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The Juneau-Douglas High School Festival Band endured a long journey fraught with peril.
Now its reward is at hand.
About 40 JDHS musicians and chaperones will travel to Chicago on Thursday to play at the Heritage Music Festival of Gold. The band will be adjudicated, will perform at Orchestra Hall - home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra - and will get to experience the sights and sounds of a city with a rich musical heritage. Band members will return Monday.
Their invitation to the festival came after their high-scoring performance at an event in Orlando, Fla., last March - a trip that saw half of the band stricken with a virus similar to recent outbreaks on cruise ships.
Several ill band members had to be treated in hospital emergency rooms early in the trip. But the group persevered, and all but two musicians took the stage for the award-winning performance.
"This (year's trip) is less competitive, more like a reward for last year's performance," band director Ken Guiher said. "While we will get adjudicated, we won't be competing band-against-band. Our competition is ourselves; we compete for the best we can do with the people we have."
The band has been practicing during the school day and at evening sessions several times a week for the past few months. Its festival performance will include "First Suite in E Flat" by Gustav Holst, and "Songs of Sailor and Sea" by Robert W. Smith.
All the musicians' work will culminate on stage in the Windy City, where they'll learn what works well and what needs improvement.
"It's always great to hear other peoples' comments," freshman Drew Akstin said. "You need constructive criticism. You can't be a good player if you don't have it."
Junior Abe Levy said the timing of the trip - nearly the same as last year - is perfect for putting the festival feedback to use. The Southeast Music Festival is held in late April - giving the band enough time to make any necessary fine-tuning.
"It's fun to be able to use the comments at music fest," he said.
The Juneau musicians may also find some inspiration in their fellow performers.
"They'll get to see some amazing musical groups," Guiher said. "The level of the groups is far superior (to last year)."
In addition to festival activities, the band will tour several museums, visit the Sears Tower and see a performance by Blue Man Group.
Musicians who traveled to Orlando last year said they took some lessons from the adventure.
"Practice really does make perfect," junior Anja Akstin said. "We were exceptional, and we learned how to get along a little better."
Akstin said the festivals offer JDHS musicians a chance to expand their musical horizons.
"It's great to get out there and experience music outside a small town, outside of Alaska," she said. "The caliber of musicians is so excellent."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.