A performance beyond expectations


To the Editor:

After two years of fundraising, four months of evening, Saturday and Sunday rehearsals, and months of intricate planning and coordination, 28 MVRHS Minnesingers and their chaperones boarded the ferry in Vineyard Haven bound for Prague in the Czech Republic. Suitcases packed with personal clothing, sound equipment, and show costumes were loaded on the ferry and a group of well wishers and supporters gathered to send them off for the experience of a lifetime. Venues were in place to perform their well rehearsed show, “An American Celebration,” for the European audiences. Spirits were high, the emotion was electric, the students were excited and full of anticipation of the days and nights ahead in Prague, described as the most beautiful city in the world and a mecca of musical and cultural history. And then the cell phone rang. A volcano in Iceland was erupting, air travel in and out of the heart of Europe was totally disrupted, and international air travel was in chaos. The group was instructed by the tour company to proceed to the airport and wait for further instructions. The bus arrived at the departure area, and the long wait began. Would they go? Would they be delayed? Would they turn around and go back to the Vineyard? As the time passed, the information about the effects of the volcanic cloud began to trickle in. The students waited anxiously, though with positive attitude that it would all come together. The bags and equipment remained on the bus. The bus sat at the departure area. The driver, Bonnie, was in communication with her boss, Jimmy. They were committed to the group’s situation and would do whatever it took to support their needs. Kudos to Jimmy and Bonnie.

The wait got longer. Anxiety increased by the minute, and yet the Minnesingers remained positive, entertained themselves by singing, and gave each other moral and emotional support. A Boston TV station showed up and seized the opportunity, filming the Minnesingers singing for the crowds, singing a James Taylor song, “Lonesome Road,” and belting out the words “never mind feeling sorry for yourself.”

The clip appeared on the evening news with an interview with their director and leader, Jan Wightman, then appeared the next day on Good Morning America. Meanwhile, the status of the trip grew more and more uncertain. The students remained stoic, supportive of each other and behaved as professionals, displaying attitudes that would put many adults to shame. The group was then instructed by the tour group to go to the Courtyard Inn Hotel and stay the night. Maybe things would be worked out in the morning. In the hotel, these young professional performers, still holding out hope that their tour would get back on track, represented the Vineyard and their school with behavior and discipline that far surpassed what would be expected from a group of teenagers in any situation. They performed in the hotel. They thanked the hotel employees for their efforts. The hotel staff came to the chaperones and commented on how well behaved and courteous they were. Kudos to these young adults. In the end, the long-awaited performing tour to Prague was cancelled. The kids took the news better than expected. Jimmy came to the rescue and sent a bus to the hotel to get the Minnesingers and troupe back to the ferry and ultimately back to the Vineyard where many of the same people, and more, greeted the would-be travelers. For the next three days, the group stayed on notice to see if anything would change. The Minnesingers parents’ group met through the days and nights trying to sort out the logistics. As the news of the global disaster became clearer, they all realized how lucky they were to be home, safe and sound, unlike the millions of people around the world who are suffering the fallout from this totally unprecedented and bizarre phenomenon. But the beat goes on. As of this letter, the Minnesingers are finding ways to make the best of everything. A performance was scheduled for Faneuil Hall in Boston for Wednesday, April 21, at noon. Rehearsals will continue once school vacation is over, and then the Minnesingers and their support group will bring this incredible performance to the entire Island for all to see. “An American Celebration” will include traditional choral selections, an American Jazz Mass and Motown favorites. It would be so terrific for these hard working, talented performers to see our Island community in the audience at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 8, at 8 pm and Sunday, May 9, at 3 pm to experience the dedication, hard work, and endless hours of rehearsals invested in this production. I have been most fortunate to have traveled with the Minnesingers over the past 12 years as they introduced their shows to Denmark, Lithuania, Germany, England, Ireland, and Austria. They always rose to the task as performers, ambassadors and young adults. On this abbreviated tour, they rose above it all and really blew me away.

John Wightman

John Wightman is married to Jan Wightman, Minnesingers director and chairman of the performing arts department at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.