I have faint memories of being on the tarmac at Newark International Airport in May 2000, loading drums with the marching band staff, as the Immaculata High School Band prepared to travel to Disney. A few hours before, I was asked to drive the band bus down the street to fill the gas tank so we could take the equipment to Newark Airport. Eventually the gas tank was full, but before that I “may” have crashed into the gas station booth at the local Gulf Station with the tail end of the “Big Blue Bus” (later to become the big Maroon bus at VHS). As you can imagine, the gas station attendant was thrilled to serve me. As a 22 year-old assistant band director at Immaculata fresh off the boat from Rutgers, I watched in bewilderment as this massive machine prepared a large-scale trip that I could not comprehend.
In 2005, in my third year as director of bands at Verona High School, Verona Music did its first trip to Disneyland, with 161 people traveling to Orlando, some stopping in Tampa along the way, some not. With the assistance of caffeine, Pepto Bismol, the VMPA, and my wonderful colleagues, it all came into place. We returned in 2009, with a bit more experience under our belts, and then again in 2013, just a few days after our iconic Carnegie Hall performance. In 2017 we once again headed to Mickey’s enchanted forest for another whimsical departmental trip.
That brings us to March 2023, marking my sixth trip to Disney as a music educator. But this one felt more personal for me, and I suspect, for all of us. As senior drum major Dionisia Yanniotis reminded me on the final day of the trip during our traditional thank yous in the lobby of the Disney All-Star Resort, I had made a promise to the seniors during COVID that we would return to Disney. Oh “boy-o-boy-o”, did we ever return, with the Verona Marching Maroon and White marching down Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom, exemplifying our trademark Pride, Passion, and Intensity sounding a medley of Disney’s greatest hits, and with the Concert Choir delighting both the audience and shoppers alike with their angelic voices in beautiful Disney Springs.
Each day we hit a new park including Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and, finally, Epcot pushing our Fitbits into overdrive, satisfying our sugar cravings, and trading in our meal cards for Uncle Walt’s epicurean delights. From the thrill of Galaxy of the Guardians, to the pounding of African drums in the Animal Kingdom, the VHS Music Fam’ was on sensory overload, only dimly aware of the stories that we will later tell our grandchildren about traveling with 100 of our closest friends.