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Students gear up for spring school trips
Chestatee High School band members, from left, Luke Logan, Scott Batiste and Spencer Gruenenfelder practice for the band’s appearance in the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade next Monday. - photo by Tom Reed


Daniel Merck, band director at Chestatee High School in northwest Hall, talks about the band’s participation in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City Monday.

GAINESVILLE — At least three area bands will venture way beyond school premises for performances this spring.

Chestatee High School in northwest Hall County is headed Thursday to New York City for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. West Hall High School is preparing for an April 4-7 trip to Chicago.

And Johnson High School in South Hall is headed to Orlando, Fla., where they’ll perform in an April 7 parade at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

"It’s an opportunity to represent our school and the little redneck ... hills of Georgia, that there’s something great in ‘em," said Matt Ivy, one of three Chestatee band majors and a senior, of his trip.

Chestatee is scheduled to perform Monday afternoon.

"By my understanding, we come right off Fifth Avenue," said Chestatee band director Daniel Merck of the parade route. "They paint a green line down the center of the street. You line up on the green line and off you go."

The West Hall band is set to perform at the Field Museum of Natural History on April 7, said band director Ernie Phillips.

Spring, particularly around spring break, is usually a busy time for bands and other school groups to take major trips, which are typically paid for through student contributions and fundraisers.

Plenty of fundraisers. "We sold umbrellas," Merck said.

Some schools, such as Chestatee, try to take a major trip every two years.

Phillips, a longtime director, said West Hall has "performed at Disney World twice, New York City three times, Gatlinburg (Tenn.) twice and a number of parades from Atlanta to Macon to Thomasville to Panama City."

That’s not the case at Chestatee, which is in its sixth year.

"When we first opened the school, it was hard to get accepted anywhere because we only marched 30," Merck said.

With a major trip, bands get to perform before a large audience.

But that’s only half of it.

The long bus ride to and fro gives students the opportunity to see how classmates act outside the often strict confines of school.

"People change when they go to other places," said Kristela Ortiz, band major at Chestatee and a senior.

And then there’s the big tourist spots when they arrive.

"Times Square," Ivy said. "I’ve seen it on TV ... on the Internet and stuff and I was like, ‘Woah.’ I’m also looking forward to the Broadway show. That’s going to be awesome."

The band is scheduled to see "The Phantom of the Opera."

Cassie Therrien, band major, said she is somewhat nervous about performing.

"I’m trying to be optimistic about it, because I know we’re going to do amazing. We’ve worked really hard."