Music cruise turns into so much more
By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Thirty-six Little Falls Community High School (LFCHS) wind ensemble members took part in Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas 2013 Music Festivals band tour March 21-26. The five days and four nights were jammed with music and activities that makes one wonder if the students or their chaperones ever slept.
While not a highlight to the trip, several of the students were part of an event they will never forget.
Megan Koenig, Kaitlin Hanson and Emily Leisenbeimer, still dressed in their formal wear after dinner, were on the less crowded fourth deck watching the water and the stars.
“It was the last night and we were talking with one of the crew members,” said Hanson. “We saw a boat in the water with just one light, which was unusual. We asked about it and the crew said it was probably a fishing boat.”
Koenig said that as the small boat got closer, the students waved and the two men on board waved back.
“When the boat got closer, we heard them yelling for help. They were waving a white cloth and flashing their light,” said Koenig. The students then realized they were the only ones who noticed that the boat was in peril.
Then the wake of the cruise ship took the little boat away from the students.
“We told the crew member to get help,” said Leisenheimer. “Officers arrived and asked us a lot of questions. By then, the boat was far off, but we could still see its one light. The crew finally contacted the captain of the cruise ship who turned it around and went after the people in the boat.”
The students said it took another 10 minutes to reach the boat. A ladder was dropped from the cruise ship and the men were brought on board.
LFCHS band director Jonathan LaFlamme said the people on the boat were severely sunburned, blistered and dehydrated.
The students think they were Cuban fishermen in distress since the ship was just 80 miles from Cuba.
The group was later told that without their keen eyes, the two men in the boat would not have lasted another day. Two lives were saved that evening.
While saving lives is important, it’s not why the students were on the cruise.
“This trip was a way to complete my students’ education,” said LaFlamme, who said the trip was optional to his students. “This experience broadened their outlook on life. And as an ensemble, this experience glued the members together. It is unbelievable how much closer they all become and how their concerts improve after this experience.”
Mallory Kenna said the trip opened her eyes to the cultural differences between Mexico, plus other countries, and the United States.
LaFlamme said the cruises are also a retention tool. It helps keep students in band with an eye toward becoming a member of the wind ensemble and then the chance to go on the cruise.
“The wind ensemble also has a college credit available, saving students tuition money in the future,” said LaFlamme.
Music Festivals, a company in Pennsylvania, offers the cruises using music educators who provide on-stage clinics as part of the learning experience. The students are able to meet other students from across North America who share the same love of music, along with other guests from around the world and many professional musicians.
“We saw four musical Broadway shows, acrobats, the Ice Capades skating to different musicals, comedians and jugglers,” said Sebastian Sowada. “Plus we got all the food we could eat.”
Every day and night, the ship was filled with music, either from the crew, the subcontractors who were hired to play or the students.
“The quality of music was high-level,” said LaFlamme. “Everyone there had music degrees and were extremely proficient.”
During the first day on the ship, LaFlamme came across a jazz band at the pool playing a song his students were learning for their spring concert.
“I knew it would be a good trip when I heard them play,” he said.
Besides the Little Falls wind ensemble and the general public, a choir from Missouri and a band from Florida were also on the cruise.
“Our group broke up into duets and trios,” said Kenna. “We were critiqued by college band directors and given advice on our playing.”
LaFlamme said each of his student groups received either an excellent or a superior rating for their playing. A highlight to their playing included the opportunity to perform in the Platinum Theater on ship plus watch others do the same.
The students said they were surprised the other guests were from so many other countries and that the staff represented 45 different nations.
“We met a 15-year-old Israeli who told us that when he returns home, he will be going into the military for three years. He said he didn’t think he would live long enough to get out,” said Chantelle Anderson. “It’s hard to think of ourselves at 18 years old and being adults when he was only 15 and doesn’t even know if he will make it to adulthood.”
Other activities while on the cruise included participating in a fundraiser walk for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, raising $1,000. They also spent a day on the Island of Cozumel swimming with the dolphins, snorkeling and shopping, then rock climbing on the ship.
The LFCHS wind ensemble cruises take place every other year. The next one is planned for 2015.