A group of Wheeling High School students are planning to jazz their way through Europe next month, but efforts to raise money for the trip are coming up short.
The 25 students in Wheeling's Jazz Band I will travel to Switzerland and Italy in July, playing six performances at jazz festivals over 10 nights.
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Between the international flights to Florence and Rome among other cities, and hotels and meals each day, Band Director Brian Logan estimates the trip will cost $100,000.
So far, fundraising has netted $58,000, he said. That's enough to ensure all of the students go, but more money is needed to ease the financial burden the trip is causing some families.
"Our school has a fairly high poverty rate, but if these kids are willing to work hard to practice and play, we will work just as hard to try to fund this trip," Logan said.
At Wheeling High School, 42.4 percent of the student body qualifies as low income, according to the 2013 Illinois State Report Card.
"Some people look down on Wheeling because they think we are a poor school with a large, diverse population, but I love it," said Logan who is in his 23rd year with the school. "Our diversity is what makes us unique and special."
"It doesn't matter how much money you have, it matters how hard you are willing to work," Logan said. "No amount of money can make up for work ethic, and these kids have that."
The trip to Europe caps off an especially successful year for Wheeling's Jazz Band. In September 2013 the band was awarded The Mark of Excellence Jazz Honors Project National Award. In November they were invited to play at the Chicago Jazz Showcase. In December, they performed at the Midwest Band Clinic, an annual music conference with more than 17,000 attendees. In January, the Wheeling Jazz Band performed as the Honor Band at the Northshore Jazz Festival and in February they were named Grand Champions at Jazz in the Meadows, a competition among 110 bands from five states.
At Wheeling, Jazz Band is not a class, but an extracurricular activity, meaning the students practice once a week after school and twice a week at 6:35 a.m., Logan said. School is out for the summer, but the jazz band will keep working from now until they leave for the trip.
Paul Wagner, a junior baritone saxophone player, said he is looking forward to experiencing Europe and playing for large crowds.
"They don't care who I am, as long as I'm playing great music," said Wagner, whose brother is also in the band and will go to Europe.
"I don't think I would have gotten to Europe without this," he said.
"Music is the only language that's universally understood by everyone," said Lewis Monaxios, a sophomore saxophone player in the band. "Everyone can communicate with it and appreciate it."
Aside from the fact this may be the only chance for some of his students to get to Europe, Logan said it will be a great experience for them musically as well.
"This trip is special because we are playing at major jazz festivals that headline musicians from the United States are trying to get into," Logan said.
"It's not like the kids are going on vacation. They're going to feel like professional musicians and rub elbows with jazz greats. It's a tremendous experience for them."
Donations for Wheeling Jazz Band I's trip to Europe can be made online at www.razoo.com/story/Jazz-Band-I-In-Europe or with checks payable to Wheeling Instrumental League, c/o Brian Logan, Wheeling High School, 900 S. Elmhurst Road, Wheeling, IL 60090.