Local choir teacher Kim Stewart and student Erica Bertram will represent Kiowa County in June, as they join more than 200 Kansas students on a musical performance tour of Europe.

Local choir teacher Kim Stewart and student Erica Bertram will represent Kiowa County in June, as they join more than 200 Kansas students on a musical performance tour of Europe.

“I feel like music gives kids opportunities,” said Stewart. “Most of the traveling I have done has been music related and I’ve been to Europe before because of my involvement in music.”

Stewart, a vocal teacher at USD 474 and USD 422, will return to Europe this June as part of the Kansas Ambassadors of Music, which will take her and Bertram to seven countries in fourteen days to perform for European audiences.

Bertram and Stewart will rehearse with other Kansas students beginning on June 12 in Wichita before flying direct from Kansas City to London three days later.

Their trip will bring them to London, Paris, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany and Italy.

The group will include a band division, an orchestra division and a choral division directed by Rose Hill High School vocal instructor Charles Forsyth.

“We’ll sing just about every night,” said Stewart.

The tour, operated by the Denver-based Voyageurs International, is open to all high school students but requires a recommendation from a teacher, Stewart said.

The trip includes visits to local attractions like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.

Stewart said they would attend West End theater performances while in London.

She is going to see Les Miserables at Her Majesty’s Theatre and Bertram will see The Phantom of the Opera at the Queen’s Theatre.  

“Erica’s academic achievements and her commitment to music made her the perfect candidate,” Stewart added.

Bertram, a senior, will attend Northwestern Oklahoma State University (NOSU) next year. The main campus, located just 15 miles south of the Kansas-Oklahoma border, has a reputation for a strong music program.

Kiowa County High School graduate Jordan Little is a first-year NOSU student and recently traveled to China with a campus-based choir group.

“I’ve already auditioned, so I am waiting to hear back,” said Bertram, who auditioned for a spot in the coveted NOSU Honor Choir.

While she has been a fixture on a number of Maverick athletics teams (volleyball, basketball and track) and is a member of the Maverick Cheerleading Squad, National Honor Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Bertram said music has been her first love.

“I’ve considered it as a major,” said Bertram. “But around here there isn’t a whole lot I could do with that degree. I could be a music teacher, but that’s about it. I want to stay in a small town. I like it here. I’d like to continue doing music. I don’t know if it will be my career but it will always be something I’ll do.”

Bertram said she hasn’t declared a major. “I’m still working on it,” she quipped.

The trip is expensive with both Bertram and Stewart raising money for more than a year to pay for it.

Bertram saved money from working at the Greensburg Municipal Pool last summer.

Stewart has been squirreling away proceeds from her side job as a local Mary Kay Cosmetics representative.

They set up tables at high school and junior high school sporting events, selling homemade bracelets.

“It’s been going pretty well,” said Stewart. “I’ve even sold another fifteen bracelets over spring break. That’s been a steady source of fundraising.”

They’ve also started an e-recycling campaign that will help fund their trip with proceeds from unwanted and recycled electronics.

Boxes located in the Kiowa County Courthouse and the Kiowa County High School can take old laptops, cell phones, digital cameras, computer monitors and unwanted e-waste.

They have contracted with a company that will recycle it and mail them a check.

“They pay for shipping so we really make 100 percent on everything that’s donated,” said Stewart.

Laughing, both of them say they earn good proceeds from iPhones, iPads and iPods.

“Those aren’t easy to let go of,” said Stewart. “But even old laptops and cell phones, GPS, digital cameras and ink jet cartridges those can all be donated and will raise us some money. We get something for everything.”

“Everybody has those used ink jet cartages,” added Bertram. “They probably just throw them away.”

Stewart said they have already received a few old laptops and electronics in their boxes but extra expenses will keep them raising funds, likely through the spring and into the summer.

Stewart and Bertram said their trip will cost $5,500 each, which includes airfare, hotel stay, event tickets and two meals each day. They will have to pay for one of their daily meals, and other expenses such as shopping or extra events.

They both say they are “almost there.”

Stewart was eventually asked to work during the trip, which took some money off of her ticket price. “This is such a neat opportunity and it is going to be so much fun,” she said.