Verona Area High School band, choir and orchestra students had an exciting day on Monday, Feb. 13, sharing music with friends and family during a sendoff concert that brought people from different areas of the music program all together.

Later that evening, over 200 members of the VAHS Music Department – including students, chaperones and staff – loaded up buses to venture off on a 16-hour journey to New York City for four days of music, learning and exploring all the Big Apple has to offer. 

 “We got to go see a lot of cool tourist sites,” orchestra member and junior Aariya Gopal said. “We got to go on a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty, see Ellis Island and we got to go on top of the Rockefeller Center and see great views and take great pictures.”

But the fun didn’t stop at viewing the city – it was also great musically, she said. 

“We got to do a clinic with Long Island University – and at least for the orchestra section – I learned a lot from it,” Gopal said. “The way that the conductor looked at it was kind of different than how Mr. V. – who’s our conductor – looked at it. Also, we got to perform for another school and they did a phenomenal job. It was really fun to see how other music departments are across the country.” 

For orchestra member and senior Henry Gabrielski, this was his one and only music department trip during his entire high school career – and his first time in New York City.  

Typically, the VAHS Music Department offers trips every two years – rotating between Chicago and New York. COVID-19, however, put a damper on normal travel plans – making this the first trip in four years. 

“I’m glad that I was at least able to do this trip,” he said. “ It was interesting to see the different types of people that you would meet in the different areas. My family likes to travel a lot, so it’s always fun to see new places and get new experiences. Traversing New York City was way more difficult than Chicago or Madison, so it was a really different experience.” 

Choir member and junior Ruby Hicks shared one of her favorite memories from the trip – which was spent with a small group of five other students and two chaperones. 

“We ended up taking the subway at 8:30 or 9 (p.m.), and we had to be back in our rooms by 9:30,” she said. “We went from Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge and ended up being late back to our rooms. It was a little bit stressful, but also kind of fun running around New York City.”

Another great aspect of the trip was getting to make new and different connections, band member and senior Annika Kaehny-Walz said.

“There were people I didn’t know that were in other bands or other orchestras that I got to know from being on the bus with them or being on the trip with them,” she said. “But then also the other school we performed at, I got to know some students there.” 

During free-time with Kaehny-Walz’s chaperone group, they went to a bookstore called The Drama Book Shop. She met an employee who wrote a musical that was being performed in Madison later that week – and got to meet him again with her family back home. 

“It was a really awesome trip,” she said. “It wasn’t just a band trip, or a choir trip or an orchestra trip… It was a music department, and it was a great way for all the choirs, bands and orchestras to bond and really build that community.”

Band member and senior Mason Fewel had already been to New York, but enjoyed seeing it from a new lens. 

“Seeing it the first time, I kind of idealized it,” he said. “But seeing it again, I saw the nitty gritty details and stuff like that. Another thing I really liked was how the trip was music-orientated. We went to a college and they taught us how the professors would. We went to another high school – and they had a really good band – we got to play for them, they played for us, it was really fun.” 

Every single day, there was a different musical activity for the students to pick from. Whether it was seeing the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Ballet or choosing from three different Broadway musicals: “Wicked,” “Hadestown” or “Aladdin.” 

Hicks really liked how much input the students had on making the trip their own. 

“Even though we were traveling with over 250 people, we were still able to pick who we were rooming with, who our chaperone groups were,” she said. “That also made it really special because we got to do all these group activities, like the exchange concert at the other high school – which was so cool, the other school was so kind and everyone there was so good – but then also being able to personalize it to what you wanna do as well.” 

Gabrielski said one of his main takeaways from the trip is the power music has to connect tons of people. 

“If they’re from a big city like New York or a small town like Verona, they can all enjoy music, they can all learn how to play music and hone our craft and enjoy what we’re doing – no matter how big or small the place we’re learning it (at) is,” he said. 

Experiencing the music back at VAHS

And even back home at VAHS, the music department continues to make lasting impacts on the students involved.

“You can get out of it what you put into it,” Hicks said. “Regardless of your skill level, there is a place for you to be.” 

It’s not just band, choir and orchestra either, she said. 

“There’s also piano classes, you can take guitar, you can take creating music, music production,” Hicks said. “I’m right now in AP Music Theory – I feel like I’ve learned a lot and as someone who wants to be a music major, it’s been really helpful and I feel like I’ve grown a lot not only as a musician but also as a person.”

Choir member and sophomore Hector Zavala – who left Wisconsin for the first time on this New York trip – said the music department provides a safe space for so many people.

“The community here – not just choir but all the music classes – is very welcoming and very understanding of others’ feelings,” he said. “There’s just a lot of people that kind of resonate with you in that music space.”

Hicks said the amount of work teachers contribute to the music program really demonstrates their commitment to the department. 

“They’re really skilled in what they do,” she said. “They care about each individual student.”

According to vocal and general music educator Heather Thorpe, the music department’s philosophy is all about building community together – band, choir and orchestra. 

“We are not silos – we are all one – we are all musicians,” she said. “This trip really exemplifies that. There’s something for everybody – everybody kind of makes their own pathway as we do this trip… I saw kids struggling sometimes, but then they were really proud of themselves. We wanna give them these experiences that they’re just not gonna get here in Wisconsin.”

Contact reporter Maddie Bergstrom at

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