Students in the Los Angeles Unified School District still take field trips, usually within the confines of the city. Members of clubs – providing the funds for the trip can be raised – sometimes journey to another state. Others who may be involved in cultural programs in private schools may travel to Mexico or Canada.
But few ever get the opportunity to go where a group of student musicians at Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista are headed.
They have the opportunity – provided the capital to transport them there can be raised – to attend and perform at the Games of the XXX Olympiad, known to most as the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England.
Known as the Mark Twain Ringers, they practice the English art known as hand bell ringing five days a week. The students have become so skilled in their craft that they have been invited to perform at one of the world’s most watched athletic competitions.
Mark Twain Principal Dr. Rex Patton sees the trip to the Olympics as a once in a lifetime moment for the young musicians as well as a significant achievement for the school. “They are such great ambassadors for our school,” the principal told The Argonaut recently. “It really is quite extraordinary.”
The ringers are comprised of approximately 30 students and sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are part of the ensemble. They have generated a great deal of attention for their rhythm and skill and have traveled within the United States several times.
But making it to the Olympics is the pinnacle of success for the middle school students. Their instructor, Ron Theile, views this opportunity as a milestone achievement as do his pupils.
“They call it their bucket list,” said Theile, who has taught bell ringing at Mark Twain since the club’s inception in 2000.
Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl and the daughter of a famous folk singer have joined the campaign to raise funds for the ringers’ London trip. Through a series of unrelated conversations and phone calls, Rosendahl brought musician Johnny Irion into the fundraising effort.
Irion, who is married to Sarah Lee Guthrie, the daughter of the late singer Arlo Guthrie, decided to get involved after a conversation with Rosendahl about the journey of the 340-ton granite from Riverside to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last month.
“I couldn’t believe somebody paid $10 million for a rock,” Irion said. “There are people that don’t have health insurance, there are kids without books… certainly if a museum can raise $10 million for a rock, then I can do something as an artist and help raise some money to support a group of young creative minds.”
He produced a video spoofing the journey of the boulder called “Riverside Rocker.” Those who would like to contribute to Mark Twain’s efforts to send the ringers to London can watch the video at www.sarahleeandjohnny.com/riversiderocker and make a donation.
Rosendahl, a family friend of Irion and Guthrie, learned of the fundraising effort after a discussion with Patton.
“These Venice-area students deserve a chance to share their wonderful talent with the world,” said Rosendahl, who represents Mar Vista on the Los Angeles City Council. “The students have been working extremely hard to get to this point and just need a little financial boost.”
The co-presidents of the ringers, Laura Antonio and Elizabeth Goldhaber, are looking forward to going to London. The eighth graders have known each other since they were in third grade at Grand View Boulevard Elementary in Mar Vista and later found themselves on the same club in middle school.
“I love music,” said Antonio, who plans to play soccer at Venice High School next year.
Goldhaber comes from a family of ringers. “My brother and sister were in the program before me, and I remember watching them and thinking, ‘that looks like a lot of fun. I want to do that too,’” she recalled.
Theile said the students have been invited to play in renowned international venues such as Westminster Abby in England and at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during the Olympics. “This is going to be a real adventure for them,” he said. “Being a ringer builds the students’ self-esteem and shows them that they can do anything and nothing can stop them.”
The school is in the process of raising funds in order to send their young musicians to London, but there is a deadline to have the funds ready that is rapidly approaching. Patton has received donations from the software titan Google as well as from Creative Artists Agency, one of Hollywood’s top talent agencies.
In addition, the principal has acquired donations from The Carol and James Collins Foundation. “In building a school community, we desperately need partnerships,” said Patton, who three years ago was the principal at Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary School in Venice. “(These donors) understand our desire and are motivated to help us.”
Patton thanked Rosendahl for bringing in Irion and for his personal involvement in the cause to get the ringers to London. “He saw that we were in need and decided to help us get closer to the finish line,” he said.
Rosendahl said even though he is not a member of the school board, many of the students and their families who attend Mark Twain live in Venice and Mar Vista, communities that he represents.
“They are my constituents and I’ll do whatever I can to help them,” the councilman, who lives in Mar Vista, said.
Rosendahl also said he would encourage Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to make the ringers cultural ambassadors of Los Angeles for the Olympics.
Goldhaber’s mother will be accompanying the students on the trip. To some 13- and 14-year olds, having their mother along on an overseas trip may not be the ideal situation, but the co-presidents are happy to have her.
“She’s really cool. We all like her,” said Antonio.
Goldhaber, who also plans to attend Venice High next year and wants to try out for the drill team, added, “Everybody likes my mom. It’s going to be fun.”
The students appeared to be nonplussed about their trip overseas, but Antonio thinks that will change when they arrive in London. “Once we’re there, I think it will hit us (that we’re going to be in the Olympics),” she said.
Patton said as of this writing, the school still needs approximately $18,000. “But I’m confident that we’ll get it,” the principal said. “We have to do it for the children.
“The hope and motivation that we see in them every day is so rewarding.”