Iceland volcano grounds Vineyard students


The Minnesingers concert tour to Prague in the Czech Republic started on a low note last Thursday when the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) choral group’s Air France flight from Logan Airport was canceled because of a volcanic eruption in Iceland that spread a deadly plume of gas and damaging ash across Europe.

Unfortunately, the Minnesingers were forced to go straight to a Friday finale. After spending Thursday night at a hotel near the airport, 28 students and their director, music teacher Janis Wightman, and six chaperones traveled home to Martha’s Vineyard after boarding a school bus sent to collect them, superintendent of schools James Weiss told The Times in a telephone conversation Friday.

In addition to being a wonderful travel experience, Ms. Wightman said the trip would have been an opportunity for the Minnesingers to perform their show before putting it on for the Island on May 8 and 9.

The Minnesingers rose from the ashes of their cancelled trip, however, to travel back to Boston yesterday to present an abbreviated show in the courtyard outside Faneuil Hall.

“It will be nice for them to at least get a chance to perform, since we haven’t practiced for a week,” Ms. Wightman said.

Although the Minnesingers board met Friday and the parents’ group on Sunday to consider possibly rescheduling the trip later this spring, Ms. Wightman said it would be a monumental task given everyone’s hectic schedules.

The volcano beneath Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier began erupting on April 14, according to news reports. The resulting ash plume drifted at between 20,000 feet and 36,000 feet, where it could get sucked into jet engines and cause them to shut down. The ash became a threat to air travel to the south and east of Iceland toward northern Europe, including Britain, which is about 1,200 miles away.

The ash led to the cancellation of thousands of flights in Europe and Great Britain. At least a dozen flights were cancelled between Europe and Boston’s Logan International Airport last Thursday, including the Minnesingers’.

The volcanic eruption also affected other MVRHS student trips.

For several years, West Tisbury School has been involved in a student exchange program with two high schools in England. Part of the group also does an exchange with MVRHS students. Teachers Corinne Kurtz and Catherine DeGrandpre and a group of 17 MVRHS students were delayed in Dublin for a couple of days last week because of cancelled flights to London.

Chaperone Judy Pizzella emailed MVRHS assistant principal Carlin Hart Tuesday that they had arrived in Yorkshire over the weekend.

Mr. Hart said that a trip to Spain went off as planned for Spanish teachers Jim Powell and Cindy West and a group of 16 students, whose scheduled flight took off last Friday.

Although the Minnesingers missed their moments in the limelight in Europe, a news segment, broadcast at 5 pm on April 16 by WBZ-TV on Channel 4, showed them singing outside the terminal at Logan Airport.

Every other year, Ms. Wightman explained to WBZ reporter Peg Rusconi, the Martha’s Vineyard Minnesingers travel to Europe for a concert tour. This year, they had four performances scheduled.

“Of all the things that could have gone wrong, a volcano in Iceland was the last thing I would have thought of,” Ms. Wightman said.