Like most everything in our world over the last two years, school trips – even those that took place after the school year ended – were limited or canceled completely because of the COVID pandemic that swept the globe.

The Abilene High School choir was not immune to those cancellations as its annual trip in both 2020 and 2021 was called off because of out-of-control COVID spread in the country during those two springs.

However, with the pandemic seemingly under control, restrictions on trips were eased throughout the 2021-22 school year, which meant the AHS choir trip was back on after the school year ended. The Eagles were able to make their way to Colorado in early June for a few days of bonding, singing, and relaxation.

For the seniors in the choir, it was their first trip since their post-freshman year excursion to New York City in June 2019. For underclassmen, it was the first trip for them in the choir. That gave the seniors a unique chance to play the role of mentors for their younger counterparts.

“The seniors on this year’s trip have not been able to travel since they were freshmen,” said AHS Choir Director Wendy Weeks. “Our underclassmen have never been able to travel with their choirs or other school groups during their time in middle school. This trip was especially meaningful for this group of seniors in particular. I enjoyed watching these seniors taking the younger students under their wings, looking out for them, and intentionally reaching out to include them in activities.”

The Eagles bonded through several performances, including an impromptu mini-concert in Cave of the Winds in Colorado Springs, Colo. The next morning the group sang on the Wet Deck overlooking the Royal Gorge in Canon City, Colo. The students performed three acapella numbers and a “rousing rendition” of the school song “Dear, Old Abilene High.”

“When planning a trip for the choir, I try to strike a balance between sight-seeing, performing, and watching other performances as well,” Weeks said. “On this trip, we got to watch a live Western show at the Flying W Ranch. The students enjoyed the tight harmonies and amazing instrumental performances of the five men in the Flying W Wranglers. When you travel as a choir, you are often asked to give impromptu performances along the way”

On this particular evening, the AHS Choir was asked to open the show.

“Students traveling on the trip met for extra rehearsals before the trip to learn the music performed on the trip,” she said. “This provided yet another opportunity for singers from all choirs in our program to learn and sing together, as well as incorporating our younger singers into a choir with our most experienced ones.”

That bonding experience, Weeks said, is perhaps the most important piece of the trip.

“Shared experiences are an integral part of building large organizations like a choir,” she said. “It was very rewarding to watch singers from different choirs in our program form relationships throughout the trip. Traveling together gave our students many opportunities to get to know other AHS Choir members from other grades and other classes. There is something about an unfamiliar environment away from school that allows students a sort of freedom to make connections with new friends.”

Weeks said the new friendships and the bonding experience between members of different choirs help break down barriers and make them all one “family” unit.

“In a larger sense, traveling as the AHS Choir – not just a particular choir like the Concert Choir or Pure Gold – allows all of our students to feel connected to the program at large and to understand that they are each a part of a larger family, not just their choir class period,” she said. “Over time, these shared experiences, combined with our concert performances and social events throughout the school year, become a part of the culture of the organization and help to shape the identity of the program. It’s been such a joy to be able to return to these activities that connect students and teachers to each other and to the community around them.”

There was fun to be had, of course, as the group went white-water rafting down the Arkansas River. And even though only a handful of the group had been white-water rafting prior to the trip, the members of the choir figured it out by using teamwork and putting their new bonds to good use.

“Most of us – director included – were very apprehensive about this experience before the trip,” Weeks said. “We donned our wetsuits, divided our group between five separate rafts, and headed out with our guides onto the adventure of our lives. For the next two hours, we locked in our feet, paddled on our guide’s command, and learned to work together to navigate our rafts through Class 1, 2, and 3 rapids.

“We laughed, we screamed, we got completely soaked, and we happily celebrated after each rapid with a paddle high-five,“ she said. “The travelers that climbed out of the rafts that day were not the same travelers that got into them a couple of hours before. They were exhilarated, energized, and brimming with the kind of confidence that comes from truly stepping out – way out – of their comfort zones.”