Cancellations Complete Band's Bad-Luck Year

Cancellations Complete Band's Bad-Luck Year

McLean High Band has mixed feelings about canceled trip to China

The sniper curtailed its marching season. Snow days eliminated rehearsals for its winter competitions. The war in Iraq canceled its spectacular trip to China over spring break.

The McLean High School band has had a bad-luck year.

When the McLean Band parents tried to reschedule the China trip for the summer, airline space was not available. And even if it had been, the SARS scare had grown into a major health menace.

In hindsight, it was probably a good decision that the band’s trip to Beijing was canceled, said band parent Mary Ramshaw.

“We didn’t go for the wrong reason. But it’s a good thing we didn’t go for the right reason,” she said.

“I am not sure terrorism should have kept us from going to China, but it is a good thing we didn’t go to China. The SARS thing is worse,” she said.

“When these decisions were coming down, nobody knew the extent of the SARS epidemic, particularly in Beijing, where we were going,” she said. “People thought it was not that bad and it was under control.

“In hindsight, we are glad we were not in China last week,” said Ramshaw. “We would have just gotten back Saturday. Every time a child sneezed or coughed, we probably would have been in a panic,” particularly with news stories this week reporting that the seriousness of the SARS epidemic may have been downplayed by Chinese officials.

MCLEAN BAND PARENTS president Dick Vodra takes the long view. It was a crushing disappointment to lose the China trip, he said, particularly when he heard the band play at its April 1 concert.

“We had been focusing on fund-raising and logistics,” Vodra said. “When we actually heard the music, we thought the quality of performance should have been on international display.”

The disappointment was palpable, especially after the hours and days that band members and their parents spent raising more than $100,000 to pay for the trip.

“This trip, always a neat thing, was going to be a spectacular thing,” Vodra said. “We have not come up with an alternative. It will be more on the scale of a dinner than a trip.

“The reason [Fairfax County Public Schools] canceled was because of the war. But then the SARS thing was making people even more nervous and was a bigger risk,” said Vodra.

“It’s hard to imagine all the what-ifs. At this point, the war seems to have been resolved, at least this phase of it.

“But I can understand the School Board needs to be cautious.

“It’s a big school district. If it was a little district with one high school, and everybody knew everybody else, you could figure it out on a case-by-case basis.

“You feel sorry for yourself, but nobody died, nobody got bombed, and nobody got sick. There are a lot of things worse than not going to China,” he said.

Vodra says refunds to families will recoup most of what they paid for the trip.

“We have voted to hold the balance in an account for a future trip,” Vodra said.

“Since the community gave us money to travel, we will use it for that purpose, just not this year. “It will be more than $10,000, but less than $25,000” for a future trip, Vodra said.

Some families had said they won’t claim their refunds but will leave them as donations for a trip the band could make in the future.

“We are probably going to file a claim on the travel insurance,” Vodra said. “There is a war exclusion, but not a plague exclusion.”

Ramshaw said United Airlines agreed to refund the money for the unused tickets, rather than issuing travel vouchers.

The parents will lose a cancellation fee for the tickets and the cost of the first night of their hotel stay.

LAST FALL, the marching band won first place in its class and fourth overall at a regional competition sponsored by Bands of America.

“The band had a superb show, but we lost a bunch of rehearsals and never got the show to the level we wanted. We had to miss the last competitive performance” in Norfolk because of the sniper scare, Vodra said.

And despite all the snow days that canceled Wednesday night rehearsals, in the district band festival, the McLean band was the only one to score the highest rating for both its concert and symphonic ensembles, Vodra said.

Good, but not what they had hoped.