Thirty-eight Advanced Orchestra A students and a few Advanced Orchestra B students, Orchestra Directors Mr. Altamirano and Dr. Grube, and 12 brave chaperones boarded a charter bus after school and departed Meyerland Performing & Visual Arts Middle School at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. The destination: Disney Springs where the orchestra would perform as part of Disney's Performing Arts program on April 22 in Orlando, Florida.
Everyone’s luggage had been loaded on to the bus along with some other needed items. The students, carrying their backpacks containing goodies, electronics, and their instruments had gotten on board along with the adults. The journey started off with 90 minutes of traffic just to get outside the Houston city limits. One unforeseen snafu was the lack of WiFi on this trip. The bus even stopped at a Sprint store to try to get a different card so the WiFi would work, but the store did not have that card in stock. That was one way to force everyone to try to sleep on the bus - take away their WiFi!
The bus stopped near Lafayette, LA, for a dinner break. "Fiddler on the Roof" was shown as an after-dinner movie on the way to Florida. It stopped again near Mobile, AL, to change bus drivers, and at two rest stops before finally arriving at Disney World's Hollywood Studios theme park at roughly 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, 2017. All of the bus occupants hopped off the bus like the Genie coming out of the magic lamp in Aladdin ("Oi! Ten thousand years will give you such a crick in the neck!" - so will 17 hours on a charter bus).
The orchestra enjoyed the magic of DisneyWorld at Hollywood Studios on Thursday afternoon and ended the evening together watching the Fantasmic! water and light show. A few students enjoyed making their own light sabers as souvenirs; ironically, the light sabers were very handy at night for leading the orchestra group out of the Disney parks.
After a short night's sleep, the orchestra entered Disney's Animal Kingdom on Friday morning. The first thing the group did was head to Expedition Everest (a roller-coaster) for the traditional eighth-grade roller coaster picture. Then they visited EPCOT for the rest of the day. Several groups enjoyed Spaceship Earth (a slow ride through the inside of the EPCOT "golfball" exploring "the history of innovations from the Stone Age to the Digital Age"), Test Track (you create your own concept vehicle and then hop in a car to go through the test track at speeds of up to 60 mph), Mission: SPACE (a simulated space launch to Mars), and Soarin' (a simulated hang-glider flight to several places around the world). Delicious foods were enjoyed from the various countries represented in EPCOT's World Showcase (France, Mexico, China, Norway, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada). EPCOT's IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth was a light and fireworks show that ended Friday evening's activities with a "bang."
The orchestra entered Disney World’s Magic Kingdom for a few hours Saturday morning before heading over to Disney Springs to get into concert attire, tune instruments, and quickly rehearse for their 3:30 p.m. performance on the Marketplace Stage. We saw other groups preparing choral presentations and song and dance routines. The Disney Springs performance was fabulous. Violinist Katie Butler was wonderful on her solos (as always) - and cellist Owen Talley really had fun with the cello solo that slides down to a really low note. After the performance, the students quickly changed back into their Disney trip T-shirts.
Steve, Disney's Performing Arts program coordinator, spoke with the orchestra students about helping make dreams come true and presented a Golden Mickey (Mouse) to the group. The orchestra "earned their ears" - special Mickey Mouse ears that have a red, white, and gold Disney Performing Arts logo on the front - the only way to get those ears is to perform at Disney.
Rarified Mickey Mouse earned by performers
The orchestra returned to the Magic Kingdom. Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad were out of service for much of the day. Several groups enjoyed Splash Mountain (log flume ride), "It's a Small World" (boat tour around the globe), Mad Tea Party (spinning tea cups), and Tomorrowland Speedway. Wishes nighttime spectacular was the fireworks/light show to end the orchestra's evening in Magic Kingdom. The group met on the steps of Disney's City Hall and rode the monorail for one last time to the Transportation Center before walking to the charter bus for the return trip to Houston. The return trip had fewer (and shorter) stops, but the bus ride still gave me a crick in the neck! No movies were shown on the way back and there was a bit of traffic leaving Disney, but everyone was too magically tired to care by then! The bus arrived safely back on campus mid-afternoon on Sunday, April 23.
Many thanks to Mr. Altamirano and Dr. Grube for coordinating the trip - and embarking on this memorable adventure. Thank you to Ulisses Gonzalez (Orchestra Parent Organization President) and all of the many parent volunteers who helped get our orchestra students to DisneyWorld (and back to Houston!).
