Two Flathead High School honor music students are heading to Europe in early July for an elite 16-day performance tour through seven countries.
Alec McLauchlin and Connor Bullins, both 16-year-olds who recently finished their sophomore years, were nominated to participate in the Northern Ambassadors of Music, a program through North Dakota State University (NDSU) that invites top high school music students from Montana and North Dakota each year to participate in the tour.
This year’s tour, the 10th overall, kicks off with all 260 invited band and choir students gathering at NDSU in Fargo for four days of rehearsals, orientations and a performance, followed by their departure overseas on July 9.
When McLauchlin and Bullins heard they were nominated last year, they had to quickly start raising $7,000 for the trip, which meant securing jobs and collecting what they could from family. McLauchlin grinded out hours at Little Caesars while Bullins worked at World Spice Merchants, fitting the gigs into already busy school schedules.
“He’s been handed nothing in this process,” McLauchlin’s father, Derrick McLauchlin, said of his son. “He’s worked very hard in his music and worked extremely hard in a job. Balancing those things, from a dad’s perspective, I just couldn’t be prouder of him.”
The result of the students’ hard work is a musical odyssey to a foreign land. Neither has ever been to Europe.
“The trip of a lifetime,” Alec McLauchlin said. “I’m really stoked for it.”
“I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about (Europe) and I’m really looking forward to seeing all the places I’ve heard so much about,” Bullins said.
The boys are members of the Flathead High School music program under director David Johnke. They have played with each other since sixth grade in middle school, cycling through instruments until landing on their current ones: baritone saxophone for McLauchlin and tenor sax for Bullins.
McLauchlin said he has also taught himself piano and guitar.
“Music is just something I love,” McLauchlin said. “It’s such a great passion of mine.”
Derrick McLauchlin said Northern Ambassadors of Music are nominated based on their level of musicianship, leadership and character. Each nominee received a letter of proclamation from the governor of his or her state.
Dr. Warren Olfert, director of bands at NDSU, will serve as the tour’s music director. He will conduct one of two honor bands, along with Sigurd Johnson of NDSU, while Mark Herold, band director at Legacy High School in Bismarck, will direct a jazz ensemble. Cheryl McIntyre, choir director at Jamestown High School in Jamestown, will conduct the honor choir.
Voyageurs International Ltd., a Denver-based agency, designs the tour. The students will perform in a variety of settings in England, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Italy and Germany.
Both McLauchlin and Bullins have been playing music since they were young kids. Bullins plans to likely go into physics in college but continue playing music, while McLauchlin would like to study music in college and hopes to use this experience in his application process.
“Out of nowhere I got this great opportunity and invitation, and I thought, ‘Wow, it’s all kind of paying off now,’” McLauchlin said.