Blues Heaven - SHDHS In Chicago, Day 4

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Today started out with packing up for the long ride home but first we had a couple of things on our agenda. Navy Pier was first up. It’s a 3,300-foot-long pier housing over fifty acres of parks, shops, gardens, attractions and experiences. A Rolling Stones Exhibit attracted some, the giant 40 gondola Ferris Wheel gave others one of the best views of the city while others shopped and enjoyed the first sunny day of our trip. With a devious plan to tire everyone out for the long bus-ride home, we couldn’t see all of it but between the 46 of us, we gave it a darn good try!

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Our last visit of the trip was to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven. Chess Records produced and released the music of artists like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Etta James among others. The Stones even recorded at Chess Records at least twice. Willie Dixon, who went to work for Chess in 1952, eventually took over from founders Leonard and Phil Chess and established the Blues Heaven Foundation for young musicians. Following Willie’s death, his widow Marie purchased the current location and opened it as the home to the Foundation in 1997. Marie passed in November but the Foundation lives on. Today Willie’s grandson, Keith Nelson Dixon, gave us a great tour and entertained our students with stories of the artists who have come through Chess Studios. The next time you’re visiting the SHDHS Music Room, look up on the walls for a Chess Studios poster that Keith signed for us.

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Many thanks to our driver, Jacques, who battled some challenging traffic every day to get us where we needed to be.

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Play Ball! - SHDHS In Chicago, Day 3

Day three saw our travellers go in two directions. The Habitat for Humanity group spent the morning at the Lincoln Park Zoo while the band students went to the Vandercook College of Music for a music clinic to strengthen their skills. 

Founded in 1868, the Lincoln Park Zoo is located in a natural setting just north of Chicago. For generations it has been one of the largest zoo-based conservation and science programs in the United States. Hundreds of animals are housed at the zoo and the many educational experiences allow visitors to get up close and personal with many of them. 


At Vandercook College of Music our band students worked with clinician Charlie Menghini. Working through their competition scores, our musicians were able to hear critique from another set of experienced ears. Mr. Menghini challenged them with some new ways to approach individual practice, band rehearsals and the way they approach both scores and their teamwork. 

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No trip to Chicago is complete without a trip to Wrigley Field! The second oldest ball park in the country, Wrigley was built in 1914 and hosted its first major league game on April 23, 1914. The Federals defeated Kansas City 9 – 1. This afternoon we watched the Chicago Cubs play the New York Yankees however the Cubs were defeated 3-2. Check out our Facebook page at South Huron District High School Music Program for an archived live steam of the minutes that turned the game from a Cubs win to defeat. 

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After dinner at Andy’s Jazz Club we went to the Chicago Symphony Center to watch “SFJAZZ Collective: The Music of Miles Davis & Original Compositions / Regina Carter: Simply Ella.” We are truly lucky to have been able to spend some time with such talented musicians. SFJAZZ has an interesting way of deciding their yearly program: they choose an artist of the year, with this year being Miles Davis, and then each member of the group is responsible for bringing to the program one original piece plus one arrangement of a piece by the artist of the year. We were able to hear a combination of original and arranged pieces between all the performers. 

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The days have flown by. Tomorrow we have a couple of stops on our agenda before we head for home. Another wonderful music trip in the history books and our second with the Habitat group. 

Follow is on our social channels to enjoy the last day with us: 

Facebook: South Huron District High School Music Program 

Instagram and Twitter: @shdhsmusic

For The Record - SHDHS in Chicago, Day 2

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The first part of our second day was spent in service to others. We had the opportunity, through the SHDHS Habitat for Humanity group, to work with DuPage Habitat for Humanity just outside of Chicago. Our group was split into three smaller groups with some working at the Habitat ReStore, others cleaning up and landscaping a housing development while the third group worked at cleaning up the yard and emptying stored goods out of an existing Habitat home. Hard work for a very worthy cause. Along the way, we found out that Habitat for Humanity Chicago is partnered with the country of Malawi and tithes 10% annually to help families of that country achieve affordable home ownership.

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After a chance to clean up at our hotel and grab a bite to eat we jumped on the “Chicago at Sunset” cruise. Chicago has a magnificent skyline, full of history and architectural beauty but having the chance to see it from our vantage point out on Lake Michigan while watching the sun set is extraordinary!

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Also extraordinary are the desserts we had at Pizzeria Due after the cruise. Oh, my goodness, is it true that eating desserts together cancels out each other’s calories? We sure hope so!

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Most of our travellers have the chance to grab a few extra hours of beauty sleep tonight. The Jazz Combo, however, is off to the Chicago Recording Company to record. The studio has a deep history, recording the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, Carole King, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Celine Dion, Duran Duran, Alicia Keys and the list goes on and on. CRC’s post studio and design facilities are used for award-winning commercial work as well as film, television and gaming productions.

