ON THE ROAD WITH TOUR CHOIR
May 4, 2016
Dear families and friends,
Hot off our western Colorado tour with Regional Tour Choir, with one day at home for laundry and personal time, we hit the road early Sunday morning with 35 of our favorite National Tour Choir friends. Ms. Smith, accompanist Ms. Snyder, tutor Mrs. Proffitt, and I are back, unwilling to miss a good adventure! Mrs. Crile, wardrobe manager Mrs. Landauer (her first tour!), and grads Aitana and Paige have come along for the ride…and the work.
We had a long first day, leaving the Chorale office at 8am, headed for Arkansas City (or Ark City, as it is commonly known), Kansas, south of Wichita. We were happy to see Andrew, our favorite bus driver, and we quickly settled into the well-honed tour routine. Seat belts clicked; backpacks under seats; school work stowed, by the staff, in the overhead compartments; fleece either on your body or hanging on the seat in front of you; journal packets distributed. And, of course, by then it’s time for a snack! Thanks Mom and Dad for all of your help in that department
Mrs. Proffitt went right to work checking in with everyone regarding their homework. And, sadly, we sang the first “Happy Study Time” of the tour. Nobody balked, but instead went right to work. The kids bring no electronic devices with them, not even their cell phones, so receiving assignments and returning assignments on line is not an option. Everything has to be done the old-fashioned way – pen and pencil. In light of this shocking situation, many did the majority of their work at home before we left. Knowing they had to have something to do during study time, they brought books, Sudoku and coloring books. Mrs. Proffitt came prepared with several coloring books and an awesome book of dot-to-dots with 400+ numbers that only very young eyes can actually see. We could keep ourselves occupied for days. And we will!
Truck stops are our friends on long-haul drives, with multiple bathrooms and always-interesting-though-occasionally-inappropriate items for sale, providing a break in the landscape. We did acquire a traveling companion for Rocky, our tour bear. Zippy, the pink unicorn-on-a-stick, now joins Rocky in the front window of the bus. Be sure to check out the Chorale blog for photos! It was a cloudy, dreary day, actually quite perfect when you have to spend it on the bus. Being the mountain kids we are, we had already been joking about what a Kansas sketch might look like – line drawing! With snow on the ground and heavy clouds from horizon to horizon, it was indeed a bleak sight. The staff reminisced about tours past – the biggest barn in Kansas at the living history museum in Colby; and one of our favorite memories, being stuck overnight due to a snowstorm, in Salina…with Chumbawamba. Google it.
We checked into the brand new Ark City Best Western Plus, then headed into town for dinner at the Sirloin Stockade. A buffet, our hands-down favorite dinner plan. We met Pastor Tim, a friend of bus-driver-Andrew, at dinner. He cleared up the burning question of the day: How do pronounce “Arkansas” City?? It turns out you pronounce it exactly as it looks, contrary to what those people in the state of Arkansas say. Ar-Kansas. Got it. And furthermore, the Arkansas River is the Arkansas River in Arkansas, but in Kansas, it’s the Ar-Kansas River.
Tummies full, we were in bed by 9:00 (8:00 MST, but we didn’t mention that). An early bedtime is always desirable the first night on tour, as experience tells us that it is the hardest night to settle down and actually go to sleep. Girls and boys have quite different methods of settling into a hotel room. Girls immediately pull out all of their toiletries and share. They curl up on their beds and begin the hair-braiding ritual. They giggle. And their rooms smell so sweet and nice. Boys run and/or jump as fast as possible to open every drawer and door, turn on every light, touch every small appliance, and then start this process all over again. They scream. And their rooms smell…well…they just smell. But we do love them all, girl or boy, sweet or smelly.
The tour began in earnest at Ark City Middle School, with the most dreaded experience of all experiences, workshops with 7th and 8th graders. Their peers. Scary peers they don’t know. We talked them down from the roof of the bus, and reminded them why they’re here. The staff had debated what they should wear, deciding colored t-shirts might be more tolerable than a polo. It was a proud moment when I asked if they would rather leave their t-shirts untucked, or tucked as usual. In unison, “tucked!” They know that sets them apart, and in some way defines them the second they walk in the door. I asked them what they wanted to sing before we started the workshop. “Chili con Carne,” “C’mon, Everybody” and “Wings.” Perfect choices. First wow them with excellent singing, then dance. These are some smart kids!
And it worked. The 8th graders were first, and they were in awe. When I invited them to join us on stage, our intrepid troupe walked right up with extended hands, a firm handshake, and a smile. Within minutes we had everyone dramatically extolling the virtues of “Pasta,” beautifully singing “On Top of the World,” and exuberantly grabbing some air in “Do Re Mi.” There are always some doubters, but they inevitably, sometimes without even realizing what’s happening, get drawn in. And our kids are excellent at remaining patiently determined, and just letting it happen. 45 minutes later, we were all fast friends.
Ark City Arts Council, our sponsor for this leg of the tour, had lunch for us in the lobby of their downtown theatre. They are very close to having the theatre restored to its original 1910 condition, and it is beautiful. What original fixtures and windows not discovered in someone’s attic or barn, they lovingly reproduced. The gala opening is set for this fall, and they have invited us back in 2018 so that we can perform there.
Back at the ACMS, we met the 7th graders, and with workshop #1 successfully in the books, were approached with confidence. There were some challenges. There always are, no matter what grade we are working with. But the challenges are met and conquered every time, giving us even more confidence for whatever is down the road. The 160 fifth graders we met Tuesday were a piece of cake!
School on Monday came in the way of a visit to the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum, offering a wonderful picture of pioneer life and what it would have been like to be one of the 100,000 people who, after spending months in a covered wagon coming west, were part of the largest land rush in the history of the U.S. in 1893. At stake? A quarter section of land to farm. And a dream.
We had dinner in the neighboring town of Winfield at Millington Place Eatery. The best fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy EVER, topped off with a stop at Braum’s Ice Cream back in Ark City. It was a good night!
Until…Ms. Smith and her band of 8th graders…and there are waaaaay too many of them…descended on my room at the late, late hour of 7pm. This activity prompted a call from the front desk to tell us they had a noise complaint. Oh, and by the way, the 3rd floor is a 24/7 quiet zone for railroad workers. Really? And you didn’t think to tell us that when we checked in?? Or post a sign somewhere at the desk, or in the elevator, or on the 3rd floor??? Or perhaps not put the middle schoolers on the 24/7 quiet zone floor???? Of course, we immediately quieted down, and my room was cleaned in silence. The hotel staff spent the remainder of our stay apologizing for the “grumpy old man” and assuring us that the kids were the best behaved group they had ever seen. I am pondering a journal entry on the difference between “creativity” and “destruction.”
Tuesday brought the 5th graders for workshops, rehearsal for the evening community concert, a break for time at the city park, a nap back at the hotel, more yummy fried chicken for dinner and, finally, the evening concert. We rocked the evening concert, and by now, the kids were rock stars in this town. The audience loved every second of the concert, and so did I. They sang beautifully and danced with abandon. They gave, and the audience gave back. And I got to stand right in the middle. When it was time for the 5th, 7th, and 8th graders to join us on stage, the excitement was hard to contain. Those reticent middle schoolers couldn’t get to the stage, and to their buddies, fast enough. We rooted for the Royals, of course, during “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” And we enjoyed every second of the long and loud standing ovation. Out in the lobby, our kids experienced a taste of fame, as local kids lined up to snap selfies with them. It’s tough to settle down and go to sleep at 9:00 when you’ve tasted fame.
Life is good on the road!