As Christmas approaches, images of turquoise waters lapping at palm-fringed white sand beaches will replace sugar-plums in the minds of a select number of Ladysmith Secondary School (LSS) students.
Rod Alsop, LSS’s music teacher and director of the school’s bands, said he usually travels to Moscow, Idaho, with the school’s tour band for “the biggest festival in western North America.” This year, however, he has something else in mind.
Alsop will venture to Havana, Cuba, next March with 35 of his students and a crew of chaperones.
Alsop said he chose Cuba as this year’s destination because bands from many Nanaimo area high schools have travelled to the Caribbean island nation every other year “and highly recommended it.”
Canada Cuba Sports and Cultural Festivals, an Ontario-based company providing logistical support for groups of Canadian students travelling to Cuba, will arrange the trip for the LSS tour band, he added.
“The company basically acts as a travel agent,” Aslop said, “and once you’re down there, they arrange everything in terms of your performance venues. We’ll play for a couple of public events and we’ll visit a performing arts school. Their band and our band will play for each other.”
The trip will feature a heavy dose of musical diplomacy while offering students a chance to explore Cuba’s tropical topography and experience its culture. Between performances, students will explore Spanish forts in Old Havana along with the tropical rainforests and subterranean rivers of Western Cuba. Optional jazz shows and salsa dance lessons round out their itinerary.
For the duration of their stay, the students will stay at Santa Maria del Mar, a seaside town east of Havana.
“Havana has quite the night culture, and we want to keep kids safe rather than out partying,” said Alsop.
The band’s director, now in his eighth year at LSS, said he “took a little Spanish in university,” but he’s forgotten most of what he once knew. But in spite of his lacklustre language skills, Alsop said he’s just as excited for Cuba as his students are.
“I’ve got 35 kids who’ve signed up to go and they’re all pumped,” Alsop added. “They all show up at 7 o’clock, on time, to play.”
The tour band is open to students in grades 9 through 12 provided they’re willing to commit to 7 a.m. practice sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They’ve been practicing what Alsop referred to as “some crazy music,” including Manuel de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance and a selection of Cuban pieces. Alsop said they’re working on adding a pop song or two to their repertoire along with a Cuban classic or two featured in the 1999 documentary Buena Vista Social Club.
The tour band is scheduled to spend the week of March 17-24 in Cuba, and they’re fundraising every chance they get to cover the costs.
“We’ve done car washes, bottle drives, hanging-basket sales, chocolate sales and poinsettia sales,” Alsop said.
The tour band’s next fundraiser is a Christmas concert scheduled for Thu, Dec. 13 — part of their “final big push” to collect and submit all necessary funds by a Jan. 17 deadline.
The concert will feature performances by all five of LSS’s bands, including the tour band and the school’s junior and senior jazz bands. Alumnus Evan Miller will host the event and offer a cameo performance, Alsop said, and a selection of original music produced by students of LSS’s senior composition class will serve as the soundtrack to the night’s auction.
The night’s fundraising routine will be rounded out by a bake sale — baked items will be available at a dollar apiece — and a “silent and live auction event.”
Ted Girard, a former teacher and community theatre personality, will host the live auction, Alsop said. Girard will auction off a list of items including a Gibson Epiphone guitar donated by Long & McQuade, Alsop added. Other items up for bids include a pair of day passes to Mount Washington, two rounds of golf at Eaglequest Golf, tickets to Chemainus Theatre Festival’s production of The Buddy Holly Story, and gift certificates from two dozen local businesses.
The school’s multi-purpose room will serve as the concert venue. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are available at the door for a suggested donation of $10.
For more information, call LSS at 250-245-3043 or e-mail Rod Alsop at email@example.com.