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4/19/2012 6:00:00 PM
Iowa-Grant music students learn and perform in Memphis Memphis
Jean Berns Jones

Band and choir students from Iowa-Grant High School had the opportunity to experience Memphis, "the birthplace of the blues and rock & roll," on a trip March 22 - 26.
"It was an awesome educational trip, especially because of the music history there," said high school band director, Ben Brueggen.
"We wanted to give the kids an opportunity to do a little travelling and to tie that with a performance somewhere," explained Lyssa Stolte, high school choir director. "We also wanted the students to work with someone who would give them helpful hints and pointers on how to improve their sound."
These objectives were met when the Iowa-Grant musicians were taught and critiqued in clinics conducted by music professors at the University of Memphis. The choir and band also honed their performance skills in a concert performed at Graceland, the legendary home of Elvis Presley.
The group of 57 travelled by motor coach through a company set up by Dodgeville Travel. "Lori Velte at Dodgeville Travel did a wonderful job of helping and we were able to take one bus for all of us, our instruments, and luggage," Brueggen explained.
Five chaperones accompanied the students - Stolte, Brueggen and his wife Rachel, I-G Middle School Band Director Katie Wanie, and Ron Anderson.
The trip was funded mainly by the Iowa-Grant Music Parents, along with fundraising projects done by the music department. Every student who had an interest in going was able to do so.
"Each kid paid $100 and the Iowa-Grant Music Parents took care of the rest," Stolte said. "In these economic times there's no way many of those kids would have been able to go if it had been more than $100. Without the help of the Music Parents there is no way this trip would have been possible."
A major fundraiser done through Fillback Ford of Highland - "Drive One for Our School" - brought in $5,400 to help fund the trip.
"We're grateful to the Fillback family for partnering with Iowa-Grant to enable the music department to raise that money," Brueggen said.
In addition to the clinics and performance, the travelers toured Graceland Mansion and the numerous museums that display Elvis' belongings - including the museums that hold his automobiles and airplanes.
"The kids were kind of blown away by how Elvis spent his money," Stolte said. "He had a 24 karat gold sink built in one of his airplanes, and the seatbelts were gold."
They toured Sun Studios, where Elvis and other stars - Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike Turner, Charlie Rich -- made their first recordings on the Sun Record label. They saw the room, and the very spot where Elvis stood to record his early hits. The studio has not been updated and looks just as it did in those glory days of the 1950s.
The group toured the Gibson Guitar Factory and enjoyed seeing how the guitars are made. They went to the Rock & Soul Museum and saw crazy costumes from the 60s and 70s. One evening they took a dinner cruise on the Mississippi River.
"Some of the kids were very moved by the National Civil Rights Museum, which is at the Memphis hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed," Stolte said. "The tour included the hotel room where he was staying."
On the final day in Memphis, their group performance took place outside Graceland Pavilion, which is across from Elvis' mansion. "It was a perfectly gorgeous day, and they performed really well," Stolte said.
For Brueggen, the performance was the high point of the trip. "The band enjoyed the performance outside and they were having fun playing there," he said. "They played the best they ever had. It seemed like the culmination of our year of planning and work."
"I think going on the trip really helped our music program this year because we had a goal to work toward," he added.
Culturally, the trip was eye-opening for many of the youths. The group spent time walking on Beale Street, eating southern-style BBQ, and checking out the little shops and the great diversity of people. They were cautioned about how to conduct themselves because, for many, it was their first experience in a large city.
"We ate at B.B. King's restaurant and on Beale Street there was music being played everywhere. There were 15-20 live performances going on. All that live music at the same time was mind boggling, and fantastic," Brueggen said. "None of us could believe it."
"The kids were very well behaved and they were good representatives of the school," Stolte commented.
"It was a fantastic bunch of students to take on my first trip as band director," Brueggen said. He arrived at Iowa-Grant three years ago when only 15 students were signed up for the high school band. Since then the band has gone from playing Class 'C` to Class `A' music, and over 50 members are anticipated next year.
The enthusiastic Iowa-Grant music directors plan to travel with the band and choir every 3-4 years. They would like to give each student the experience of a music trip during high school.
"On this trip, they learned historically significant things about music as well as having a really great experience," Stolte said. "They discovered the music of a place that is very different from rural Wisconsin."

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