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Our Jazz Combo will be working with Bob Breen, one of our chaperones and producer extraordinaire to record Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful.” Bob has a long career in the music industry, working at and managing Ocean Studio in LA before coming home to work at OIART, the school he graduated from, as Career Development and Industry Relations Manager. Recently Bob purchased a pro audio company (Armor Pro Audio Visual in Woodstock) and continues to produce artists as well. Our Jazz Combo will have a terrific experience! Keep your eyes open for the video.

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Tomorrow we have some new adventures including a visit to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs vs Yankees. Follow is on our social channels to enjoy the day with us.

Facebook: South Huron District High School Music Program

Instagram and Twitter: @shdhsmusic

Chicago (That Toddlin' Town) – Day 1 

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We made it! After a long day we’ve arrived at our hotel but not until we toddled all over this toddling town. While that will only make sense to Sinatra-era music fans there are Buddy Guy fans among our readers who will be as excited as we were to sit in Buddy Guy’s Legends and watch our very own SHDHS Jazz Combo perform for the lunch crowd. We live streamed a portion of the performance so for those who missed it, you’ll find it archived on our Facebook page listed as South Huron District High School Music Program. By the way, it’s not uncommon to look into the dark corners and see the legend himself casually taking in the music but sadly for us, Buddy Guy was performing in Springfield, MO today. His Grammy Awards are housed at Buddy Guy’s Legends and if you check out our Instagram feed, @shdhsmusic, you’ll see one of them. 

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The Shedd Aquarium was our next stop where we experienced fish large and small, crabs, whales and a few very large spiders from every corner of the Earth. Harbour seals and dolphins are just as entertaining as 50 students on a field trip! 

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Chicago has one of the most beautiful parks. Millennium Park is over 24 acres of art, amazing architecture, events and gardens. Of course, a visit to the park isn’t complete without a group photo at the famous Cloud Gate sculpture, more popularly known as “The Bean.” 

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After dinner at the Hard Rock Café we were off for a little retail therapy on the famous Magnificent Mile. With stores like Bloomingdales, Sak’s 5th Avenue and Burberry there may have been more dreaming than shopping but window shopping is a sport everyone can enjoy.  

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Now it’s off to bed to rest up for our big day tomorrow. It’s all about Habitat for Humanity! 

Parachute Plunge 2017!

SHDHS Music Parachute Plunge Raffle Flyer 4 8.5x14We’re doing it again! Yes, that’s right … a parachute jumper is going to fall from the sky on Canada Day and land in the school’s soccer field onto one of 493 evenly marked squares and whoever holds the ticket for that square is going to win a fabulous prize. In addition, there are four cash prizes to be won.

Ellison Travel, who helps us with so many student travel plans, has donated a prize valued at $1000 that includes tickets to the Toronto Blue Jays vs Pittsburgh Pirates game on August 12th plus VIA Rail gift cards to get you there, Keg Steakhouse gift cards to feed you and Fairmont Resort gift cards to tuck you in for a good night’s sleep. Didn’t win first prize? We have amazing cash prizes for our second, third, fourth and fifth place winners, too. Those are some good odds!

The kick-off for ticket sales will be the SHDHS Music Department’s Cabaret weekend. Come and enjoy a terrific concert on either Saturday April 22nd at 7:00 PM or Sunday April 23rd at 2:00 PM, browse the silent auction table and pick up your Parachute Plunge tickets.

Can’t make the concert? Tickets will be available until all 493 have been sold or we hit 9:00 PM on June 30th. We’re pretty sure they’ll be sold out long before the end of June so don’t put it off! Call the school at 519-235-0880 for your tickets or more information.

Tickets are $20 each with all proceeds supporting the SHDHS Music Program.

SHDHS in Memphis: Day 4, "I'm Going to Graceland"

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“I’m going to Graceland,” those famous words from the Paul Simon song, were excitedly sung randomly here and there as we ate breakfast on our last day in Memphis. Yes, indeed, we were going to Graceland where, it is said, Elvis lives. A beautiful estate that would have been relatively private during his twenty years there would not have been as restful in this day of paparazzi and social media, however Elvis crafted a home that had all of the components he needed to work and play without having to leave the grounds. From the carpeted ceiling in one of the main floor living spaces to a racquetball court and stables, Elvis lived the life with his family and closest friends. These days the estate is a mecca to young and old alike who come to walk in his shoes.

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Our trip mascot was a mini-Elvis knitted for us by Sandy Robilliard. He went everywhere and was photographed here and there throughout the trip, but what better place for him to shine than at Graceland!

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Next on our agenda was lunch at what has become a mecca for our band. The Four Way Grill was recommended to us by the people at Stax when we were here five years ago and the memories of the food cooked with love by Willie Earl Bates and his family have stayed with us so, of course, we had to make sure we visited this time. Southern Fried Chicken, Turkey, Burgers and the best Mac & Cheese you’ll ever eat were topped off by cobblers, cake and pie that none of us had room for but ate nonetheless because it just couldn’t be left behind. It’s no wonder this restaurant was a favourite of Dr. Martin Luther King and has been visited by famous people from far and wide. Their pictures decorate the walls along with memorabilia from another time making any visit an experience.

