The Eleanor Roosevelt High School orchestra returned triumphantly from Europe yesterday after conquering audiences in Munich and Vienna and placing second in an international youth competition.
Almost 100 parents and friends cheered the group from the Prince George's County school when they finally emerged from Customs at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
"It was some kind of trip. I loved it all!" said Arnold Wilson, who plays string base. His remark seemed to reflect the mood of triumph of his fellow musicians.
In the last year, parents and students had raised $135,000 to send the 77-member group to the 11th International Youth and Music Festival in Vienna. Yesterday afternoon they gave credit for the entire trip to orchestra director Dorothy Pickard. "She's a fantastic lady," said Martha Gates of Lanham, whose son Eric plays trombone.
"And she refused to let them pay her way over," added Andy B. Gravatt, of Riverdale, the father of another trombone player, who carried a big "Welcome Home" sign for Andy Jr.
"With teachers like this and students like this, the future is secure," said Gravatt, a former Army trombone player.
Eleanor Roosevelt has a unique and competitive science and technical program that draws the top-placing 2 percent of students countywide.
The Roosevelt High orchestra has competed in international competition three times since the school opened five years ago, according to Principal Ray Ogden. Based on these performances and competitions, the orchestra was invited to participate in the International Youth Music Festival more than a year ago.
Exhausted, but still glowing after the 10-hour flight from Frankfurt, Pickard credited the fact that two-thirds of the orchestra is in the science and technical program with the making of a world-class orchestra in five years.
"Your better students are also your better musicians, aside from that it's a matter of spending a lot of time," said Pickard, sitting in a tan director's chair with the words "World's Best Director," that was presented to her as she exited Customs.
Time meant 2 1/2 hours of practice in school every weekday and five hours on Saturdays. Raising the $1,325 per student to get from Greenbelt to Europe took all of the students' and parents' remaining energy.
The students and their parents began raising money last fall, forming a "braintrust committee" of parents led by Pickard.
They sold everything from basement odds and ends at flea markets to Florida grapefruit ordered wholesale and shipped to the school.
On several Saturday mornings, more than 50 students rose before dawn, reported to the school cafeteria, and prepared thousands of submarine sandwiches that were delivered for sale to "firehouses, gas stations, and any place they could think of," according to Gates.
The orchestra left for Vienna on July 9 and was the first to perform in the competition on July 11.
"We played so early in the morning everyone was half asleep and tired," said Mark Neupert, a lanky, senior trumpet player.
Still brimming with excitement, Neupert said that he "couldn't keep track of the days," but he remembered that "exposure to the beer halls was great."
Against 53 competitors from 15 countries, the orchestra placed second. A California school took first place, while a Texas orchestra was third. But it was the standing ovation in the darkened Munich Olympic Stadium last Saturday that made the trip unforgettable for the young musicians.
After playing Bernstein's "Candide" overture in a special concert before an audience of 300 that was broadcast over local radio stations, "we got a big standing ovation," remembered Andy Gravatt Jr. "They yelled, 'Encore! Encore!' and we yelled back, 'Dvorak! Dvorak!' "
Then the orchestra launched into its favorite, the fourth movement of Dvorak's "New World Symphony." The musicians played from memory, with only Pickard's lighted baton to lead them because the sun had set.
"It was like we could get into it, too. The whole thing was up," Gravatt said. "After the radio concert we shouted for three hours straight. We just went out to a restaurant and screamed."