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Polk band heads to China

It&squo;s been 14 months since the Polk County Marching Band received the invitation to take part in the pre-Olympics celebrations.

The Cadets began working feverishly to raise the money needed to get them to their destination.

Now, with all the hard work and sweat behind them, the Cadets will have one last practice session Monday afternoon before they load up and head to Atlanta to board a plane to Toronto.

The 44 Cadets, including two tubas, three baritones, eight trumpets, three mellophones, one tenor saxophone, two alto saxophones, seven flutes, three clarinets, ten percussion and five color guards, will stay overnight in Canada and then fly halfway around the world where the adventure will begin.

A community unites

A flight to the other side of the world isn&squo;t cheap. After the parents of the 44 band members paid some money, the Cadets still had a way to go. So each member of the band hit the streets, gathering as many donations as possible.

The Polk County community responded in full force, according to Polk band director Cindy Gilbert. It all started with a $6,000 donation from the Polk County Board of Realtors, Gilbert said.From that point on, the donations began pouring in, small and large.

&dquo;The community support was absolutely wonderful,&dquo; Gilbert said. &dquo;You couldn&squo;t ask for any more. More than half of the kids wouldn&squo;t be going if the community hadn&squo;t given.&dquo;

The Cadets also received an unrestricted grant of $9,000 from the Polk County Community Foundation.

Then there were all the odd and end jobs that the band took on in the community. They held money drives, sold sponsorships in the school program, put money cans out in the community and performed many concerts in and around the area for donations.

They also worked as ushers and handled other tasks for the play &dquo;Nunsense,&dquo; which was organized by Seth Davis as a fundraiser for the band&squo;s trip.

The most recent event the Cadets held was a barbecue hosted by Harry Denton.

When the fundraising dust settled, the Cadets had gathered

nearly $200,000 in donations to pay their way to China.

Even after it was announced that they&squo;d met their goal, Gilbert said people continued to call to make sure that everything was taken care of.

Preparation

The Cadets will not be visiting China without some preparation. Aside from the rigorous training to learn all the music they&squo;re expected to play, the Cadets went a little further to prepare for the Chinese culture they&squo;ll experience.

The Cadets took a full length course on China at Isothermal Community College, taught by Ed Kahn. For nearly ten weeks, the Cadets visited ICC once a week to learn about China.

They studied the history of the country, learned of its culture and even learned some of the Chinese language. They had visitors in class who have actually been to China.

Gilbert just wanted her students to be prepared, she said.

Once in China

The band is set to arrive in China next Wednesday. After working their way through customs, the Cadets will check into the Holiday Inn Express in Shanghai.

The first thing they&squo;ll do in China will be a tour of the city Hangzhou. They&squo;ll spend Thursday in the Yangtze Delta District city before returning to Shanghai.

The Cadets will visit some of the most well-known historical places in China. Some places on the tour will include a trip to Xi&squo;an, which was the Chinese capital under 13 dynasties, a visit to a five-story Buddhist temple called the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and a trip to the Great Wall.

The Cadets will also play an informal concert at the Great Wall, including a piece called &dquo;So Proudly We Hail.&dquo;

After absorbing the Chinese countryside and the city of Shangai, the Cadets will finally arrive in Beijing, where they&squo;ll tour the Olympic facilities.

Finally, on June 28, the Cadets and five other bands will perform a massed performance.

Culmination

The planning and fundraising for the trip to China has been nonstop, Gilbert said. Now, with just a few days leading up to the trip, Gilbert says her emotions and those of her students are running wild.

&dquo;I know we&squo;re all getting very excited,&dquo; she said.

But at the same time, there&squo;s lots of pressure and lots of stress, Gilbert said.

&dquo;Right now, I&squo;m kind of anxious,&dquo; she said. &dquo;I&squo;m worried I&squo;m not as organized as I need to be. I just want to make sure I get to China with 44 kids and get back with 44 kids.&dquo;

The band will be accompanied by 20 adults.

The band will touch down in the U.S. again on June 30 in Atlanta with memories that will last a lifetime.