Susie Vanlandingham, chaperon
The Disney Performance Trophy
As we boarded the bus, saying our final goodbyes to our relatives and friends who would not be joining us for this adventure, we all knew there was an enormous journey ahead of us. Upon first sitting on the bus, even without our luggage in hand, it was rather cramped, but it was easy to get used to about 5 hours into the drive.
When we finally arrived at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, after hopefully getting a good sleep and stopping to change into our purple orchestra shirt, it felt good to finally walk around (though the pleasure of walking was short lived). The weather in Orlando was identical to Houston's, so we felt right at home. Hollywood Studios, being our first step into Disney, quite literally felt like a whole new world. Stormtroopers walked around casually, roller coasters dotted the park, and there was lots to see and do. Not to mention the food was delicious.
Stormtroopers at Hollywood Studios
The roller coasters themselves were slightly limited at Hollywood Studios. The one that stood out the most was the Rockin' Rollercoaster, which takes you through a fast, indoor track filled with twists, turns, upside-down sections, and classic Rock & Roll playing in the background. As my first roller coaster, it was a terrifying, adrenaline rushing, stupendous experience.
The next day we arrived at Animal Kingdom. Being that we were just at Hollywood Studios a day ago, it wasn't difficult to see the gigantic differences between the two. Some parts of Animal Kingdom made you feel like you truly were in the wild (while being surrounded by hundreds of other humans). The big highlight of this park was its huge roller coaster, "Expedition Everest," which takes you on a journey into a mountain in search of the fabled Yeti. As you progress, you are faced with numerous twists and turns, as well as a whole backwards section once you realize part of the track has been torn apart by the enormous creature!
Later that day we found ourselves in EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). This area felt a bit different. Out of all the parks, this one contained the least Disney. That isn't to say it wasn't fun, just different. And the name is a bit scary. This park focused on being international, and the food really reflected this. There were restaurants from around the world serving all different types of food, and each felt unique. Apart from the food, the big attraction is the enormous “golf ball” in the center of the park, visible from almost every area of EPCOT. Apart from that, the only real ride was the Test Track, in which students and chaperones used a digital screen to design their own vehicle, optimizing it in 4 categories: Power, Capability, Responsiveness, and Efficiency. From that point, teams hop on the ride and are told throughout the ride whose car did best in which category. My team actually went twice to try and optimize one or two specific categories!
Our final day was spent at the ever-so-classic, Magic Kingdom, the original Disney theme park. The entire area reminded me of the classic Disney films, as well as some Pixar films within the "Tomorrowland" section. The only ride we really got to go on was the Seven Dwarves Mine-cart, which was an incredibly fast roller coaster with huge drops and a fast speed. Not to mention, we were on IT as the evening fireworks were going off, which was amazing.
About halfway through the day we changed into our performing uniforms and practiced a bit, which only led to a lot of sweat and consumption of water. We finally took a bus to Disney Springs and set up on stage, beginning our performance. Playing with the wind constantly blowing was our most difficult challenge yet.
While the vacation was fun, returning to the heat of Houston was somewhat of a relief. Being able to sit and lay down in less cramped spaces felt like a blessing, and cooking my own meals again was a long desired chore, though having to catch up on school work seemed like a curse.
Advanced Orchestra A
A special thank you to the wonderful and steadfast chaperons who accompanied our Advanced Orchestra students on their Disney Adventure and Performance. You are appreciated beyond words. They were:
This website is to provide parents and students of the Johnston Middle School Orchestra a place to learn more about the plans and activities for all the orchestras at the school.
Some sections of the site are restricted to members-only, so be sure to create an account to get full access to all the information, which includes:
- Biographies of our director, Marcos Altamirano, and assistant director, Dr. Ben Grube
- Calendar of events
- Information about volunteering to help the orchestra
- Details about the Meyerland PVA Middle School Orchestra Parents Organization (a 501(c)3 organization)
- Members only: copies of orchestra handouts given to students
- Members only: copies of sheet music (where allowable by copyright law)
- Members only: photos of the orchestra submitted by members
Be sure to also visit, and "like", our Facebook page to see news and pictures from the orchestras' activities, events, and trips.