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Last but certainly not least was a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum. Tying together several important components of music history as the world changed with the Civil Rights Movement, this visit was poignant and overwhelming in many ways. It’s difficult for our generation to understand a world so close to home that was so divided but going on the journey as we saw the story graphically displayed in articles, statues, posters, film and recordings beginning in the 17th century was a thought-provoking experience. The tour ends in the two rooms of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King spent his last hours on April 4, 1968.

Back on the bus, we set up camp for the long ride home. One more band trip in the history books with memories of several recording studios from Detroit to Memphis, a music exchange at the Stax Academy, meeting Wayne and Amy Jackson, Boo Mitchell and Jody Stephens, the Jazz Combo’s once in a lifetime recording session with Boo, Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum along with some of the best food ever. It’s a lot to take in but along with the large memories, the little details will come out over time as we remember a truly terrific band trip!

We’ve safely delivered our band kids home to their parents, tired but loaded with stories to tell. Enjoy your Mother’s Day together and catching up on some well-deserved sleep!

SHDHS in Memphis: Day 3, I ❤ Soulsville

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The term ‘fangirling’ is defined in the urban dictionary as “the reaction a fangirl has to any mention or sighting of the object of her "affection." These reactions include shortness of breath, fainting, high-pitched noises, shaking …” This Memphis trip has seen many of us use the term fangirling on a regular basis as one adventure leads to another equally fascinating adventure.

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This morning began with a tour of Ardent Studios led by yet another icon of the Memphis music scene, Jody Stephens, formerly the drummer for Big Star and now part owner of Ardent Studios. We cruised through the studios hearing stories of who recorded in each studio, some of the challenges that needed to be overcome and listening to explanations surrounding equipment all delivered by a man who belonged to a band that became an important contributor to the growth of the music industry. Despite his busy schedule, he answered every question in a quiet, measured fashion and was happy to pose for a group photo before dashing off to his next meeting.

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Next came a little retail therapy on Beale Street before a tour of Sun Studio where the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash grew and developed into the artists we remember. A museum on the second floor houses pictures, clothing and recording equipment from back in the day while on the main floor, the still-functioning recording studio holds a treasure trove of memories that our tour guide was happy to share.

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Last but not least on today’s itinerary was a return visit with the students of the Stax Academy. After a pizza dinner, students from SHDHS played for students from the Stax Academy before the tables were turned and we heard from the talented Stax students. Students from both schools happily sat in with each other as the performances continued under the watchful eye of Wayne and Amy Jackson who enjoyed every note of each piece. Several of the pieces performed by both groups were live streamed on Facebook so be sure to head over to our Facebook page and listen to the archived copies.

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Back at the hotel, we prepare for one last day in Memphis.

SHDHS in Memphis: Day 2, Keep An Eye on the Sky

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Our second day in Memphis started out with a city tour with a twist. Our tour guide was a musician who entertained our group with live music as we toured we heard about the city’s history as well as the impact of the great musical history that built Memphis in so many ways.

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Once completed we had lunch at The Arcade, the famous restaurant where Elvis was known to nosh on his favourite grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Many of us followed his example while others chose chicken fingers, pizza or club sandwiches. We took advantage of some good wifi to broadcast our first Facebook Live of the trip. Check out our Facebook page to see the archived copy.

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Next up was a tour of the Stax Museum and a return visit with Wayne Jackson and his wife Amy. Wayne was one of the Memphis Horns, a duo that played on most of the huge catalogue of Stax recordings. A previous band trip was fortunate to connect with Wayne and Amy and enjoyed hearing about the fabulous history of Stax recordings so much that a visit to Memphis had to include a return visit with them. Wayne loves to connect with music students and never tires of telling stories about the heyday of Stax Records. We learned today that the famous ‘baa, baa, baaaah’ from Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline was Wayne playing his famous trumpet.

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A quick, unplanned stop at the house made famous for Big Star’s record, “Keep An Eye on the Sky” provided a great opportunity for another group photo and a few questions from curious neighbours! Tomorrow’s agenda includes a tour of Ardent Studios led by Big Star drummer, Jody Stephens, so this provided a little tickle to carry us into that part of our day.

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Dinner at B.B. King’s Blues Club was followed by a visit to Royal Studios where Boo Mitchell, the studio’s owner and producer of artists such as John Mayer, Snoop Dog, and Boz Scaggs, personally took us around the studio, played for us and told wonderful stories about artists who have recorded at Royal Studios not only during his tenure but during that of his father, Willie Mitchell. While most of our group returned to our hotel for some pool fun, the Jazz Combo stayed at the studio to record a session produced by Boo. What an enormous opportunity!

Bed will feel good tonight but everyone will have big smiles on their faces remembering so many details from today’s adventures. Stay tuned to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages to keep up with tomorrow’s activities.