LETTER TO THE EDITOR: New York trip was a fantastic journey

To the editor:

Now that we have returned from the Essentially Ellington Festival in New York City, I wish to express my gratitude for all the support we have received from home.

As I stated on the stage at Lincoln Center: “The level of generosity we have experienced supporting this event is immense, and I wish to thank all those who contributed to this paramount experience. In case I miss anyone — I would just like to thank everyone for everything.”

The memories of our experience in NYC will last a lifetime: Entering Lincoln Center to a standing ovation; sitting in the Rose Theater listening to Wynton Marsalis reach out to the students and meet their questions with honesty, eloquence wisdom and humor.

Note: Wynton Marsalis has a wonderful way of illuminating the intellectual and personal challenges inherent in the pursuit of musical expression. Fundamentally, a jazz musician needs to be informed, aware and disciplined in their striving to communicate and express.

From there, we were treated to an experience of absolute cosmopolitan splendor; great music, new friends and new experiences in the middle of one of the world’s most vibrant cities.  

Finally, it was our turn to play. We performed 14th out of 15 bands — which is quite a long time to process the reality of playing in front of so many incredible musicians. Along the way, the inevitable was realized and a combined sense of fear and excitement gave way to focused confidence.

The best analogy I can give is like the experience of a trapeze artist — you practice enough until you can get it correct — with your eyes closed. You take the stage, set yourself in motion, let go, do your thing, and hope you come out on the other side alive and successful. We did it. The band played wonderfully; in many ways, better than rehearsed.

Our experience in New York City was/is truly transformational.

Yet, there was another experience we shared, just as profound, and just as life changing. We experienced overwhelming support from our community. Again, I must say the level of generosity we have received by our family and friends in the South Whidbey community has been immense and humbling. Every now and then, we stop to consider all the warmth and support we have received and it fills us to the brim. As Wynton would say, we get “All full up.”

Most sincerely, we wish to thank our community for their support and generosity. The Jazz at Lincoln Center staff commented several times on the uniqueness of our participation, as we arrived from so far away and from such a small community. I believe they felt the charm of our community and may have been just a little jealous. Rightly so.

In closing, I must thank Shelley Marsanyi and Dayle Gray for the many hours of organizational work required to keep us on track and heading in the right direction. In addition, I wish to share my appreciation for our other chaperones who helped keep the students together and ready to perform: David Gray, Robert Marsanyi and Marv Idso (who also organized an after-show meeting of the cast of “Rent”).

Thank you one and all!

Chris Harshman

Director of Bands

South Whidbey High School