They have matured and grown (some literally!) immeasurably in these five days. And what an honor and pleasure it is to watch this process.
As they returned from their home stays this morning, we heard over and over again that they were the most polite, respectful, interesting, interested, curious, sweet, talented children anyone had ever encountered. We were bursting with pride, as should all who are reading this letter. These are your children, whether you are a parent, friend or interested bystander. I can say without reservation that they have represented us well, and we should all be extremely proud.
We are now counting down the hours as we roll across Wyoming. After yesterday’s long study time, we took a break and visited the Tate Geological Museum on the campus of Casper College. On every tour, we accidentally stumble across some out-of the-way, quirky, unforgettable gem – the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota, Marvin Carr’s One of a Kind in the World Museum in Spokane, the Wonder Tower outside of Limon; I could go on and on. The Tate Museum will join this list. It is a fairly unremarkable one-room museum dedicated to the dinosaurs, fossils and gems of the area. Unremarkable, that is, with one extraordinary exception – RUSSELL. Russell J. Hawley, Education Specialist. We have visited literally hundreds of museums across the country and throughout the world in our travels, and we have never encountered a docent or curator or guide or teacher or ANYONE as incredible as Russell. We walked in the door and our 36 middle-schoolers were under his spell within minutes. It was like watching the Pied Piper; they followed him for an hour, totally engrossed, like adoring little puppies. They learned about Dee, a woolly mammoth, discovered in Wyoming in 2006 and excavated over the next four years. And that was just the beginning. By the time we pulled them away, they had explored a time machine and investigated the theory of evolution with an extensive collection of skulls, complete with detailed stories about each one. In describing the skull of Lucy, Russell said, “The skeleton was found intact from the neck down, but a bit of a disappointment from the neck up, much like my third girlfriend.” (Contact Caden for an excellent re-telling of this joke.) Russell was clearly passionate about paleontology, life, sharing his passion, and most importantly for us, obviously knew how to relate to 12-year-olds. He had boundless energy, was quick, witty and unbelievably engaging. And in return, the kids were unbelievably engaged. Back on the bus, the kids exploded about Russell, clearly seeing the connection to what we have been talking about all week. They had never been so excited and engrossed in a museum. Was it because the museum was extra-special? Nope. It was RUSSELL! And the countless journal entries, poems (Chris) and songs (Matthew B.) about Russell, and the impact he had on all, will attest to this.
It was tough to power down for a nap after Russell, but we did it as we drove back to the high school. One quick rehearsal and a Mexican feast later, and we were ready for the evening performance, channeling our inner Russell. And what a performance it was! The Casper Children’s Chorale opened the concert, and they were excellent – definitely a hard act to follow. They are looking forward to a day of school performances in Casper, and an upcoming tour to southern Wyoming and Utah. We were honored to be sharing the stage with them.
Our Act I could not have been better, with beautiful, clear unisons and lush harmonies spinning out into the audience. Our accompanist for this tour, Mrs. Wright, brilliantly played her ba-zillionth notes of the tour, even after countless warm-ups and rehearsals, four school shows, three workshops, and three evening community performances. We pulled out all the stops for Act II and ROCKED THE HOUSE! With the final punch of “You Got the Beat,” the applause was deafening. The Casper Children’s Chorale then joined us on stage for spirited renditions of “Monkeys in the House” and “Do Re Mi.” More thunderous applause and many photos later, everyone was off with their host families.
We spent this morning at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, a beautifully done and very interesting interactive museum depicting the many stories of the early pioneers making their way west. Casper was the meeting point for the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. You can ride in a covered wagon from one pony express stop to the next, cross the North Platte River, and make decisions about what to take and then feel the weight of carrying it all in a pack, or pulling it in a wagon. There was no Russell, but enough activities to keep us occupied for the morning. And, finally, a chance to spend some money at the gift shop!
The bus is now quite full of critters. Greer has a bear, and Lauren, a mountain lion named Thunder. Kate, Paige, Clare and many others are all sporting new pins on their backpacks. Sofía bought a necklace with a miniature harmonica attached, and Kevin bought a very cool train whistle, and then put some change in the museum donation box. Animal head hats were a favorite purchase – Matthew B. with his raccoon; Larissa and Devin both with wolves; Logan and Royce each have a bison, Ben a bear, and Kellie a red fox. Pencil sharpeners, postcards, key chains, magnets, a yoyo, and a spinny top rounded out our purchases. Oh yes, and Obie has a handy little survival kit that hangs around his neck.
We are now quickly approaching home, journals signed and entries mostly completed. All is quiet as “Toy Story 3” plays on the big screens. We are all happy and contented with our week’s work. Mrs. Proffitt’s staff group found a quote in the quilt exhibit at the museum this morning that they felt perfectly described Regional Tour Choir. Madi wrote it down on her bag so that she could share it with everyone when we were back on the bus:
“Like the patches on a quilt we are unique, but together we are beautiful.”
We are all reveling in the beauty of our quilt chorus and, as always, life is good here on tour.