MHS Music Department Takes on Puerto Rico


Wikimedia Commons

San Juan is known for its beautiful beaches and rich culture. Music students will be able to fully immerse themselves in the island’s culture when they travel there over spring break.

Kaelana Faessler and Marin Durkee

On the morning of March 25, roughly 210 Middleton High School (MHS) music students, along with teachers and chaperones, will depart from Middleton and begin their spring break adventure to the island of Puerto Rico. Students will spend six days exploring and learning about the rich culture that Puerto Rico’s towns and cities have to offer, as well as performing amongst the community.  

This tour will be the Music Department’s first large trip after the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, music students were getting ready to travel to Minneapolis for a weekend when the trip was canceled due to travel restrictions. They were set to leave on March 13, the day Governor Evers implemented strict gathering size restrictions. As a result, the Music Department has not taken a department-wide tour since the MHS Band and Orchestra students traveled to Spain in the spring of 2019. 

Although the Puerto Rico tour will be the first to occur in four years and the first trip post-COVID-19, there are few differences from previous trips the MHS Music Department has gone on. The only difference, according to Director of Bands Eric Rothacker, is a sense of appreciation. For most students, this will be their first trip with the Music Department, and since the height of the pandemic, many people have not been able to travel. 

“These trips provide kind of a reinvigoration of what they’re doing [with music],” Rothaker said. “Hopefully [students will] remember the memories that [they] went with their friends on some event or trip performance.”

Students in all ensembles are looking forward to experiencing this opportunity. Junior Reganne Hartman, a band student, is most looking forward to “spending time with friends” and “getting to play music in band.” 

Taylor Johnson, also a student in the band, has a similar excitement for the tour. 

“I’m looking forward to getting to spend time with my friends and have something to do over spring break, and also the itinerary makes the trip look really fun. So I’m hyped,” Johnson said.

The itinerary is jam-packed with activities and events allowing students to experience the rich music culture of Puerto Rico, a tropical U.S. Territory in the Caribbean. Music students will be participating in several performances and be able to exchange and meet with local groups and schools.

Band students plan to perform music exclusively by Wisconsin composers, bringing a little bit of home with them to San Juan, and choir and orchestra students will be working with a professional vocalist from the Madison area who will travel with the department. MHS music groups will also get the chance to work with local musicians and artists. 

Beyond music, students will have opportunities to explore San Juan and other parts of Puerto Rico including Bayamon, Lajas and the territory’s second-largest city, Ponce. At these destinations, students will spend their break taking in the sights, shopping on the streets and even a night ride through a bioluminescence bay. 

Students can expect benefits from this trip aside from beaches and warm weather. 

“It’s a good opportunity for people to connect through music, both in their love of music and an appreciation for a different culture, and allows us to step outside of our comfort zone,” Rothacker said. 

Though the trip there will be a little hectic — students are flying out of different airports, have different arrival times and locations and have layovers in several states — the music teachers do not foresee many setbacks during the excursion, which has been planned well in advance. 

Rothacker is personally looking forward to getting to work with the school bands in Puerto Rico. He reflected on his favorite memory from the 2019 Spain trip when the band worked with a Spanish band. Despite the language barrier, “[he students] realized, oh, they’re just as weird and goofy as us in high school, but from a different perspective,” Rothacker said. 

With anticipation brewing as spring break draws closer, Rothacker hopes students will appreciate the cultural experience Puerto Rico has to offer. 

“Although it’s Puerto Rico — it could be Spain, it could be Iceland, it could be Antarctica, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “There are people everywhere that have an appreciation for music, that share those similar human emotions that we try to express through music. I think it’s important to understand that music can be a connection or a bridge between people and cultures and areas.”