The Weston-McEwen High Pipes, Drums and Band has experienced something most people never will. Last week, the 40-student band played music at some of the nation's most treasured monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial.
Band Director Rob McIntyre said playing in a place like that felt special, even though when they played at the Lincoln Memorial, it was the hottest day last week.
The band played on the steps of the reflecting pool, facing the columns and Abraham Lincoln's statue.
"I think playing at the Lincoln Memorial was emotional, but it was so hard to think about anything else but playing," he said. "I would look at the statue and it would kind of choke me up."
"It was cool," reflected Clifford Smith, the band's drum major.
The band, accompanied by about 30 adult chaperones, took a whirlwind tour around New York City and Washington, D.C. last week, performing four times and experiencing museums, monuments and city life. They also played at the Statue of Liberty, the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum (a World War II aircraft carrier converted to a museum on the Hudson River), and the Old Post Office Pavilion (an old Victorian building renovated into a shopping mall).
In places such as the Intrepid and the Lincoln Memorial, where there was room, the band marched in and performed music with their routine. In other places, such as the Old Post Office Pavilion, they simply played in place because there wasn't room for marching.
They played a medley of songs that McIntyre said some students had been working on for the last four years. It included Irish tunes, classic Scottish drumming and patriotic songs, one of which McIntyre composed himself.
"Our kids and our adults made a favorable impression on everybody," McIntyre said, noting the kids were polite and respectful. He said even the coach drivers, two retired military colonels "fell in love with our kids."
They also visited many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum and the Smithsonian. They visited he Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall, New York's Macy's, Central Park and a show on Broadway. They saw memorials for World War II and Iwo Jima. They saw national landmarks, including George Washington's Mount Vernon estates and gardens, Arlington National Cemetery and the Capitol building where they met with Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden.
"It's nice to see it," Clifford said. "It's all recognizable. You can remember it all."
When they performed, it was often for tourists visiting the sights. And they often wore their tartan regalia.
"People treated us like celebrities," McIntyre said. Tourists from France, Japan and the Ukraine were all over them, they said. "... I always want the kids to play well and look sharp - and they did."
"This guy was mobbed," said Elizabeth McIntyre, Rob's wife and also a teacher at Weston-McEwen, pointing at Clifford.
Clifford said he felt like he fit right in in New York, and apparently he wasn't the only one who thought so. He said people asked him for directions all the time.
"I think that was cool," Clifford said."I've been to Chicago, but it's not like New York. "I liked walking in New York, the open opportunities, lots to experience. It's diversity first hand. There's everything there, no shortage of anything. Diversity is what I like."
He said he loved experiencing "skyscraper canyon" and being given "free reign," with chaperones, of course, to check out the city on their first night. He said he tried as many different meals as he could. A $28 plate of linguini with scallops and mussels, some dishes from China Town he couldn't describe and a gyro from a street vendor - the best meal he had, he said.
Not everyone felt so at home so far from home. McIntyre said some students experienced culture shock. But he said he thought the experience of getting so far from Athena was important. He also hoped it was eye-opening for them.
"I always tell the kids that we're from a small town and being from a small town doesn't mean you can't go about things on a grand scale," McIntyre said. "It might help them make the decision on where they want to live when they are older."
Clifford said he wants to live in New York.
"But also appreciate what you have now," McIntyre advised. "Then decide."
The Weston-McEwen band goes on a big trip about once every four years, so each four-year group of students gets to have an experience like this. The band's last trip was in 2005 to Scotland. McIntyre said he hasn't begun planning the next trip yet - he's taking a bit of a break.
But each time he hopes the students take away the feeling of experiencing something bigger, whether it's touring museums and cities or playing at places like the Statue of Liberty.
That was another place McIntyre said was an emotional spot to play. Unlike at the Lincoln Memorial, it was a nice day. The band took a ferry out to the island and set up behind the statue, in the space known as the flag pole area.
"It was just a gorgeous morning," McIntyre said.