Montbello high school drumline is headed to Takayama, Denver's sister city in Japan

Montbello High School's drumline will be flying high next week, when its members take one of the first Dreamliner trips to Tokyo in order to visit Denver's sister city of Takayama, Japan. In preparation for the trip, on Saturday the students went through an orientation organized by the Japan Exchange Teaching Program and the Mayor's Office. See also: - Seven ways that Japanese culture has influenced Denver over the years - The Montbello drumline drums up business for Make Music Denver - Montbello drumline on the 16th Street Mall "This privilege was not given to you, it was earned," Mayor Michael Hancock told the group. "If you were not the exceptional drumline you are, or not involved in community events and showing your support at all the events, you would not have been selected for this trip."

The orientation, hosted for the city by Derek Okubo, included such subjects as currency exchange, dining etiquette, technology, how to play Jon-Ken-Ho (Rock, Paper, Scissors) and proper manners with a host family; the group also discussed schedule logistics and travel arrangements for the ten-day trip. Led by director Ed Chance, the drumline will fly out of Denver on June 11, taking a fifteen-hour flight directly to Japan. They will spend the first day in Tokyo, then board the bullet train to Nagoya and head from there to Takayama, where students will live with host families for four days, getting a glimpse of traditional life in Japan.

"This is a distinguishable honor for anyone in Japan to invite you into their home," Hancock told the group. "Remember you have two ears and one mouth."

President Dwight Eisenhower established the Sister City Program in the 1950s, and selected Takayama as Denver's sister city because of its location in the mountains. There is a Takayama Park on South Colorado and Cherry Creek Drive in Denver, as well as a counterpart Denver park in Takayama.

On June 16, the drumline will perform at Takayama's Earth Wisdom Center -- which is about the size of the Magness Arena at the University of Denver -- before visiting two elementary and two middle schools. So many schools wanted to host the Montbello group, the city had to have a drawing to select the four schools the drumline will visit.

Hancock told the group he has been to Japan four times, the first time at the age of sixteen. "I was introduced in a room of 900 sophomores and they were all screaming, so I asked my translator why, and he said, 'They think you are Michael Jackson,'" the mayor joked, then added, "You are ambassadors for the United States of America, and will be treated like royalty; take it with humility."

Before a traditional Japanese lunch of sushi, sashimi and vegetables, JET leaders led the group in a traditional prayer of sorts for Japan. "You must say this before eating anything; in the event you forget, put your chopsticks down and look very sorry," advised Jessyka Livingston, "Etta-Daki-Mas: it's their form of grace and everyone says it before eating."

The students appreciated their lessons -- and the lunch. "It was really good -- the texture was different, but it wasn't that bad," said Jordan James-Potts, who plays the snare drum. "This is an experience not many get to have, going as far as Japan. I just want to soak it all in."

Tobey Nwairo, a hip-hop artist, will accompany the drumline and perform with the group. "I just want to get the experience and see if it boosts my creativity and music perception," he said.

JET will be on hand to help the group along. "All of us from JET have lived in Japan, teaching English," said Livingston, "and the Japanese Consulate pays every year for graduates to go teach in Japan. We will have representatives from JET in Japan to chaperone these young people, and it will be a great experience for them."

Denver will host a reception for the drumline when the students return, so that they can share that experience with Takayama's sister city.

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Antonio Valenzuela

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