NEW PORT RICHEY — When the world paused in Normandy, France on June 6 to remember one of the most compelling days of World War II, there were four Pasco County students who were there in person to both witness the ceremony as well as be participants in the historic occasion.
Four members of the J.W. Mitchell High School Band made their talents part of the 75th anniversary of D-Day remembrance performing as part of the Florida Music Ambassadors program.
Chloe Keating, Benjamin Fuller, Solomon Keim, and Samuel Powell auditioned to become members of the group and earned the chance to take part in the historic event and joined 23 other students from high schools all across the state.
During their 10-day European journey, the group also performed at Musica Nova International Academy of Music, in London, and the bandstand at the Jardin du Luxembourg, in Paris.
Joel Quinta, Mitchell High director of bands, said the trip gave the students a very special opportunity.
“It’s our goal to get our students involved in anything where they have an opportunity to grow as musicians and as people,” Quinta said. “An opportunity like this is perfect because it gives them the chance to take part in history and utilize their musical training to celebrate a pivotal moment in history.”
Klein, who is a graduating Mitchell senior, took his alto saxophone and Bb clarinet for the trip which has become the prologue to his entry into the Jacobs School of Music, at Indiana University, this fall.
“I wanted to be in this group to be able to create a new experience for myself in Europe and to commemorate those who fought,” Klein said. “By being a part of a new group, we are remembering those who died for a noble cause while also creating new memories for ourselves, meshing old and new customs.”
Klein said he researched the iconic Allied invasion before going and while there was able to visit the official D-Day museum where he learned more about “Churchill’s amazing plan, the hardships that came upon the Alles, and the hard-fought victory.”
Klein said he will never forget their performance at the Normandy American Cemetery, in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, where the group performed in sight of the 1,500 headstones marking those soldiers whose remains are not identified and “gazing out upon Omaha Beach.”
“From the bewildered and amazed children in London to the humble and solemn remembrance at Normandy to the happy passerby Parisians in the park, the Florida Music Ambassadors served an inspiration to their audiences and to its members,” Klein said.
Fellow alto saxophonist Samuel Powell, who will continue his music education at Pasco-Hernando State College this fall, said when the chance came to audition for the group, he knew it would be an “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I wasn’t too aware of Normandy at first,” Powell admitted, but said after learning more about the battles fought he found it “very interesting.”
“That last performance there was really amazing because of the view and the whole feeling of the group while playing,” Powell said.
Benjamin Fuller, bass trombonist, said he wanted to be a part of the group “in order to travel the world while playing my instrument.”
“I also wanted the honor of playing at Normandy,” he added. “Playing at that cemetery is something I will never forget.”
Chloe Keating, who will start her senior year at Mitchell this fall, took her also saxophone talents to play “at incredible places for an incredible reason.”
“We also played for primary school children and at the Champs de Mars, which is located in front of the Eiffel Tower,” Keating said.
“Westminster Abbey was one of my favorite places we visited,” she said. “It held the tombs of those who are talked about in classrooms such as Shakespeare and Isaac Newton.”
Quina said the high school helps to seek out and encourage students to take part in activities outside of their normal school day “because it helps create connections and experiences that will ultimately last a lifetime.”
“The school is proud of these four students for taking the initiative to audition and for representing us overseas in such a positive way,” he said.