Conductor’s Journal: Italy, Day One

[The first of eleven installments of Maestro Liuzzi’s journal, originally posted by Josh Yarden at, July 25th, 2015]

All City Orchestra Italy Tour 2015

by Don Liuzzi






June 20th. Leaving Philadelphia
We’re driving to the Kimmel Center with Michael Fuller’s bass. He is an alum playing on this tour. (I am so proud of Michael – We bought him his bass through our All City instrument fund in 2009, and he starts playing with The New World Symphony in Miami this September) We have lots of percussion equipment in carry-on bags, and my shoulder bag is weighted down with scores. Tons of excitement (and trepidation) in my thoughts… Launch time is finally here.

It’s 7:53AM as I pull up towards the back of Kimmel Center. I glance over to see if students are arriving at the Spruce street entrance – It’s jammed with cars and parents and kids hauling their suitcases and instruments. They are all EARLY!
Lots to figure out… Get the students in groups. Pack the trombones in cases that will go underneath the plane. Distribute the performing polo shirts to everyone. Distribute the music stands to go in all the student’s suitcases. Weigh everyone’s bag to make sure it is nowhere near 50 pounds! The boxes of tour books are opened (Vanessa has done a beautiful design job!) and I start distributing them to eager parents in the lobby. The students will get theirs just before the buses arrive.

All the students have put on their Phillies shirts. Some have creatively cut the sleeves and made them into tank tops… as long as everyone has a red shirt on we’ll be able to see them in the airports!

As the students and chaperones separate each other into groups with their bags (when will the sniffing dog team arrive?), the excitement is clearly palpable in the Kimmel Commonwealth Plaza. Dear Anna Nguyen is asking me about Italy, the food, the plane, and everything else that is to come. She and the entire 117 strong orchestra can’t wait.

9:20 – Organization has set in. Word comes in that there will be no dog sniffing team coming. I think the students are all too smart to bring any illegal substances on this trip – I have tried to scare them enough anyhow!

9:55-ish… Bus #1 arrives for the JFK contingent…a cheer goes up. About 25 students and chaperones haul their cases and instruments over to Broad Street, quickly load and on to the bus. They take off to cheers from the rest, around 10:10.
10 minutes later we learn someone on the JFK bus has left a violin in the Kimmel lobby…Oops! Too excited to bring their violin?? The bus circles back to pick it up…sigh. Nick and Raven wait with the violin in hand and pass it quickly onto the JFK bus.

10:15 – The two buses for Newark show to more cheers! GAMP teacher Vince Rutland’s booming voice urges everyone to STOP and LISTEN — I mentally call his voice the Enforcer! We are to approach the buses in the various designated groups: A and B, then C and D, and finally Group E all go to their respective buses to get their suitcases loaded underneath. The full departure of the All City Orchestra Tour, a party of 141, is almost done.

Final hugs from some remaining parents, and all are bus boarded. We shove off on time… Whew! Close to 11AM, and I am already exhausted. I doze half way up the NJ Turnpike.

12:50-ish… We arrive at Newark International, and the organization of checking in starts. We line up at a special United group check-in area, plenty early for our 5:10PM departure! Check in commences gradually but smoothly. We pay for the oversized bags: 3 trombones, a camera tripod bag and the percussion equipment suitcase. Vanessa’s camera case is too big to a carry-on. We scramble to put her extra camera and lenses in my carry-on back pack.

We all eventually get through security, and by 2:40 we realize we have LOTS of airport time. Better to be early and relaxed then to rush!

Laden with my score bag and a back pack with extra cameras and lenses, I realize I am famished. Lots of students go for burgers. I stop at a sushi place… my last sushi for 10 days! Watching a documentary spots about the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys from the 80’s, I chow (ciao) down on great sushi and clear my palette for the pasta to come!

3:50 – Time to get to gate 110. The students are all there, some hacky sack has broken out, along with tired anticipation. For some, this will be the first flight ever.

4:20 – Boarding commences. I am worried about all the instruments getting on board with no “gate checks”. The United boarding person is freely passing out and attaching gate check tags – I am worried and annoyed. Don’t they know the rules regarding the allowance of musical instruments? Vanessa gets permission to film. I watch happily as they line up to board… A dream has come true.

Fortunately, the plane crew on board realizes that no instruments should go underneath the plane (other than the heavily packed trombones in flight cases!) I whisper to the head flight attendant a big thanks for getting all the instruments in overheads and closets. She agrees to have the captain welcome the Philadelphia All City Orchestra during take-off, and she asks me if some instruments can be opened for an impromptu concert. I am leery. Everyone is excited AND tired… We don’t need a half-baked concert on a plane going viral on YouTube. If there is a delay on the tarmac I might go for it.

All is on time. We settle for the official welcome from the captain and take off. A few students seem afraid, but most are thrilled. We leave the earth.


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