During the 2010 winter holidays, parents called the Idaho Mountain Express with desperation in their voices asking the newspaper to print information about a Christmas tree removal fundraiser for the Wood River High School band. Students needed to raise money to attend the Heritage Music Festival Competition in Anaheim, Calif, on April 16.
At $475 per student, the trip to Anaheim would be costly. Many students did not have the money, nor did their parents. But the more than 100 music and choral students who had worked and practiced year-round for this competition were not going to let a recession keep them from participating.
Kids raised $100 to $200 on their own, selling cotton candy at football games, Domino's Pizza coupons and candles at Christmas time. In addition, there were iPod raffles, a rock-a-thon chair rocking fundraiser and donations from the Papoose Club.
"We gave scholarships to the kids who really needed help," said music teacher Tony Randall. "The parent chaperones for the trip also helped with the fundraising."
Three months later, the Wood River students won more awards than any other participating school. Their performance was beyond everyone's expectations, including their own.
Students from the high school have attended the festival since 2004—among the more than 2,400 students from across the nation who perform. This year, 137 Wood River students attended. They represented the Wood River Concert Band, Jazz Band and Dixie Band, all led by Randall; the Chamber Orchestra, led by Rebecca Martin; and the Concert Choir and Colla Voce, the women's chamber choir, led by Max Stimac. Also participating were the B-Tones, the men's chamber choir led by R.L. Rowsey from the Sun Valley Summer Symphony School of Music.
Three chartered buses went to Anaheim, where students spent Friday relaxing at Disneyland and Saturday performing for the adjudicators and the 30 other competing groups.
Besides wanting to win, the biggest incentive for all the students to perform well was a bet with Stimac. If they won the competition, he told them at a rehearsal, he would get a Mickey Mouse tattoo.
"They started working hard," he said.
Plans for the tattoo are now pending.
"I had no idea we would do so well," Stimac said. "The competition is very strong."
To prepare for competition, the students met Monday through Friday for 70 minutes a day all through the school year. Other practice sessions were at 7 a.m. In addition, they gave a series of practice concerts.
"The concerts went well," he said. "One song was really hard. They really had to work hard at it before going. The kids practiced and practiced."
Each group that gets a medal also gets a ranking. The ranking is determined by scores out of 100 points. Three judges add scores for medals and placement for highest points. This is the first year the Wood River High School students won all the coveted trophies. Colla Voce won Outstanding Choir; the Chamber Orchestra, Outstanding Chamber Orchestra; the Dixie Band, Outstanding Band; the three vocal groups combined, the Choral Sweepstakes; and the bands and orchestra combined, the Instrumental Sweepstakes. The entire music department won the Festival Sweepstakes trophy, the top prize of the festival.
"This win has set the standard for excellence," Stimac said.
Randall said the trip was not about going to Disneyland, it was about the competition. Disneyland was a perk and a bonus.
"These kids have zero ego," Randall said. "They are professional and very well behaved. My favorite part of the trip was to spend time with them."
Sabina Dana Plasse: firstname.lastname@example.org