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Jonesboro High School band wows British at the Abbey

By Trina Trice

Within the walls of London, England's Westminster Abbey lie the remains of British royalty.

But last week bouncing off those same walls were the lively sounds of music played by the Jonesboro High School concert band.

They were invited to play the historic cathedral, where parishioners still worship and living British royalty are crowned.

The church now sponsors numerous music performances and the Jonesboro High School band kicked off the 2003 summer concert series.

"We got an invitation last September from Westminster Abbey," said Todd Manson, director of Jonesboro High School bands.

By December 2002 the plans were set for Manson to take a band to London.

"It was very hard in the preparation process," he said. "We were dealing with the parents and kids trying to raise the funds to go over there and we wanted to make sure we had a quality ensemble going.

"We've been working all summer long," Manson said about the band's grueling rehearsal schedule.

Without a chance of rehearsing in the Abbey, the band played a two-hour set of Gershwin and Andrew Lloyd Weber favorites.

"When you get there, you're nervous," Manson said, reminiscing with a smile. "Once you start playing, you realize you can do it. You just enjoy the moment at that point.

"I know several times during that performance I was awestruck. I was just so proud I was able to offer those kids that opportunity. It's not something most people get to do."

But the trip turned out to be more than a musical odyssey for the 45 students that went.

When they had time, students took in some of London's tourist attraction, such as the London Dungeon.

"It was a walking tour showing the rough times in London like the Bubonic Plague," said senior Ricky Robey. "It was very cool, very realistic."

Senior Mark Philpot was fascinated by the difference in culture between Americans and the British.

"When you stay in Jonesboro for such a long time, then go someplace like London, it's interesting to see how their daily life is there."

Despite some culture shock moments, such as learning that talking is not appreciated on The Tube, London's underground rail transit system, Philpot, Robey, and junior Kimberly Bradberry consider the London trip a positive experience.

Bradberry enjoyed the band's second performance in Embankment Park.

"That was more relaxed (than playing at the Abbey)," she said. "(The audience) came down and sat and listened to us."

Now, back home, band members are preparing for the marching band season.

When asked what will stick with him the most about the London trip, Robey said, "Since we've left (British rule) 200 years ago, we've grown apart. We're not the same at all. But it was good being exposed to people who are different than who you are."