A lucky girl wins at Disney World

The Baltimore Sun

Any day spent at Walt Disney World is bound to be a good day, but last Friday proved especially nice for one lucky musician in the Mount Hebron High School marching band.

In Orlando, Fla., to perform in Disney's Magic Music Days festival, the 165-member band was marching along Main Street, U.S.A., when the drum major signaled them to halt. A stage had been wheeled into the middle of the road, blocking the band's path.

As band members wondered what was going on, senior Tracie Ervin's name suddenly was announced as the 2-millionth student performer at Disney World since the festival began in 1985.

When Ervin walked onto the stage, "she made the cutest face you have ever seen," said Disney spokeswoman Christine DeMichael. When the four-year band member learned that Disney was presenting her with an array of prizes, including a free vacation, she couldn't believe her good fortune.

"I was completely shocked and blown away," said Ervin, who plays the mellophone, a brass instrument used by marching bands as a substitute for the more cumbersome French horn. "It took me a couple of hours to process everything. Even now, I look at my parents and say, 'Can you believe it?'"

"We knew in advance that we would hit the 2 million mark when Mount Hebron was scheduled to be here," DeMichael said, but theme park staff still didn't clue in Robert Johnston, the band's director for 34 years, until the morning of the ceremony.

She said Disney invited Mount Hebron Principal David Brown and Howard County's superintendent of schools, Sydney L. Cousin, to come to the theme park, though officials provided no explanation as to what would take place. Cousin designated Assistant Superintendent Linda Wise as his representative.

"We simply told these officials that we knew they really wouldn't want to miss what we were planning," DeMichael said. Disney provided their round-trip airfare and overnight hotel accommodations.

"Linda and I had been contacted two weeks before the band trip, but we were given no idea what to expect," said Brown, explaining they had flown down together the morning of March 13. "There is brand recognition with Disney, though, and a built-in degree of trust, so we decided to go."

Brown said he and Wise were supposed to steer clear of band members, but that he accidentally ran into a few students on the park grounds. "I said hello, but they probably thought I was standoffish since I never asked about their performance the next day."

Johnston had been asked to supply the names of five seniors in his band who would best represent the school, DeMichael said, and then Disney officials selected the final winner.

"Our band is such a huge piece of the culture of Mount Hebron," said Brown. "I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be with these students at a very special moment. Everything was spectacularly done, and Disney could not have picked a better student for this honor."

Ervin, who has played French horn since fourth grade, said she plans to play in an ensemble or band when she attends college this fall and may minor in music. She plans to major in civil and environmental engineering.

Disney gave Ervin an overnight stay in the Cinderella Castle Suite, which she shared with her sister Julie, a freshman French horn player, and her parents, Peggy and William Ervin, who had accompanied the band as chaperones.

"The room was absolutely perfect down to every detail," Ervin said. "We were treated like royalty by the staff, who were very kind and attentive."

"The room comes with a concierge, who is instructed to obey the visitors' every whim," said DeMichael, but Ervin said the only thing her family requested was an early breakfast, which was elaborately served in their suite.

"My sister and I returned to the park on Saturday with guides who got us into rides and shows without waiting in any long lines," Erwin said. "That was very cool."

She also received a $500 gift certificate to Conn-Selmer Inc., a musical instrument manufacturer, and an engraved Mickey Mouse statuette.

Mount Hebron was presented with a larger Mickey trophy to display at the school.

Last, but not least, Ervin was given a voucher for a weeklong Disney vacation for four, including airfare, hotel, park passes and meals, said DeMichael.

"I am still talking about how unbelievable it all was," Ervin said. "It was wonderful that Mr. Brown and Ms. Wise could be there. It was truly an honor to represent Mount Hebron."

The school's band has performed 15 times at Walt Disney World, Johnston said, launching a tradition of traveling by bus every other year shortly after the theme park opened in 1971. This year, five buses carrying 208 students and chaperones made the five-day trip that ended Monday.

"One of the nicest compliments I have ever received is that Disney organizers knew they could rely on us -- due to our long history with their music program -- to represent them in a way they would want to be represented," he said. "They could have selected another school, but they picked us."

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