The Mohonasen Select Orchestra traded in its high school auditorium for an open stage in the heart of Epcot in early April.
Their melodies carried throughout Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., while thousands of park-goers stopped to listen to their 20-minute performance on the Melody Gardens stage.
“We got to perform for thousands of people,” said Ashley Blanchard, a senior violin player. “It was an amazing experience.”
The Mohonasen Select Orchestra is used to playing in competitions, especially at Disney World, but this year was different. Instead of sitting in front of a panel of judges, the students played as their audience walked by. Throughout the day, people stopped the group members in the park, who were wearing Mohonasen T-shirts, to tell them how much they enjoyed their performance.
“They really enjoyed being in front of so many people. I think they felt really good about themselves,” said Kimberly Kondenar, the orchestra teacher. “They played really well and worked so hard to get there. They had such great feedback from people they had never met before.”
The Mohonasen Select Orchestra, made up of about 20 students from both the middle and high school, memorized a 20-minute set that included popular songs such as “Firework” by Katy Perry and “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. Kondenar said she felt this experience put the students in more of a real-life situation and gave them a taste of what it is like to play and please an audience.
“For me personally, we had done so many of those traditional competitions in the past,” Kondenar said. “I kind of felt like the students needed a little bit of a challenge.”
The Disney Performing Arts program has been around since the opening of Disneyland in 1955, according to Angie Kline, the program’s spokeswoman. The program gives groups the opportunity to perform at any of the Disney park venues and also attend workshops if they wish.
“We are definitely looking for a standard of performance quality,” Kline said. “We choose groups based on talents and entertainment level.”
Kondenar described the application process as fairly rigorous, saying that it included submitting video of different performances by the group. Students attended a camp last summer in preparation for the upcoming school year. At that time, they recorded the performances for the application. A few weeks later, Kondenar was notified by Disney that they were selected.
After months of preparation and rehearsals, the orchestra members, along with 15 chaperones, drove down to Disney World. They spent about a week in the parks along with daily rehearsals. The performance was at the end of the week. Kondenar said this trip was important for many reasons.
“I think for some of these kids this is the only time they will ever go on a vacation,” she said.
Kondenar also said some of the students had never been to the ocean, so the group made time to do that as well.
“Not a lot of schools can allow field trips anymore because of the budget,” Kondenar said. “Our school is very supportive of the music program here.”
Kline said the program hopes to introduce students to the many career options they have as musicians, especially at Disney World.
Kondenar and her students expressed gratitude towards Mohonasen, Disney and their parents for allowing this opportunity.
“We are a family,” Blanchard said. “Playing was just a ton of fun.”