Story last updated at 9/4/2013 - 6:42 pm
One of the perks of living off the road system is the necessity of travel. When sports teams and clubs want to compete or perform they often leave town to do it. Suddenly a passion for music becomes a new way to explore the wider world and interact with new people. Often the unusual twists and turns of just getting there or getting home make the journey as exciting as the destination. Travelers from the Juneau Student Symphony felt excitement in both their big performances in Portland and in their eventful trip home.
Interacting with all kinds of people is what director Rick Trostel had in mind when he transformed the Juneau Youth Symphony into the The Juneau Student Symphony over a decade ago. He felt that in the real world, people of all ages participate together in community, and so musical experience should be no different. The symphony is not entirely made up of students in the classic sense of the word. All the participants are students of music, and they are musicians of all ages and all levels of ability.
The Student Symphony plays several concerts each year in Juneau and they've traveled around the state to Hoonah, Sitka, and Haines. Trostel is a Montessori teacher and led the music program up until the end of this year at Montessori Borealis in Juneau. It's his connection to Montessori that led the symphony on its most recent adventure to Portland, Ore. Once every four years, Montessori teachers from around the world gather for an international conference. This year the Juneau Student Symphony was invited to come and play a concert featuring "The Life of the Child," Trostel's original composition based on Montessori philosophy.
Symphony members traveled in the wee hours from Juneau to Seattle and rode on a chartered bus to Portland. Many brought their instruments on the plane, but larger ones like a stand-up bass, and percussion instruments were borrowed from local Portland musicians.
Over the course of two days, they performed at the Quadrennial International Montessori Congress including during the opening ceremony where they were received a standing ovation by an audience of more than 2,500 people. They even played with young Portland students they had just met that day.
"One comment that I heard again and again was how much they admired how people of different ages got together to play in this orchestra," Trostel said. "Although it seems so normal to me, they were amazed to hear grandparents playing with preschoolers. I hope that legacy lives on."
In Portland, Trostel passed the baton to his successor, Thunder Mountain High School music teacher Tyree Pini. Pini has played on and off with the symphony since his arrival in Juneau in 2009. He was also impressed by the interaction with local Portland musicians.
"Suzuki violinists and Montessori recorder players all from Portland joined the Juneau Student Symphony in performing Trostel's piece, 'The Life of a Child.' The weekend prior, we performed the same piece with young musicians from Juneau and then in Portland we were performing with students who through a definitively collaborative effort learned the piece through similar teaching methods in a different part of the country."
Pini said that the interaction with local young musicians didn't end in the concert hall.
"The young musicians who performed with us, through coordinated efforts with their parents and school teachers, offered places for us to stay in Portland and surrounding areas. The home I was welcomed into offered us free reign of the house and a hearty introduction to Portland restaurants."
On the second day of their trip, symphony members performed again early in the day and then left the Portland convention center boarding a bus back to Seattle for their evening flight home. The musicians were giddy from their successful Portland debut, and they had bonded in travel-weariness. iPhones came out of pockets and bags, and soon a phone-led game of charades and sing-alongs erupted. The general reverie meant that the bus riders didn't notice their coach had slowed to a crawl. Not until the phone that was the source of everyone's fun ran out of juice. Corrine Conlon, a percussion player in the symphony, and the mother of a violinist, says that many of the children had never seen a traffic jam and they peered out their windows photographing it.
The group began to wonder if they might miss their plane.
"Amy and Jessica called Alaska Airlines and others tried to conserve their battery power," Conlon said. "We watched as the bus inched it's way forward, having a brief reprieve when we exited and sped up, only to go back to a crawl. Finally, we passed by the accident site. We were expecting to see mangled cars and broken glass and instead we saw fur and yes, pig parts and various other unidentifiable animal-like parts. Apparently, the driver of a rendering truck slammed on his brakes to avoid a traffic jam and the truck jack-knifed and the load just spilled out."
The group did miss their plane home and spent the night in Seattle - some young folks got to have their first meal ever at a Denny's while others spent the night in the meditation room at the airport. Everyone arrived home safely the next morning brimming over with stories of musical camaraderie and "pig parts on I-5."