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Highland Band students perform at Pearl Harbor

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kelsey Renihan, Paige Wright, Kayla Ellis, Kristin Evans, Dylan Evans, Jacob Van Aalsburg and Nathan Ellis (from left to right) are Highland High School students who were nominated to perform with the Spirit of Arkansas Honor Band at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii this past summer. The students soaked up some tropical Hawaiian weather before performing in front of the USS Missouri memorial on July 6.
"To be there was very moving," Greg Bruner, Highland High School band director, said when referring to his and seven of his band members experience performing at Pearl Harbor.

A group called Spirit of Arkansas Honor Band and Choir is an organization that nominates exceptional band and choir students from all over the state to join together and perform. Bruner and seven of his band students got the chance to join the group in a trip to Hawaii over the summer.

Kayla Ellis, Nathan Ellis, Paige Wright, Jacob Van Aalsburg and Dylan Evans are five of the seven students who attended the Hawaii trip. Kelsey Renihan and Kristin Evans also attended but have since graduated.

The group of students who were nominated to perform at Pearl Harbor July 6 were accompanied by Greg and Hope Bruner at Highland's first home football game. The group proudly dedicate the American Flag that flew over the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor July 4, during their stay in Hawaii, to the high school. Principal Don Carithers accepted the flag on behalf of the school. Photo/Amanda Powers
The seven students from Highland High School arrived in West Memphis July 1 and rehearsed with students from all over the state for two days. The night of July 2, the group performed at a concert in West Memphis and flew out July 3 for Hawaii.

Over 160 people participated in the trip to Hawaii. "It was quite a task keeping up with all of the students," Bruner said. "They were on three different flights." Bruner and his wife Hope, a music teacher at Highland, served as staff members with the group. Dr. Jerry Ellis and his wife Brenda along with Kim Evans, accompanied the group as well.

The group spent six days on Oahu Island touring many of the sights the island has to offer. When asked what they found interesting during their trip, the students were still so excited from their trip they all tried to talk at once. They all agreed one of the most interesting things they got to see was the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The students recalled that the center provided a lot of information about the seven areas of Polynesian Culture. While visiting the Polynesian Center the students got to attend the Ali'i luau. "The poi -- yuck!" Dylan Evans said with a scrunched nose, about one of the dishes served at the luau.

The group said that while they did not get to island hop on the trip they did go on a dinner cruise. "I don't think we will do that again if we go back," Bruner said with a smile. "About 10 people got seasick during the cruise."

The students also talked about getting to snorkel in Hanauma Bay and their trip to North Shore. "North Shore was one of the best beaches because it was so quiet and calm," Bruner said.

The girls, Kayla Ellis and Paige Wright, recalled the fun they had while hiking Diamond Head. "It was really amazing," Ellis recalled. Bruner said their hotel was right by, what the tour guide called, the Rodeo Drive of Waikiki. When he said that both girls just smiled. The group laughed as they recalled the ABC stores. They explained these stores were like super convenience stores and they were on every corner. "I got an $.89 bottle of rubbing alcohol and it cost like $4," Bruner chuckled.

The group all laughed when they recalled visiting the Dole Pineapple Maze. They said they all tried the maze and had five minutes to complete it. "It was like the hardest think ever," Wright laughed. The maze was recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest maze in 2001.

Several of the students said they shipped pineapples home from the Dole Pineapple Plantation. They said there were pineapples for sale at the airport but they weren't like the Dole Pineapples.

The students also went to a macadamia nut farm where they learned a little bit about the industry. "It takes a macadamia nut tree seven years to grow enough to produce nuts," Jacob Van Aalsburg recalled from the information he had learned. "We visited the nut farm," the group joked.

"Hawaii was fun but the people we met and made friends with is what made it more fun," Dylan Evans said of his experience. Evans said he made two close friends from Benton and went to stay with them before school started back.

On July 7 the group performed a patriotic ceremony in front of The USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor. The Missouri is the ship where the government signed the peace treaty ending World War II.

The concert included songs like "God Bless America," "Star Spangled Banner" and "Eternal Father Strong to Save" (a naval hymn).

During Highland's first home football game, Sept. 12, Greg and Hope Bruner along with the students who attended the Hawaii trip met Principal Don Carithers at the 50 yard line before the game. The group presented Carithers with an American flag that was flown over the USS Arizona Memorial July 4, 2008.

"The USS Arizona still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor where it was sunk on Dec. 7, 1941," the announcer read from Bruner's dedication. "The oil that still seeps from the ship is called black tears and is said to represent the tears of those who mourn the death of the nearly 1,200 men entombed in the hull of the ship, The flag is presented to Highland High School and the Highland High School Band in honor of their performance at Pearl Harbor. The group experienced a very moving and major part of our American history while in Hawaii. It is an experience they will never forget."

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