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As China trip winds down, music freed from captivity

Osceola High School band director Don Edwards leads members in a warm-up Saturday before a performance on China’s Great Wall.

Special to the Times

Osceola High School band director Don Edwards leads members in a warm-up Saturday before a performance on China’s Great Wall.

A trip to China took a disappointing turn last week when customs officials told a group of Osceola High School band members they could enter the country, but their instruments would have to stay behind.

The 23 kids and their chaperones were stopped as they tried to leave Peking Airport with luggage and about $80,000 worth of tubas, bassoons, clarinets and French horns.

The only thing band director Don Edwards could learn that first day was that the tour company had failed to provide the Chinese government with a necessary document. The next day, he found out he could get the instruments out of the airport — for a $6,000 fee.

"I explained to the officials that was impossible, that we would have to find another way," Edwards said Monday after the group's return.

A possible solution surfaced on Day 3 of the trip after band member Shelby Dedert, 16, called her dad to see if he could help. A rumor began circulating that Dedert, who travels extensively for his job, might come to the rescue.

But as the kids took in the sights, they continued to wonder whether they'd see their instruments again.

"It was disappointing because playing was going to be the highlight of our trip," said Patrick Ryan, 16. "Anyone can go to the Great Wall and do the tour thing, but not many people can say they got to play an instrument on top of the Great Wall."

When word of the $6,000 fee leaked out, they worried even more.

"We thought there was no way we'd get them back," said trombonist Ryan Salazar, 17.

But Dedert, working stateside, was determined. He called Gov. Charlie Crist's office, then he tried Sen. Bill Nelson's office. Phone calls went back and forth between Dedert and the Chinese Embassy and from Nelson's office to the American Embassy.

"Somewhere between that morning and that night, I got a call from the Chinese Embassy," Dedert said. "They said, 'We've worked it out, the children will be able to pick up their instruments. Just make sure the band director goes there with a Chinese speaking person so there aren't any difficulties.' "

The students cheered when band booster president Melanie Dedert, Shelby's mom and a chaperone for the trip, broke the news.

"It made me feel really glad that we had people who could help us figure this out instead of just being by ourselves in a foreign country," said Alexandria Craske, 14, who plays bassoon and flute.

On Saturday, the students' last day in China, they dressed in formal wear and carried their instruments to the Great Wall. The performance was all the more sweet because it almost didn't happen, said band director Edwards, who still isn't quite sure what went wrong.

"It could have been a disaster but everything worked out well," he said.

Stephanie Garry and Casey Cora contributed to this report.

As China trip winds down, music freed from captivity 04/08/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 2:44pm]
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