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Adventures in Sydney

Matthew Temple | May 2012

   I often tell people that I work a 12-month job in the span of 9 months. Between administering a band program, filling out countless school forms, and responding to hundreds of emails, it is nothing short of a miracle that we actually have time to teach music. Holiday breaks provide a respite from never-ending to-do lists that keep me busy throughout the school year. They let me recharge my batteries so that I can return with renewed energy.
   Sometimes the best break from the normal routine is to travel with our music groups. Even though I might not get the same rest and relaxation, the benefits of an educational tour are too great to miss. Nothing can replace the camaraderie that is created among the students. New friendships emerge, and old friends become much closer. The most important aspect of any successful trip, however, is the balance between performances, cultural experiences, and downtime.
   This spring vacation I traveled to Sydney, Australia, with the top band, choir, and orchestra at New Trier High School – 180 students in all. For close to 30 years, New Trier has maintained a foreign exchange program with our sister school, Pittwater High School, located twenty miles north of Sydney. While there, our students stayed with host families and experienced Australian customs first hand.

   Several of our students were housed by families that lived on an island directly across the bay from Pittwater school. They were transported to and from the school by boat each day. Because Pittwater is directly on the ocean, the families’ lives revolve around water activities. One student said that his host father would awaken at 4 am every morning to go running and then swimming. Upon returning, he would fix them a full breakfast before school.
   The New Trier directors spent one morning visiting the Knox Grammar Private School. While there, the directors were treated to morning tea, which is apparently served every day to the teaching staff. Around 10 am, all of the teachers convene in the staff cafeteria to enjoy several trays of sandwiches cut into small triangles along with hot tea. All of the snacks were served free of charge. I didn’t think to ask what the students were doing while the teachers had their break.
      We coordinated multiple school performances throughout the Sydney area, but the highlight of the trip was a concert in the Sydney Opera House. The Australian audiences displayed a deep, almost reverent, appreciation for our music. It was both humbling and immensely satisfying at the same time.
   The band also had the opportunity to work with Russell Hammond, who is widely regarded as the father of the Australian band movement. Prior to his influential work there, the bands in Australia were still largely aligned with British Brass Bands. Russell brought over many of the best American conductors and composers to introduce a concert band sound. I was regaled by stories of such luminaries as Alfred Reed, Francis McBeth, Fred Fennell, and Harry Begian.
   It was interesting to note differences in the sounds of the bands. Many of the Australian bands used electric bass as a standard part of the concert band instrumentation. This is partially due to the difficulty in acquiring adequate instruments like tubas. Very few schools have performance stages, much less sound shells as the cost of shipping them overseas is exorbitant.
   Through our travels, I was reminded of the cliché that music is the universal language. Truly, it transcends time, culture, and languages. While we spent only 10 days in Australia, I know that our students experienced a lifetime of memories.
   At the conclusion of the trip, I plugged back into school time by opening my email at the Sydney airport. There amongst the countless emails was an invitation to perform at the 66th annual Midwest Clinic. It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip. I look forward to our next adventure as a band.

From a Student’s Perspective

“The Best 12 Days of My Life”

   The only way I can describe the twelve days I spent in Australia with the New Trier Symphony Orchestra is as the single best vacation I have ever taken. Each day there was something that we had never done before. From going to huge, beautiful beaches to playing at the Sydney Opera House, the trip was full of amazing experiences.
   I particularly enjoyed the plane ride, which might seem odd because it took over a full day of travelling to reach Sydney. First there was a five-hour flight to Los Angeles. On that flight I got to know some of the older students in the orchestra. As a freshman I really didn’t know many people because the majority of the students in Symphony Orchestra are sophomores, juniors, and seniors, all of whom go to the other New Trier campus. (New Trier has a separate freshman campus, and the freshmen who make the top orchestra commute to the other campus for one period each day.) My trip would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable if I had not become friends with more people on the plane and during our five-hour layover in Los Angeles.
   We then got on the plane for Australia, a flight that took 16 hours. On this plane there were touch screen TVs on the back of each seat and a library of hundreds of movies, books, songs, and games. I tried hard to sleep but kept waking up, so I spent most of my time watching movies.
   When we arrived in Australia, we met our host families, and the first thing we did was visit the beaches. Living on Lake Michigan for my entire life, I had never seen waves bigger than a foot or two. The waves in Australia were up to 15 feet high, and extremely fun to body surf. There were times when the waves could be a little dangerous. You needed to make sure you weren’t washed over to the side by the riptide, and if you were where the waves were breaking, you could get flipped and speared into the sand head first! For the rest of the trip, when we weren’t performing or sightseeing, we were at the beach.
   On a more musical note, the Sydney Opera House was an amazing experience. We arrived in the back and were given passes and shown to the Green Room that had a cafeteria, vending machines, pool tables, a ping pong table, and free drinks. We spent about two hours here. Then we had to cram 20 people into tiny changing rooms that were meant for one person. After changing into concert clothes, we watched the choir and band perform for three hours. It was quite late when we finally played, but the sound was unbelievable. The resonance in the Opera House was mind blowing; the notes we played seemed to ring without ceasing.
   The Australia Trip was one of the most amazing things I have ever done. I can honestly describe the trip as the best twelve days of my life; I still cannot fully take in the notion that I played at the Sydney Opera House as a freshman in high school. The only bad part is that all future trips won’t come anywhere close to Australia.

– Ryan Callis (cello)
Great-grandson of Traugott Rohner,
Founder of The Instrumentalist

The Sydney Opera House performance may be heard at