From April 13-16, Aurora Wind Ensemble and Concert Choir members traveled to Nashville, where the group toured local music destinations and performed in the WorldStrides Onstage Heritage Music Festival.

The tour began at 1:30 a.m. on Friday, April 13, when the students, directors and family members gathered at Aurora High School to load two charter buses bound for Tennessee. The group’s first stop was in Memphis, where the travelers toured Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, and ate lunch on “America’s Most Iconic Street,” Beale Street. After lunch, the group set off for Nashville, arriving to the hotel later that afternoon. Highlights of Friday evening included dinner at the Aquarium Restaurant and a Nashville Symphony Orchestra concert at the beautiful Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

Saturday heralded performances by both the band and choir. The band, directed by Erin Smith, was the first ensemble to perform that morning at Hillsboro High School. The choir performance followed in the early afternoon at Brentwood High School, directed by Julie Griffith and accompanied by Charlie Bahn. Each performance site had three adjudicators from universities across the country, who judged the groups. Following each performance, one judge offered an on-stage clinic to the ensembles to help the students continue to grow their musicality.

Next, the students toured the Country Music Hall of Fame, then attended a dinner and awards ceremony hosted by WorldStrides Onstage at the Wildhorse Saloon. During the dinner, close to a thousand students from 15 schools and 24 ensembles ate Nashville barbeque, learned how to line-dance and enjoyed live entertainment from 2016 The Voice contestant Preston James.

The awards ceremony brought much excitement to the venue, with Aurora’s groups winning multiple awards. Both the wind ensemble and concert choir earned a Gold Rating from the adjudicators, which is the highest possible rating. The wind ensemble took first place in the Class 1A band competition and the concert choir took third place in the Class 1A choir competition. Additionally, the wind ensemble earned the Adjudicator Award for having scored at least 92/100 points or higher from the judges, along with the Outstanding Band Group Award for the highest overall band score of the festival regardless of class. Aurora’s principal hornist, sophomore James Francisco, received one of only 12 total Maestro Awards, which is awarded by the adjudicators to recognize outstanding individual musicianship displayed during the festival’s performances.

Sunday proved a busy day for the group. The morning began with a tour of the Belle Meade Plantation, known in the 19th and early 20th century for race-horse breeding. Next, the group visited the Parthenon in Centennial Park. Nashville’s Parthenon is a full-scale model of the Parthenon in Greece and includes a 42-foot tall, gold-leaf plated Athena statue. The group then proceeded downtown to meet local guides who gave a bus tour of Nashville, emphasizing music landmarks such as famous recording studios and the Music City Walk of Fame. Dinner at Hard Rock Cafe followed the bus tour, then the group finished the night with a walking ghost tour of downtown. The ghost tour highlighted stories of hauntings at the Hermitage Hotel, Tennessee State Capitol, Printers Alley, St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows Church and Ryman Auditorium.

The Aurora band and choir returned home on Monday, April 16, passing through Kentucky and Illinois and over the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Since the group traveled through Arkansas on the way to Memphis, travelers could now claim having been in a total of five states during the trip. For a handful of travelers, this was their first trip outside of Missouri.