Erika Buiter — Staff Writer
Friday, March 8: Over 80 sleepy students trickled into the hallways of the B.J. Haan, trailing luggage, pillows and backpacks. Percussion instruments pushed through clogged groups of people to fill up an impossibly small Rent-All trailer, while brass instruments and more disappeared into the bowels of a Windstar bus. Chaos, chatter and questions flew—and then, half an hour late, the students boarded the busses.
But the hectic start of the 2019 Spring Concert Band and Chamber Orchestra Tour would be nothing compared to the following week.
The tour began with a performance at Dakota Christian School in Corsica, South Dakota, where students experienced their first nights with host families. Senior Kylie Van Wyhe, a violinist, stayed with the Bentz family in Platte, South Dakota, along with four other girls.
“They were very friendly and they made homemade monkey bread,” Van Wyhe said.
With one concert under their belts, students buckled up for two long days on the road. The busses planned to drive to Layton, Utah, on Saturday, and then to Boise, Idaho, on Sunday, but South Dakota’s weather had other plans.
On Saturday, March 9, strong winds and ditches full of snow created whiteout conditions on the roads, forcing the drivers to make an unplanned two-hour stop in Martin, South Dakota. A town of around 1,000 people located near the Pine Ridge reservation, Martin witnessed Dordt students swarming convenience stores, a Family Dollar and even a small bar before being herded into a local gymnasium to wait out the wind.
“We played Spicy Uno in the community center,” Van Wyhe said. “The most sketchy thing was walking around downtown. I got a huge glass of pop for 89 cents. That was a big moment in my life.”
At 4:00 pm, the sun shone and the winds died, but even as the busses made their way back onto the road, other problems were brewing. Now several hours behind schedule, making it to Layton, Utah, was out of the question. First-time tour directors Susan De Jong and Daniel Baldwin were faced with a near-impossible task: Find a hotel in Casper, Wyoming, that could hold more than 80 students on short notice.
And the problems only compounded. The Windstar bus drivers had regulations to follow, including switching to new drivers in Casper. If they couldn’t make it in time, the tour would be stranded.
“I was definitely stressed on Saturday,” sophomore clarinetist Kaysha Steiger said. “I was nervous about the weather before leaving on tour. I was like, ‘This isn’t going to go well,’ and it wasn’t the most ideal situation.”
De Jong and Baldwin found a Super 8 in Casper, and a new plan took shape: The tour would have to cancel a church performance on Sunday, and the new drivers would meet the busses outside of Casper. The group arrived late, tired and hungry. After claiming their rooms, 33 students filled up an IHOP to get supper.
Steiger kept the group entertained by introducing them to the “lemon eating club” at IHOP.
“It’s when you eat the whole lemon, including the rind, that’s provided in your water,” Steiger said.
“Just as we put the lemons in our mouth, the waitress showed up,” sophomore cellist Daniel Munson said. “I thought it was really funny ‘cause we couldn’t order and she looked at us weird.”
Afterwards, students sang “Thank You, Friends”, a time-honored tour tradition when students sing to the hosts that provide them with food on their stops.
“Unfortunately, we scared the living daylights out of the waitress after pounding on the table during our song,” Van Wyhe.
The next morning, students emerged rested, refreshed, and nourished. With a 10-plus hour drive remaining, there wouldn’t be time for long stops on the way to Boise, Idaho.
Then the replacement bus drivers hit a deer.
“You just can’t make this stuff up,” De Jong said.
Effectively stopped until new drivers Henry and Jason could get a new rental car and continue on their way, the busses stayed at a standstill for more than an hour. But they made it—and despite the setback, the students arrived at their host families in Boise.
When Steiger entered her host family’s home, she discovered a trove of taxidermy.
“I first saw an African Gazelle in their living room, and then we get into the bonus room and there were animals from all over,” Steiger said. “There was a very large grizzly bear in this room, which was where I slept, so every once in a while I’d wake up and see the looming shadow of the bear. It was fun.”
With the first three hectic days done, the remaining seven days of tour stretched out in front of the group: six concerts and two assemblies to go.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday featured performances in Sunnyside, Shoreline and Lynden, Washington, with a stop for free time in downtown Seattle.
“I found a non-tourist-trap fish market,” senior cellist Micah Adams said. “They had the best clam chowder I’ve ever had.”
“We were walking along the boardwalk and we saw this guy fishing,” senior cellist Ellie Steensma said. “He said he was fishing for metal, and all of the sudden he pulls up a chair out of the water! Seattle is weird.”
Thursday, March 14, brought a new stop and new connections. Both South Dakota and Washington have areas filled with Dordt alumni and current students, but Hood River, Oregon, only has one connection to Dordt: the Ryans. Locally famous for their apple cider, the Ryan twins, James David and Sarah, are the only students in their area to attend Dordt.
“I think the audience was really engaged in the music and it was heartwarming to see people excited about it,” Van Wyhe said. “Our cello soloist, Jaren Brue, got a standing ovation for his boss cello solo.”
Several groups of students stayed in mountain cabins owned by the Ryans, giving them an especially beautiful view of Mt. Hood. But despite the relative peace of the weekdays, problems lurked beneath the surface.
During the Meridian, Idaho concert, a violinist’s bow snapped right before a song began, and a nasty cold left bus driver Jason unable to continue. And then the replacement driver missed his flight in Vegas.
“I didn’t mind it too much, I just thought it was kinda funny,” senior contrabass clarinetist Ben Noble said.
Forced to leave one Windstar bus behind in Idaho, coincidence granted the tour a temporary bus and driver—Paul, a retired law enforcement officer. Thanks to his driving, the tour made it to Blackfoot, Idaho, where they reloaded into yet another replacement bus. The tight driving schedule resulted in the tour getting to their destination of Manhattan, Montana, an hour and a half before concert time.
“I thought our performance was better than the Boise concert for sure,” Noble said.
“I felt melancholy about it being the last concert of the tour,” Adams said. “For having no prep time, it went exceptionally well, although it wasn’t our best concert.”
With the final tour concert over, students loaded up the busses on Sunday. Thirteen hours stood between them and home, plus a stop at Mt. Rushmore, which put their ETA at around 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. Monday morning. Polled by Baldwin and De Jong, students overwhelmingly voted to skip Rushmore. With only a few stops for food and yet another bus and driver change, the tour rolled into Dordt at 1:00 a.m.
Eight drivers, seven concerts, five busses, and three assemblies later, the band and orchestra disappeared to their dorms and apartments. They will perform their tour pieces one last time at their homecoming concert on Friday, March 22.
“For the most part, I really enjoyed this trip,” Noble said.