From March 30 to April 3, the wind ensemble, jazz band and a small ensemble from Abilene High School traveled to Colorado for the Winter Park Ski-Music Festival. Aaron Tompkins, director of groups at AHS, said the trip also allowed the 60 students and accompanying adults to experience the mountains of Colorado.
“Usually it’s just the jazz band that goes, but since the whole band missed their trip last year, I made it a full band and jazz band trip instead of the different destination we would have had last year with just the marching band,” Tompkins said.
“Although learning to ski was so fun, one of my favorite parts was playing all together as an ensemble,” said Maren Meneley, senior baritone saxophonist. “We all stepped out of our comfort zones and played so well. I am very proud to be part of the AHS Group program.
Tompkins said their trip was the sixth time he’s taken AHS groups to the competition. In total, the three groups returned to Abilene with six trophies. The Wind Ensemble won an Outstanding Performance Trophy and the Best in Class Trophy for its size class. Le Petit Ensemble, made up of a trio of clarinets, won an exceptional trophy and the best in its category for small ensembles. The AHS Jazz Band took top honors with a top performance and best-in-class trophy. The groups won all three best-in-class trophies in a contest of eight other schools competing from states across the country, such as California, Texas and Iowa, in their class sizes.
“After two years of the band not functioning normally, wearing split masks, instruments having covers over their bells, emptying spit valves on puppy pads and only 18 (at) most members able to play together seated at six feet apart, this year has been amazing,” Tompkins said. “The kids really stepped up and started the post-COVID-19 era of the AHS Band program with a bang and brought home a ton of material for the band room wall.”
The Jazz Band performed three songs: “Poltergeists and Moonbeams”, “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” and “Brass Machine”. The Wind Ensemble performed two songs in “Big Four March” and “Earthdance”. The Small Ensemble performed a setting of the band’s piece “Marching Song from Two Songs Without Words”.
“Playing in a clarinet trio on a big stage in front of judges is something I will never forget,” said young trumpeter, saxophone and clarinetist RJ Vopat. “Then winning trophies for every set was such a validating experience.”
Tompkins said the annual trip to the Winter Park Ski-Music Festival also allows high school students in Kansan to experience the mountains, ski and live in a small mountain town. With the festival taking up the nights, the students spent their days skiing and exploring the city.
“When we first arrived (in) Winter Park, we checked out the ski equipment and then went to the local grocery store. The students had planned menus for each meal. They were preparing for the members of the group in their condo, mostly groups of 6-10 people, for the duration of the trip,” Tompkins said. “Some have incredible cooking skills, while others have never scrambled an egg. Planning menus and cooking for others is something many consider one of their favorite parts of travel.
“We all had so much fun on the trip and created memories that we will remember forever,” said senior percussionist Braden Adams. “My favorite part was just hanging out in the condo and cooking our own meals. We made everything from spaghetti to homemade chicken quesadillas. It was fun to live with some of our best friends for a week.