Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Galena High School Choir - 2014 Disney World

The community in which I live has gone through astronomic changes in the 28 years since I graduated but I the largest changes have been in the educational system.  Twenty eight years is a span that most would assume that the education of a community should change in some fashion and within my community those changes have been for the best.  I'm from a community that had between 90 - 100 students graduate every year all of the way into the '90's but recently those numbers have significantly dropped.  With the aforementioned drop-off in enrollment numbers it is easy to assume that many programs would have been cut and forgotten but in this case...

In this case nothing could be further from the truth.  I went to school with incredible people, some are artists, attorneys, doctors, entrepreneurs, writers, free spirits and great people in general.  What I loved about those days gone by and those I went through those days with was the fact that we had a structure to our education and until high school we had Art class and Music class and then we were able to flow into our high school courses.  At the same time however was the opportunity in high school to continue music through Band (if one wanted too) while a burgeoning Drama department (which was basically whoever wanted to perform in a play) as well as a Chorus.

I do recall there being one play a year (I was in one my freshman year) but there may have been more but I know that the students in Band were fairly regimented and had more "responsibilities" than most of the other performing arts.  The band performed at every home football game and they marched annually at the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Chicago, I would assume there were other activities but I wasn't in band so my recollection could be negligent.  Its safe to assume that this was indeed the case for some time following my departure but then something changed.

When Steve Holland came to the Galena Public School System that change exploded.  Although the band was always pretty good, Holland made it exponentially better.  By the time my daughter was able to participate in Band the program was flourishing.  While Mr. Holland is the driving force of the band the addition of Mark Baglione has taken the GHS Choir and has given the program such a shot of adrenaline that I am blown away.

Often times parents of high school performers such as those in band or chorus have feared the day when they hear the announcement of band or chorus concerts hoping that they will be spared from a litany of recycled music that it becomes painful and the hum of the performers is merely white noise.  In the case of the performances for band and chorus in Galena, Illinois that argument simply can't be made.  What Baglione has done really is extraordinary..  When you see the excitement of the students that are performing, it becomes obvious.  The students are excited about their performances while at the same time being as professional and focused on the task at hand.

Within the directors of the band and chorus comes a sense of importance of experiences through a variety of environments to enhance the diversity of the education of the young men and women.  This fact was never more clear when a trip to Disney World was planned for December 29th, 2013 to January 3rd, 2014.  The school has a policy that any trips have some form of educational value not just a good time.  The itinerary for the trip was quite full but intermixed with the run were two experiences that the students can take away and experience the professional level of a Disney performer.

The students had two major experiences that really should shape them in their adult life, whether or not they become performers as their career choice.  Before the students was a performance they had to do at a Disney Resort, in front of a crowd of people that weren't just their families and friends.  That would be a daunting task if you think about it, performing in front of complete strangers, 1300 miles away from home and still be consummate professionals.  They are professionals, they really are.  Mark Baglione has taken these students and taught them how to be professional and nothing more could be indicative of that statement than what the students did BEFORE their performance.

Galena High School Choir Trip - Disney World 2014
Before the performance the students had an opportunity of a lifetime as they participated in a workshop held by Disney Performing Arts.  As the chaperones weren't educators we were unable to attend the workshop (with the exception of Mr. Baglione, the accompanist and one other teacher).  Everything I would say about the experience the students had is secondhand but the buzz that was going through the students was palpable.  What I can tell you firsthand is that all of the kids came out with smiles and a sense of accomplishment.  This exposed the students to an even greater appreciation for professionalism and what is expected of performers but the lessons learned can be put into their future experiences.

The previous statement is telling, how you ask?  The students have seen a structure unlike any experience they have previously had.  The students had professional instruction and within that lies a great foundation that they can take into the "real world."  I would have loved that head start in life honestly.  I know that the workshop wasn't a week, or a month but still that experience was amazing.

Education has many aspects that shape the lives of everyone, its a simple fact.  Without education life is more difficult, life is daunting and life can be crushing, so as parents, educators and other people that are influential in the lives of their children MUST stay the course and guide the students to the right path.  That is a tall order for many of us but experiences that will guide our children/students really have to be presented in a positive way.  Encouraging the children/students to take band, performing in plays, choirs, speech, football and the like should be the priority of each of us.  By doing so we are helping expand the horizons of the child/student but within the context of education there also has to remain a level of fun.

"Rockn' Roller Coaster Starring: Aerosmith
Fun?  Yes, I said fun and the reason I said "fun" was because if we force the student/child into something they don't want to do, their performance may be less than lackluster.  That is the conundrum isn't it?  Obviously the ratio between fun and education is variable but through programs like the Washington D.C. trip in 2012 (band trip) and the Disney trip (choir trip) the students in my little town have had a full experience.  Teachers such as Mark Baglione are a blessing for the programs that the are in charge of.  Watching the students interact with him and seeing the level of respect they have for him will ensure that these students will remember these trips and take away from them a quality of education and a quality of experience that is vital to succeeding in the real world.

When I volunteered to be a chaperone at the beginning of the year for the trip to Disney World was a pretty exciting endeavor.  I knew that it would be fun (my wife and our son also attended) but I was excited when I saw what these kids were going to do.  My personal experience in high school wasn't a bad one, I enjoyed it.  We were a class of 90 plus students and we developed into some great people with great futures but these kids are different.  It's a different situation for the kids in Galena today.  Smaller class sizes, A - B days and new teachers all contribute to that difference but the real difference is in the programs that they offer.  These kids have a passion and a well rounded educational experience.  Teachers like Mr. Baglione make the difference and it shows.

It was a great trip.  Between the fireworks at Disney World on New Year's Eve, the safari ride at Animal Kingdom, or the "impromptu"performance on the streets of Hollywood Studio (and all of the other experiences) it was amazing!  Thank you to the students, chaperones and Mr. Baglione for making the trip an educational experience for us all.

Cinderella's Castle - New Years Eve - 2014

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