Band, choir kids enjoy fun time in Nashville

Submitted Band Director Willy Leafblad directors the Spring Grove High School Band as they play in the Opry Plaza in Nashville during the band and choir trip in June.
Jordan Gerard

In its first-ever trip to Nashville, Tennessee, the Spring Grove High School Music Department had a wondrous and enjoyable trip,

About 51 students, seventh graders to 12th graders, eight chaperones, two directors and one travel agent (who was also a chaperone) departed Spring Grove on June 6.

On their first day, they visited the Grand Ole Opry House and got a backstage tour. The kids enjoyed seeing the places where their favorite country music artists had been and recorded music or performed.

“Everybody left with an appreciation for people who performed there and the history of it,” band director Willy Leafblad said.

After lunch, they took a self-guided tour of the Ryman Auditorium, which was the former location of the Opry House.

Both band and choir performed in Opry Plaza and then attended a show at the house. 

The next day, June 8, was filled with fun as the group toured the Musician’s Hall of Fame and performed there also. 

The kids also got to explore downtown Nashville and experienced CMA Fest (Country Music Association). 

Though they didn’t see anyone famous, they had fun seeing bands about every half block or so, Leafblad said.

“Walking down the street, it was really apparent why [Nashville] is called Music City,” he said. 

That evening, the group attended a dinner and show on General Jackson’s Showboat, a large paddlewheel riverboat. 

Perhaps one of the highlights of the trip was having a recording session at the Historic Studio B where Elvis Presley recorded most of his songs.

The band and choir had 15 minutes each to record a few selections from the recent school year. Students will receive a copy of the recording.

The studio did little to no editing on the CD. The choir even sang “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” by Elvis.

“To sing in that studio where Elvis did his recordings is pretty cool,” Leafblad added.

Many of the choir’s songs were selections from their May concert, including “Jolene” by Dolly Parton (which they sang at Dollywood) and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

They took another tour, this time in the Country Music Hall of Fame, where they also gave a performance.

Sophomore and student board representative Gavin Thorson told the School Board the “performances were fantastic” and the kids enjoyed visiting the Musicians Hall of Fame and singing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” 

Some also enjoyed a ghost tour of downtown Nashville, where they did not see any ghosts, but did learn the history of Nashville. 

Overall, it was a fantastic trip, he concluded.

Because Spring Grove people tend to be well-connected, the group visited Treasure Isle Recording Studio, thanks to local radio personality Josh Johnson, who knows the owner of the studio, Fred Vail. Vail was the manager of the Beach Boys and currently manages country music star Jason Aldean.

The two met at a radio broadcaster’s convention and since Johnson was accompanying the students on the trip, he made arrangements for a tour.

A few days before the group arrived at the studio, Aldean was recording new songs there. The chair he sat in was a photo-op for young fans from Spring Grove.

Finally, the group departed Nashville and headed for Pigeon Forge, Tenn., the home of Dolly Parton and Dollywood Resort.

They enjoyed their final performances at the park and then enjoyed a water park and theme park. 

For young musicians and vocalists to see famous places that professionals have recorded at was quite the experience for the kids, Leafblad said.

“Everyone who you hear on the radio had to start somewhere, and it was probably in a school music band or choir program,” he said. 

It also gives students the chance to see what they could be one day and to have an appreciation for what professional artists do and how it all comes together, he added.

At Dollywood, there’s a museum that displays Parton’s marching band uniform. 

“Traveling and playing music are two of the best things kids can do,” Leafblad said.