Journey of sound

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter The French horn section of the Mercer Island High School wind ensemble — Monica Lee, Sammy Scott, Emily Ledbetter and Michio Taya — practice last week in preparation for their April trip to China. In addition to raising money for the trip, the students and their adult sponsors have much work to do before leaving. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter The French horn section of the Mercer Island High School wind ensemble — Monica Lee, Sammy Scott, Emily Ledbetter and Michio Taya — practice last week in preparation for their April trip to China. In addition to raising money for the trip, the students and their adult sponsors have much work to do before leaving.
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MIHS band takes on financial, logistical challenges for China trip

By Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter

The Mercer Island High School band will make history this spring when they depart for a 10-day trip through China. In March, 54 wind and jazz ensemble students will travel from Beijing to Zhengzhoum, to Kaifeng, to the Shaolin Temple. They will perform on the Great Wall, at a high school in Kaifeng and the prestigious Zheng Zhou Arts Center. The trip is as much cultural as it is musical, entertaining as it is academic. And according to MIHS band instructor Parker Bixby, the experience will not only enrich each student attending, but the MIHS music program as a whole.

"At the very core of this trip is the idea of communicating and learning about another culture — and our own culture — on countless levels," he said. "Playing in China will challenge these guys at a whole new level — to communicate, to work as a team, and to find out what we can learn musically from this different culture, interpret it and put it back into what we do everyday."

Such an ambitious trip, however, has its difficulties. Getting 54 high school students, their instruments, personal belongings and travel requirements organized and safely to a Communist country 5,412 miles away is no easy task. In addition to the basic touring and entertainment itinerary, Bixby and IMS band teacher Dave Bentley, both of whom are leading the group, must take into account travel visas and vaccinations, the shipping and handling of musical instruments, renting instruments that can't be shipped, ground transportation, lodging, overseas insurance coverage, English translations and more.

Yet both instructors are confident that the trip will go smoothly.

"To the person who doesn't come in and work with the kids, I can see how it would seem to be a daunting task to get them to a Communist country. But they're incredibly trustworthy and responsible and get a lot of work done for themselves," Bixby said. "Plus, we have an incredible group of parents who are doing everything to make the process easier."

"I'm thinking about a million different logistical things at once," he added.

And Bixby is not the only one.

Erik Jensen, who is part of the China trip parent steering committee, has played a crucial role in planning the journey. Although Jensen is not going along with his son, Matthew, to China, he will know almost every detail of the group's itinerary and will be rooting them on from home.

Fifty-four students, five faculty members and three parent chaperones have signed up for the 10-day trip. Jensen has taken on the shared responsibility of making sure they all get to China and back safely.

"One of our chaperones, Cathy Lee, speaks Chinese and will help translate. And we've got a physician - Dr. Al Azose - going along with his two kids. Medical care in China is good, but it's nice to have someone who we know along," Jensen said.

Although Lee's knowledge of Mandarin will be an asset to the group, they have hired English speaking escorts and local guides for all 10 days.

In total, the trip will cost $2,575 per person. This price includes roundtrip airfare to China, guides, four-star hotel accommodation, ground transportation, meals and entertainment, entry to museums, parks and historical sites, performance venue fees and airline shipping costs for band instruments.

Yet the actual price per head will be much more. In addition to the group visa fee of $75, students will have to bring extra money for service tips (at least $45), country departure taxes ($85), airline fuel charges ($180), not to mention travel vaccinations and medicine.

According to University of Washington physician Dr. Pam Yung, who works at the Factoria clinic, parents could end up paying almost $200 in vaccination and medical expenses for the trip.

"They will need basic things like a Tetanus shot and Hepatitis A vaccine. Also, they may need to be caught up on the usual childhood vaccines — measles, chicken pox, polio. For some travelers we recommend the Typhoid vaccine, if they're really venturing out there. But the students might not need this if they're with a tour guide," Yung said.

The physician reminded that simple things such as bringing along anti-diarrhea medicine, drinking only bottled water and taking precautions with food could make all the difference between an enjoyable trip and a miserable one.

Every parent should consult with their child's physician before leaving for the trip, she pointed out.

Insurance is another cost. Because the School District does not provide insurance for overseas travel, the group had to pay extra for a health insurance rider.

Most of this money has been earned through fundraising. Students have already raised $7,000 from a car wash in November and expect to earn between $15,000 and $18,000 in ticket sales at an upcoming benefit concert featuring world-renowned trumpeter Alan Vizzutti, who will play alongside the students at Mercer Island High School.

So far, the school has sold more than 450 tickets out of 600 available for the Feb. 23 concert.

"We're very hopeful that we'll sell this [concert] out," said Jensen.

A big portion of concert proceeds will cover instrument freight expenses, which total $22,000. In fact, packing, shipping and transporting the band's instruments is the biggest struggle.

"A huge logistical challenge is getting the equipment over there," Bixby said. "We're renting some major equipment, and everything else we're taking with us. We certainly have to be flexible."

Bixby's students have already begun planning how to safely get their instruments to China undamaged.

"We're weighing and measuring all our equipment and planning how to carry it," said MIHS junior Colin Ramsay, who plays in both the wind ensemble and jazz band. "It's especially important for me because I play percussion and drums. Packing all of this is obviously an added difficulty."

Indeed, both parents and students are ambitious in their goal. Whatever it takes, the team is determined to overcome all the financial and logistical challenges necessary to get them to China. Once they arrive, that is when the fun begins.

"It's really an amazing opportunity to play music that they might not be familiar with and play Chinese music that we're not familiar with," said Ramsay. "I don't think there's a single person not excited to go — not just the band, but everyone in the community."

For fundraising and concert information, contact

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