Pioneer marching band takes gold at Tennessee music festival

Concert band earns second place honor

  • The Pioneer Valley Regional School marching band gathers at the gates of Graceland, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, Tenn., estate. The band got to play a set at the gates, greeting visitors to the “King’s” former home. The marching band won first place in the Heritage Music Festival.<br/>(Photo by Laura Schlaikjer)

    The Pioneer Valley Regional School marching band gathers at the gates of Graceland, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, Tenn., estate. The band got to play a set at the gates, greeting visitors to the “King’s” former home. The marching band won first place in the Heritage Music Festival.
    (Photo by Laura Schlaikjer) Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Pioneer Valley Regional School concert band plays at the Nashville Heritage Music Festival in Tennessee. The band placed second in the competition.<br/>Photo by Laura Schlaikjer

    The Pioneer Valley Regional School concert band plays at the Nashville Heritage Music Festival in Tennessee. The band placed second in the competition.
    Photo by Laura Schlaikjer Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Pioneer Valley Regional School marching band gathers at the gates of Graceland, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, Tenn., estate. The band got to play a set at the gates, greeting visitors to the “King’s” former home. The marching band won first place in the Heritage Music Festival.<br/>(Photo by Laura Schlaikjer)
  • The Pioneer Valley Regional School concert band plays at the Nashville Heritage Music Festival in Tennessee. The band placed second in the competition.<br/>Photo by Laura Schlaikjer

NORTHFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Regional School marching and concert bands took their talents to Tennessee recently, and brought back first and second place prizes, as well as memories that will last a lifetime.

The bands spent their April vacation taking a whirlwind tour of Nashville and Memphis, visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate and squeezing in last-minute practices in parking lots. Their competition consisted of high school bands from as far away as Michigan, Indiana, Oklahoma and Ontario, all there for the Heritage Music Festival, one of several high school band competitions around the country.

“For a band from a small school, it was cool to go somewhere big, show off our skills and do well,” said senior Chris Gilbert of Bernardston. “I’ve been with the marching band for five years; it’s nice to see how we’ve improved. I think we’ve reached a whole new level and I’m glad to have been part of it.”

The marching band took home first place, which came with a plaque and trophy, and the concert band won second.

“It was exciting, but as one of my last performances as a high school musician, it was bittersweet,” said senior Jamie Wheeler, of Northfield.

Senior May Grzybowski of Erving stood out among the crowd. She was given a special award for her flute solo in the concert band’s rendition of “Variations on Scarborough Fair.”

“The judges were very impressed with May’s performance,” said band director Nathan Holesovsky.

While the bands were excited to win, the competition was just part of the trip.

“I felt like we were right at the heart of rock ’n’ roll,” said freshman Sam Vernon of Northfield.

Several styles of music have roots in Tennessee, from the Delta Blues to rock, and country music to soul.

“We got to see where the music industry was born. It was a great experience for everyone,” said senior Tony Dizenzo of Northfield.

The marching band even got to play a set in front of the gates of Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate, entertaining visitors to the king of rock ’n’ roll’s home.

“Being surrounded by people while we performed at Elvis’ house gave me a chill,” said Gilbert, who conducted the performance. “I got to listen to everyone, though, and they probably sounded the best that I’ve heard them.”

The six-day trip included more than two full days on the bus there and back. It took about 53 hours for the round-trip ride, and they switched drivers on the way so they could drive through the night.

“It gave us a lot of time to bond,” said sophomore Julia Wallace, of Gill. “We played games, we sang a cappella and watched a lot of movies.”

The bus ride was the most down time they had on their trip. Holesovsky made sure to schedule as many activities as he could, so none of the once-in-a-lifetime trip would be wasted.

They went out dancing, caught some live music on iconic Beale Street, and even took to the stage at one club themselves.

“I’ve been on a lot of these trips, as a student and as a teacher, and this one was, by far, the best,” said Holesovsky. “The weather was great, it was in the 80s without a cloud in sight, we had great food, the kids were great, and nobody got sick or misbehaved.”

The bands travel ever year, with a bigger trip every two years. Holesovsky is already thinking about the 2016 trip, with Chicago and Toronto as two possible destinations.

Holesovsky said he and the bands are thankful for the multitude of sponsors that helped supplement student fundraising for the $42,000 trip. He said dozens of area businesses were glad to donate.

The concert band isn’t resting after winning second place in Tennessee. The band is getting ready for its 10th annual pops concert, to be held at 6 p.m. May 16 in the school gym.

The marching band will be busy, too, preparing for Bernardston’s Memorial Day parade. The band will also play at the Franklin County Fair this fall.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com 413-772-0261, ext. 279 or @RecorderRain

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