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The "Southwest Symphony" Wows Airport Audience

Laura Mulligan Thomas

Charlottesville High School’s orchestra won four of the top prizes at a national competition in Orlando last week, but that was just the start of their adventure.

More than a hundred students arrived at Orlando’s airport for a flight to Dulles, and four dozen of them were carrying violins or violas.  The sight caught gate agent Bob Campbell by surprise, and orchestra director Laura Mulligan Thomas explained that they had just swept a national competition at Universal Studios.

“He was so excited about it that he asked for a command performance,” she says, “and he announced it to the entire terminal!”

There were a few problems according to musician Leah Paddock.

“None of us had music,” she recalls.

And those who played bigger instruments had already put them on a truck headed for Charlottesville, but cellist Carmen Day says that didn’t stop them from joining in.

“We sang instead of playing our instruments. We sang our parts from what we remembered,” she explains.

Paddock and Day were surprised by the enthusiastic response they got from fellow travelers.

“I was actually shocked at how many people were listening to us.  I thought for sure no one had come around  to listen, but then there was a whole uproar of applause,” Paddock remembers.

“It changed the whole energy of the place.  It was a little community for a second,” Day adds.

And they were thrilled when Southwest showed its appreciation with hundred dollar travel vouchers for every student.  

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.