IPSWICH — IHS music is sending a bigger group of students to England than ever before.
A good chunk of the high school — 165 students from the band, orchestra, and chorus — are set for take-off this April break.
Every four years, the three high school ensembles have the opportunity to travel overseas to perform on a “concert tour.”
The first-ever concert tour began 25 years ago — back in 1998 — with Gerry Dolan, the former fine arts director.
Beginning as an exchange program with only a few dozen in the music program, the trip has grown substantially.
Now, three new leaders will take the reins.
Fine arts director and orchestra director Michael Coelho will be joined by choir director Abby Frost and concert band director Sean Lee in leading the group.
Fifteen chaperones are set to join the staff, including school superintendent Brian Blake and high school principal Jonathan Mitchell.
A concert tour to remember
The tour will last nine days, with overnights in Bristol, Liverpool, and London. This year, the trip begins with an overnight flight on April 13.
While in England, students will spend each day exploring the cities and sharing their concert music.
With music selections set by January, the ensembles have been spending each rehearsal preparing for the trip’s long-awaited performances.
While in Liverpool, the ensembles will take part in the local festival “Liverpool Waves.”
While in Bath, students will play a concert at a school theater to benefit Children’s Hospice — a local charity. This event is set to be advertised at a variety of youth schools across the city.
The third and final joint concert will be at Saint Anne’s Limehouse Church in London. IHS music will collaborate with a local school’s choir and orchestra to perform for a larger audience than ever before.
“That is distinctly different than our last experience, where it was just a handful of locals that wandered in and found a concert to go to,” Frost said.
A new side of students
The department is not just looking forward to these performances in Europe but to the collaborations, independence, and fun it will bring their musicians.
“Students get an international opportunity, and since England is such a safe place and there is no language barrier, they get independence,” Frost said.
“It will be really cool to have that cultural exchange — to remember that the world feels really small here, but the world outside of Ipswich is really much larger than that,” Lee said.
Having seen the power of the trip in years prior, the directors said they look forward to watching their students grow as both musicians and people.
Lee’s dentist is a former Ipswich band kid, so he has seen the power of music affect multiple generations.
“It is fun to go on the trip and see the teamwork, as opposed to the goals,” Lee said. “Music builds comradery. It builds a team.”
With this, Frost hopes the trip “broadens their horizons” and that students “come home and tell all their stories.”
A memorable last hurrah
Although the trip has built up years’ worth of excitement for many eager students who have seen groups of students come and go, it can be “bittersweet,” Lee said.
Having taught sixth grade and high school band at Ipswich for the past seven years, Lee is about to watch the sixth-grade class he first taught graduate from high school.
“What are the chances that my first-ever middle-school babies are the seniors when we go to England again? I can still see all of them as tiny sixth-graders,” he said. “It seems fitting now that I get to celebrate this class through the England trip.”
Both Lee and Coelho teach sixth grade through high school ensembles, working with students for years and watching them grow.
“It is a luxury that most of your other teachers don’t have,” Lee said.
“Not only do we get to watch them grow up, but we grow attached to all of our kids. It can be sad, but obviously there are a lot of happy moments along the way,” he added.
The community’s helping hand
Although students continue to prepare for a busy week of concerts across the Atlantic, townies won’t be left without a taste of the music this year.
After a fall spent fundraising for many students — whittling down the trip’s cost of $3,479 per student — community involvement has reached a new high.
Selling raffle tickets at $10 apiece up until December, students raised nearly $20,000 through the town’s support — and the department wants to give back and showcase where all of this support is headed.
The “England Send-Off Concert” will be held at 7:30 p.m. on April 11 in the Dolan Performing Arts Center.
Community members can hear what students will be performing overseas just a few days later.
“The auditorium will be crammed full of people,” Frost said. “It feels like a culminating moment for a lot of us — a real community affair.”
In the meantime, the community can still show their support through donations. Although the cost of the trip has been tackled, miscellaneous costs always crop up.