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Around the World in 16 Days: Institute Brass Adds New Zealand to Nations Visited

Col. John Brodie

Members of the Institute Brass pause in the city of Palmerston North in front of the World War I memorial to New Zealanders killed at Gallipoli. Funding for the Institute Brass' trip was provided through the Vester Thompson ’40 Travel Fund, established in 1985 to sponsor groups of cadets who are traveling out of the Virginia to represent VMI. Photo courtesy John Brodie.

Long known as one of the Institute’s most well-traveled groups, the Institute Brass recently made a trip that brings to mind the title of a Jules Verne novel: “Around the World in 80 Days.”

The VMI group, though, circumnavigated the globe by airplane in two weeks – and took their music to verdant, sun-soaked New Zealand, a nation that the ensemble had never before visited. For the Institute Brass, the trip was another chance to bond as a group, because all six of the cadets traveling to New Zealand had been to Morocco with the ensemble in April 2018.

“They became like brothers and sisters,” said Col. John Brodie (Hon.), band director, of the cohesion that developed among group members.

The cadets and Brodie began their long journey Dec. 28, leaving from Washington, D.C., and flying to Dubai before continuing on to Auckland, New Zealand, for a total of 28 hours airborne. Once in Auckland, the group had a few days to recuperate from jet lag before heading out to explore.

“The people made it a great experience, and they really helped us out,” said Cadet Abby Dimirack ’20, who plays the trumpet. In contrast to Morocco, where the native language is French and the food is sometimes unfamiliar, New Zealanders speak English and eat many dishes popular in the United States, Dimirack noted. Both she and Brodie commented that the easygoing, “No worries, mate,” attitude prevalent among the natives made the trip especially enjoyable.

While most Institute Brass trips involve multiple concerts, the trip to New Zealand was a bit unusual because the group only performed twice. That, Brodie and the cadets explained, had to do with the season and the schedule: Since the end-of-year holidays coincide with warm weather in New Zealand, nearly everyone takes a vacation.

Instead of performing in schools and at the U.S. embassy, as they had in Morocco, the group played for the general public instead at two outdoor concerts, one in Wellington, the nation’s capital, and the other in Palmerston North, the home city of Wayne Howe, VMI rugby coach. Proving that the VMI family is truly global, the group spent two nights at the home of Howe’s sister.

At the concerts, attendance would often start out quite small but the numbers would grow quickly as the music drew people in, with many listeners staying to talk to the cadets afterward. At one of those concerts, Dimirack found herself talking to an elderly lady who shared a piece of history that she’d never learned in school – that U.S. Marines had used New Zealand’s beaches to practice amphibious landings during World War II.

“Since I’m in Marine Corps ROTC, I thought that was really cool to get some insight from some of the locals about the training,” said Dimirack. “That was just something I never expected to learn about at a concert.”

Outside of rehearsals and performances, the group had plenty of time to explore the countryside. It wasn’t an agenda item when they arrived, but the group wound up visiting Kaituna Waterfall, the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, where they went over the 23-foot drop in a whitewater raft. They didn’t have swimsuits with them, so they took the plunge in their clothes – and came up soaked but smiling. It didn’t hurt that it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

“For me, besides playing for the people, that was the coolest thing,” said Brodie.

“That was a very cool experience,” agreed Cadet Andrew Wang ’20, a tuba player.

The cadets also traveled by boat through a cave where thousands of glow worms live, and went to Hamilton, where the movie “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was filmed and took a set tour there.

Thanks to the warm weather, the beautiful scenery and the friendly people, “Part of me wanted to stay in New Zealand,” admitted Wang.

Trips such as the ones to Morocco and New Zealand, Dimirack noted, have helped her learn to work with others in a way that family trips have not.

“Traveling with a group of people who’s not your family is definitely difficult because they get on your nerves after a while,” she stated. “But we’ve gotten to kind of see that everyone’s experiencing this differently.”

The group has to negotiate where to go next and what to play at the next concert, plus who will introduce the band at the next gig, she explained. “Things like that, you really get to know what people in the group are good at and what interests them,” she said.

The Institute Brass’s next international destination is still undecided, but Brodie is leaning toward a trip to Paris, where the group might perform at the L’ecole Polytechnique over the 2019-20 winter furlough.

In addition to Wang and Dimirack, cadets making the trip to New Zealand were John Dickenson ’20, MacGregor Baxter ’20, MacKenzie Haley ’20 and Tim Stallings ’20.

  • Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing