Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mohawk Music Students Visit Williamsburg, VA – April 2015

Concert Chorus performs in Williamsburg, VA on April 24.
The Mohawk High School Music Department participated in the Worldstrides Heritage Performance Festival and Competition in Williamsburg, Virginia from April 23-26.  Students in the High School Music Department travel to perform in regional music festivals every year as an essential part of their study of music.  Worldstrides coordinates high quality festivals which are held each year in major American cities.  Williamsburg, VA is one of their most popular destinations on the East Coast, and schools from all over the country came to participate.  
Mohawk’s two choirs performed at the Kimball Theater in Colonial Williamsburg, adjacent to the College of William and Mary.  Concert Band performed at nearby Heritage High School in Newport News.  All three groups won Silver Awards. 
Additionally, six Mohawk student musicians won the prestigious Maestro Award for outstanding musicianship: Kaylee Kelleher for flute solos; Adam Hallenbeck, Sam Harris-Fried, Sara Paige, and Matthew Taylor for vocal solos; and Zach Arfa for conducting.  This award is conferred at the discretion of festival adjudicators, and according to festival coordinator Wendy Watros, there are usually only a few given out at each festival. 
“This is a great achievement for our students, and a very proud moment for our school,” says Scott Halligan, Mohawk High School’s Music Director.
Concert Band performs in Williamsburg, VA on April 24.
Performances were assessed by professional adjudicators, many of whom are faculty members of Universities (George Mason University, Old Dominion University, and William and Mary, among others).  Directly after the students’ performances they received coaching by adjudicators on stage.  The performances were recorded with verbal commentary by the adjudicators, and Halligan will review these recordings in the classroom with his students.  “This process of performance and reflection is at the heart of what we do in the music program,” says Halligan.  “There is always more to learn as one aspires to grow and improve their craft – and that goes for not just the students and their musicianship, but for me and my teaching as well.”  
Apart from performances, students participated in many additional activities in the Williamsburg area.  Students attended a bittersweet, deeply moving concert at the Great Hopes Plantation on the development of African American music, and also attended the Virginia International Tattoo, a showcase of traditional military bands from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Finland, Denmark, Australia, and Korea.  Students also learned about the history of the Virginia Colony with a guided tour of the historic Jamestown Settlement, and a late night guided walking tour of Colonial Williamsburg with ghost stories.  Students also had additional time to explore Colonial Williamsburg, which is set up as a “living museum” where visitors are welcome to enter buildings and gardens and speak with costumed interpreters who describe the circumstances of life in the Virginia Colony.  
Opportunities to travel and participate in music festivals have become a significant part of the student experience in the Mohawk Music Department.  “These field trips are extremely valuable in terms of curriculum and assessment and have tremendous impacts on student learning,” says Halligan.  “When our music students take a field trip to a music festival, they partake in a rich learning experience that connects to the state and national standards for music education.  This learning experience adds value to the learning that takes place in the classroom before and after the trip.”  
“These students are bringing home more than just awards,” Halligan continued.
Group photo after breakfast on April 25.
Junior Sarah Malone described her experience this way: “I always thought that bigger schools meant better.  But we moved so many people to tears and had schools twice our size say that they aspired to be more like us.  They wanted our passion… they wanted our fearlessness, and they wanted our [sense of] family.  And it just completely humbled me and changed how I thought of us.”  

This trip included many special moments.  After a rainy afternoon at Busch Gardens amusement park, and prior to the awards ceremony for the festival, Mohawk student singers engaged in an impromptu “Riff-Off” (like in the movie “Pitch Perfect”) with students from Dover High School in Delaware.  “Yeah, I don’t think they’ve stopped snapchatting ever since,” said Halligan.  “Mohawk is a relatively small school, but we have a big presence and I think the kids from Dover were drawn to us like kindred spirits.  They had an instant connection through music, and they made something special together that night.” 

Junior Erin Townsley recounted another especially meaningful experience on the trip.  After lunch at a restaurant, the singers in the group launched into “Long Time Traveler” by The Wailin’ Jennys, which is a hymn-like song about death and saying goodbye.  A member of the family sitting next to the group approached Halligan tearfully to say thank you, explaining that her family had just lost one of their loved ones.  “My favorite moment [of the trip] was singing at the restaurant and hearing about the woman who had recently lost someone and about how we touched her so much,” said Townsley.
“It was a wonderful experience and I got to experience things that will stay with me for a lifetime,” said Junior Cassie Kudlay.  “From the riff-off with Dover High to the group bonding that happened on the bus.  If I could do it over I wouldn't change a thing.” 
The cost of the trip for families was significantly defrayed thanks to the support of the Mohawk Music Association, the Mohawk Chapter of the Tri-M Music Honors Society, the Mary Priscilla Howes Fund, the Trail Toc Diner, First Congregational Church of Shelburne, Moe’s Fudge Factor, Blackmer Insurance Agency, Smithers & Son Silversmiths, Hilltown Tents, The Optician, Hair by the Lake, Titan Roofing, Clear Point Acupuncture & Naturopathy, and Local Cultural Councils.  This program is supported in part by grants from the Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont/Hawley, ColrainHeathPlainfield, and Rowe Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

For photos and video from the trip, visit the MMA website: 
And the Mohawk Music Department Facebook page:

Scott Halligan
Music Director
Mohawk Trail Regional High School
26 Ashfield Road
Shelburne Falls, MA 01370
(413) 625-9811 x1317