Disney works its magic on UHS music students

School’s bands and choir perform at variety of venues

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

Making wishes come true, the Unionville High School Marching Band parades in front of Cinderella’s castle in the Magic Kingdom.

Memories of a snow-induced flight delay on Tuesday melted fast when participants in the Unionville High School Music Department’s Walt Disney World trip landed in the Magic Kingdom for six days.

For starters, the marching band strutted down a packed Main Street on Wednesday, circling around Cinderella’s castle during the “Dreams Come True” pre-parade. That evening, members of the choir took the stage at Epcot for two capacity-crowd, candlelight performances, sharing the spotlight with narrator Neil Patrick Harris.

On Thursday, the school’s orchestra entertained an appreciative audience on the Waterside Stage in Downtown Disney. A short time later, the tempo changed as the  jazz band rocked the same stage, prompting one couple visiting from Landenberg to ask:   “Won’t they let you do one more song?”

Band Director Scott Litzenberg said he would have loved to accommodate them, but unlike his jazz musicians, the Disney brass doesn’t improvise well. “They keep strict schedules,” he said. “They want people to have a 25-minute break, but then they want them to return to their shopping.”

Members of the Unionville High School Choir joined hundreds of other singers for candlelight concerts at Epcot.

Unionville High maintains a schedule, too. Litzenberg said the Disney field trip occurs every four years so that each music student has the chance to participate during high school. “It’s a lifelong memory for these kids, who have worked hard,” he said. “For us, it’s great seeing their faces when they get the opportunity to perform at this level.”

He said he and the other two organizers – Choir Director Jason Throne and Orchestra Director Joy Meade – work to make sure that the experience focuses on education, balanced with some entertainment. “We know the kids are missing three days of school and we don’t take that lightly,” he said.

Litzenberg, participating in his fourth trip, said he stays in touch with former students on Facebook, who flooded him with memories about past trips when he posted information about this year’s. Some were particularly jealous that most of the 228-member group traveled by plane.

“The first time I did this we went by bus,” Litzenberg said. “We’d leave after school and get to Disney around noon the following day. After spending two of the five nights on a bus, you felt like you’d been run over by one. Flying is a much better option.”

The Unionville High jazz band captivated the crowd at the Waterside Stage in Downtown Disney.

This year’s plane travel was not as speedy as usual. A three-hour delay enabled Gary Urban and Steve Travaglini, the two parents who trucked the instruments and uniforms to Disney, a chance to gloat at the pool for several hours. In between laps, they texted photos of palm trees to their fellow chaperones.

The 168 students got no such opportunity – at least for the first two days.  With less than four hours’ sleep, they had to be ready to start dazzling the Disney crowds. In the process, they were enchanted as well.

“A magical experience” is how Sara Skipp, 16, of Chadds Ford Township, described Disney.  Skipp, a member of the choir, said that not only had she never visited the park before but she had also never crossed paths with a celebrity. She ended up a few feet away from Harris during the candlelight performance. “We even made eye contact,” she said. “It was awesome.”

Brian Kelly, 16, of Newlin Township, also a choir member, recalled being worried that he would forget the songs as he stood on stage with 500 other performers. “We got started, and everything fell into place,” he said. Kelly said he had visited Disney with his family twice and experienced memory lane as he walked around the park. “I feel like I’m reliving childhood fantasies,” he said. “It’s really been fun.”

Amy Gottsegen, 16, of Pennsbury Township, has deemed Disney her new favorite place. A member of the choir and the color guard, Gottsegen said she knows already that the trip has provided a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.” The downside: “I only wish the trip were longer,” she said.

For Adam Carl, 18, of East Marlborough, the magic came more slowly: Did Disney  really need to charge $3 for water bottles? But he acknowledged it was hard to resist the parting words of the Safari driver in the Animal Kingdom: “Life’s a jungle; so don’t be afraid to get wild.”


Justin Bowen (right) shows his excitement as the marching band lines up to go behind the scenes for parade preparation.

Helping to temper that advice was Meade, the orchestra director, and dozens of chaperones, including this writer.  Meade likely would have been snagged for an ad touting family entertainment if the Disney publicists had known her story.

She traveled with her husband, Andrew, and 10–month-old daughter, Lydia, but her entourage also included two other chaperones – her father, Vic Dupuis, and her mother, Faith, who provided nursing assistance – two brothers, and a sister-in-law.

Vic Dupuis, also a school board member, was experiencing Disney for the fourth time with the high school, having had one of his four children in the music program for the past 12 years. His oldest son, Vic Jr., arrived at Disney for the weekend with his wife, Lauren. His youngest son, Evan, is a member of the choir.

“Only my youngest daughter couldn’t make it,” he said. “We have three generations here. It’s been very special.”


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One Comment

  1. Sharon says:

    Another awesome article Kathleen! My husband just said, “aren’t we lucky to have such a talented writer on our trip!” As parents of one of the lucky students, we appreciate the efforts the teachers and parent chaperones have put into planning this trip, for keeping our kids safe and providing them with a once in a lifetime trip (the Disney experience is a different one when experienced with friends!). We continue to be blessed by the opportunities provided by the Unionville School District and loving involved parents!

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