The choir left Paynesville at 3 a.m. on Thanksgiving (Nov. 23), spent nearly six days in Florida, and returned late Tuesday night, Nov. 28.
Fifty-four students and a dozen chaperones took part in the trip, led by choir director Cheryl Bungum. All but a dozen students in the high school's treble choir (9th and 10th grade girls) and mixed choir (11th and 12th grade girls and 9th through 12th grade boys) made the trip.
Their days were spent at the various theme parks that comprise Disney World - the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom. They also spent a day at a water park and another day at the beach.
The purpose of the trip, and one of the lasting memories for the students, was participating in a mass choir performance at Disney World on Saturday night.
Each year the resort complex organizes mass choir performances every night from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve. School choirs, from Florida and other states, are led by a group of eight professional singers and a director from Disney.
The Paynesville choir sang with choirs from Virginia, Indiana, and Florida. Bungum said our choir had the distinction of being the largest choir from farthest away. In other words, another choir from Nevada was making the trip, but it was smaller. The Paynesville choir was the only one from Minnesota scheduled to sing at Disney World this year.
"I learned that even though people are from different parts of the country they can sing as one and sound awesome," said Lisa Hemingson, a junior.
For the performance, the choir members learned 15 songs, by heart, in advance. They met in the afternoon, had a half-hour practice, and then sang two shows that night.
Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, was the narrator for the shows.
Bungum, who had the luxury of watching her choir sing for a change, estimated the mass choir that night had between 250 and 300 members. The goal each night is to have at least 200 voices.
The mass choir made a design of a Christmas tree, with the professional singers in red robes as the stand, some students in green robes for the tree, and the Paynesville choir members in gold as the background. The choir was accompanied by an orchestra.
Bungum enjoyed seeing the glowing faces of her students while they performed. "It was fun to sit there and watch," she said. "To have them sing with an orchestra and all those voices was really neat. It's something I don't think they'll forget."
For many of the students, the performance was the highlight of the trip. "My favorite thing about the trip was singing in the candlelight concert," said senior Erin O'Fallon. "Singing with over a hundred people was totally awesome!"
"I loved the candlelight concert," added Becca Gardner, another senior. "It moved me to tears, literally."
The entire experience of being part of a large-scale performance was enlightening to some. "I learned more about how much work goes into performing a show at a place like Disney," said senior Scott Ingalsbe, the mixed choir president. "Other times I had been there I never realized how much planning and coordinating goes into the shows they put on."
Another senior, Trista Dukowitz, agreed, "I learned a lot about performing through both watching the shows that Disney put on and being in the massed choir. Facial expression and emotion as well as just having fun add a lot to a performance."
On Sunday night, during their free time, some students opted to watch another performance of the candlelight concert, with a new set of choirs. In so doing, they got to see what they had looked like a day earlier.
"My favorite thing," explained ninth grader Holly Bennett, "was watching the other choir perform. We got to get an idea of what we looked like."
Other trip favorites included the warm, snowless Florida weather, the rides at the Magic Kingdom, the ethnic food at Epcot Center, taking a safari at the Animal Kingdom, and seeing the ocean and spending their last day at Cocoa Beach.
"I liked going to Cocoa Beach the most," said freshman Ben Lingl, one of many students to treasure their time at the Atlantic Ocean. "I've never been swimming in the ocean before, and it was fun...jumping into the huge waves and collecting rocks."
The choir members spent their Thanksgiving at a water park in Orlando and then enjoyed a seven-course holiday dinner at a medieval-themed restaurant where knights competed in jousting and other things as entertainment. The meal was chicken, not turkey, and because it was a replica of medieval times no one used silverware to eat, just their hands.
The choir members divided into small groups and spent Friday at the Magic Kingdom, Saturday at Epcot, Sunday at MGM Studios, and Monday at Animal Kingdom.
On Tuesday, on possibly the best day weatherwise, they checked out of their hotel in Orlando, drove to the beach, and had a poolside barbeque for lunch before heading back to the airport to catch their flight home.
"My favorite thing was hanging around with other choir members and going on rides together. We really had a good time together,"Ęsaid junior Becky Schaumann.
"I think this trip really brought the choir closer together," she added. "We all tried harder to get to know everyone else and it made it a blast."
"I really liked the trip and I would love to do it all over again," said junior Jason Leyendecker.
"Can we go back?" asked senior Kelly Hanson.
The trip is the longest for the choir in both days and miles. For several years, the choir has taken a weekend trip in the region. For the past two years, the choir has gone to the Blue Water Music Festival in Spirit Lake, Iowa. In the past they have gone to the Twin Cities and to Sioux Falls, S.D.
Bungum feels the trip was well worth the extra effort to go farther away. She would like to take the choir back to Disney World at least once every four years, so every choir member would have the opportunity to go once before graduating.
"It was the best trip that I've been on in choir," said Amy Schoenherr, a junior. "I've been in the choir since fifth grade and I'm going to miss it next year when I graduate."
The trip cost $630 per person. Choir members spent the fall doing individual fund raising to defray their expenses. Some students raised enough money to cover their entire cost of the trip.
One fund raiser the choir used involved selling stock in themselves to friends and relatives for $10. Every stockholder got a personal post card from Disney World, as well as a private performance and picture showing upon the choir's return to Paynesville. The stockholder's meeting was held on Monday night, Dec. 4, at the high school.
Bungum said the students behaved very well on the trip. (Click here for Bungum's letter.) She appreciated the help of the adult chaperones: Denise Beckstrand, Bob Brauchler, Mary Jo Buermann, Brett Bungum, Barb Ingalsbe, Neal Jones, Diane Keller, Janelle Leyendecker, Brad Lingl, Dawn Orbeck, Karelle Steinhofer, and Charon Tierney.
Several choir members expressed gratitude to Bungum for leading the trip.
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