After months of planning and fundraising, hearing the word “canceled” was heartbreaking for members of Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s Symphonic Winds and Jazz Band who were ready to leave for Europe in days.
Since 1970, H-F has carried on the tradition of sending its orchestra, choir and band around the world for traveling performances. The band tour was sponsored by the Homewood-Flossmoor Fine and Performing Arts Council (HFFPAC), an independent organization to support local youth music programs, and H-F Band Parents Association, a volunteer organization dedicated to supporting the H-F band program.
This year, the band had planned for a trip to Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria. Students were set to leave March 19.
Then President Trump announced a European travel ban on March 12 to prohibit travelers from 26 countries from entering the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chase Bethea, a junior, remembers performing at Bottle & Bottega in Homewood that night, and then checking his phone.
“We were all on our phones just reading the news, so we kind of expected it to be postponed, worst case canceled. We kind of figured out it might not be a possibility, but then we actually knew for a fact that it wouldn’t happen,” he said.
The official cancellation notice to students from the tour company came later that night.
Ella Bohlman, a senior, said the week before the cancellation “I kept getting calls from relatives saying ‘Hey, are you still going on your trip?’ I kept saying yes because it hadn’t been canceled yet and we kept getting reassured that it was on, but I think I knew it was not going to happen.”
“What are you going to do? It’s no one’s fault,” she said.
“I understand why it was canceled,” said senior Jazmyn Kelley. “It’s kind of a bummer.”
H-F’s program is on a rotation system between orchestra, choir and band. In 2018 the orchestra’s trip to Cuba was shifted to Europe after President Trump cut off travel to Cuba. In 2019, the choir traveled to Europe. This year was the band’s turn.
“We learned about (the band trip) our freshman year, so I remember talking about going our senior year. It wasn’t until this year that they started talking about the location and the requirements to get to that point,” Kelley said.
This would have been Kelley’s first trip, and she was excited when she got her passport.
Bethea was selected for Jazz Band last year (as a sophomore) “and I knew we’d travel this year,” so the trumpet player started asking his parents for permission to go.
Bohlman, who plays alto saxophone, was looking forward to performing the 1939 jazz standard “Harlem Nocturne.” The saxophone takes the lead in the piece.
Kelley, an oboe player, wanted to have “Symphonic Gershwin” included in the lineup.
Bethea said, “Right from the get-go at the start of the school year we started practicing and then expanding our literature” for the trip.
Kelley was saddened that when H-F canceled extracurricular activities the week before school officially shut down March 16, it meant the Symphonic Winds and Jazz Band concert of pieces for the tour was also canceled.
Students put a lot of effort into raising money for trip expenses through car washes, bake sales, the annual auction and other fundraisers. Now they are waiting for the tour company refund.
Rescheduling the trip seems unlikely, especially without a known end to the pandemic.
Still, both seniors say they will be playing music in college. Kelley expects to be part of a college band, and Bohlman will be working on a minor in music to go with her psychology major. Bethea will continue as a member of the H-F band.