Upper Arlington High School's Symphony Strings Orchestra will travel to Beijing this summer to join "The League of Astonishing Strings" on a 12-day concert tour of China.

Upper Arlington High School's Symphony Strings Orchestra will travel to Beijing this summer to join "The League of Astonishing Strings" on a 12-day concert tour of China.

"Anytime an instrument can be used as a vehicle to travel somewhere, it typically leads to life-changing experiences," said orchestra director Ed Zunic.

He said the concert tour will start June 24 and include performances in six cities, from Beijing to Shanghai.

To help pay for the trip, the student musicians and guest artists will perform at the "Bears to Beijing Gala" from 3 to 6 p.m. March 16 in the auditorium at Hastings Middle School, 1850 Hastings Lane.

Zunic said he is still finalizing the list of guest musicians.

"We wanted to include local, professional musicians that have worked with our students and have truly helped us build the current program," he said.

The gala includes a silent auction and reception catered by local restaurants China Dynasty and ZenCha Tea Salon.

Tickets are $30 for adults, $10 for children under 18 and may be purchased at the door, online at uastrings.org or by mail at Upper Arlington Orchestra Parents Association Inc., P.O. Box 12084, Columbus, 43212.

Zunic said Upper Arlington was one of three American high school orchestras selected for the trip. The group has 35 members.

"The students performed at the Ohio Music Educators Conference in Columbus last year," he said. "Bob Phillips, the president of the American String Teachers Association, was in the audience. A few months later, he invited us to join the League of Astonishing Strings on a concert tour of China."

In the past 10 years, Symphony Strings students have performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City and at venues in Detroit, Boston and Toronto.

The trip to China will be the orchestra's first trip outside North America, but it comes with a whopping price tag of about $110,000.

Dori Jennings, a member of the Upper Arlington Orchestra Parents Association (UAOPA), said the group is working hard to offset costs through fundraising efforts that include donations from local businesses and lessons given by the high school students to younger students in the strings program.

Donations may be made online at uastrings.org or mailed to the UAOPA's address for ticket sales.

The group also is seeking contributions for the gala's silent auction, such as tickets to sports events, vacation destinations, educational experiences such as behind-the-scenes tours at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, or smaller items to go in gift baskets.

Jennings said a violin worth $1,800 will be raffled at the gala, with only 80 tickets sold at $25 each. The donation came from the Baroque Violin Shop in Cincinnati.

Jennings' daughter, Laura, is a senior and a violinist in the orchestra.

"We are so proud of our daughter," Jennings said. "She may likely never have an opportunity like this again."

Laura said she is excited about playing in "incredible" concert venues.

"I am excited to see everything, but especially the Great Wall, and I really hope we get to ride the slide," she said.

Fellow orchestra members Drew Harper, who plays the cello, and Jack Taylor, a bass player, said they also are looking forward to playing in China's best concert halls. Harper wants to see the Olympic "Bird's Nest" in Beijing and Taylor wants to experience the difference in culture.

"I think our music program is special because of the work ethic of the students, the leadership of the program and the incredible support from the school and the community," Jennings said. "These kids really work hard and it shows. If you were to wear a blindfold during one of their performances, you'd very likely be surprised to find out it was a high school orchestra."

For more information, contact bearstobeijing@gmail.com.