Can you remember your first celebrity encounter?
The students at Middleton High School in Tampa, Florida, will never forget theirs.
"I couldn't really think too much about what's happening because we had to focus on the song we were playing. But then once we finished I was like, 'That's Ed Sheeran in our band room'," said Ethan Van Name.
The band students at Middleton High thought it was like any other piece of sheet music. They worked hard to learn an Ed Sheeran song. But they never expected Ed Sheeran himself to walk in while they were playing it.
"We're definitely taught to, like, always just keep playing no matter what. So we were disciplined enough to just keep performing. But then once Mr. T cut us off, it was crazy like that, it hit us," said Katherine Blessing.
"As soon as the horns went down, everybody just started freaking out. And I myself was just asking, like, is that really him? Like, is that actually him? Or is that just someone that looks like him? Like, is just like, completely unbelievable. Like, shock all around?" said Manuel Corona.
Once the students finished their performance, Sheeran congratulated them. In a video of the visit, Sheeran says:
"I thought I'd come and play some music for you guys and I've also got some guitars. I'm playing a sold out concert at Raymond James tomorrow and I thought you should come."
"I've followed Ed Sheeran for like a while. And I've always had like high hopes that he would be like, an amazing person, like in person. And it's just like, really nice to like, actually see him like coming to a community and like giving, it's just like, it really gives me hope about stars and stuff," said Burch.
Sheeran signed autographs, took selfies, and even made videos with the students.
"When he signed it, it was just like an experience. Like I was still like, starstruck that he was even touching a marker that I own," said Tony Burch.
Sheeran even sang a duet with the students.
"I'm seeing him when the guitar started playing again. And one of the girls was singing, seeing him join in on that. Like, just watching that felt like he seems like such a real dude. And it was really nice to see. And it just so heartwarming, like, he's a celebrity, and he's singing with some high school girl," said Corona.
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The superstar visited to promote his new guitar line. He decided to give back to the musical programs in Title I Schools in Hillsborough County.
"I have a lot of respect for him now, especially I think bringing attention to use music programs is a really big deal. A lot of them are underfunded. There's not a lot of respect for a lot of band programs in different high schools and middle schools. So showing that he's someone who supports that is a good experience," said Kathierine Blessing. "Just for us to be playing and then Ed Sheeran walks in, he's like, 'Hey, guys, I am gonna play for you, like, just for you' is like crazy. Because we're Middleton. We're not a big band program. There's much bigger band programs in the county, and that he picked Middleton, we're not known for our band or our sports really, like, this is kind of the first year we've done anything big that's related to band."
Middleton Band Director Abraham Tejeda knows firsthand how important it is to foster musical ability in schools.
"There are a lot of music programs in the nation being shut down. I think people aren't really understanding the importance of a music program in school. You know, studies show that music actually opens up your brain. Kids who take music are 60% more likely to score higher on their tests, you know," said Trejeda.
Trejeda says music is an outlet for many kids, including himself when he was younger.
"I was actually one of those kids, along with many of my friends who probably wasn't the most disciplined student growing up. But doing music kind of helped us calm down, helped us focus and taught us where we go, where to go in life. I know a lot of people weren't planning on going to college and band opened up doors for many people. I think losing programs is one of the worst things that they can do," he said.
So how did a small school like Middleton end up getting a big nod from Ed Sheeran?
"It honestly just fell on my lap. I can't do anything but thank God for this. Literally, I was just in the classroom one time and a teacher said 'Hey, I need you to call this lady. It's really important.' I called the number and ended up being Atlantic Records saying 'Hey, can we have a collab with Ed Sheeran in the band?' I was really shocked. I was like, 'Is this for real? This is a prank'. But turned out to be real, you know? So it was great experience for us for sure," said Trejeda.
The kids say Sheeran was there for about 45 minutes.
"To hear him thank us for playing his song was just insane. Like, I can't believe he's actually thanking us. Like, we should be thanking him," said Corona.
"Ed Sheeran is my idol man. He's the person that I grew up with. Like I want to be him. He's the reason that I got into like music in the first place. And when I figured out that he was like such a cool guy, just coming and going and giving to the community. It was just like, it was like such a relief because I put all my like hope and faith in this person. And then it's like, is exactly what I thought they were," said Burch.
Burch's friends sang his praises during the interview as well. They say he has the potential to be the next Ed Sheeran.
"I'd like to say he's an amazing singer, by the way, like he's talking about how Ed Sheeran is his role model. This guy is going places with the voice of his. I can definitely see him being the next Ed Sheeran in like 10 years, maybe less," said Corona.
The band room is a positive environment, where the kids can express themselves through their talents. Ethan Van Name points to their teachers as a role model.
"We have had three directors in the past three years. And it's just been kind of crazy. We've had three different marching styles, all different types of songs and to be able to have a director who's going to stay and really grow the program and keep with one consistent style is really cool. And we can graduate and go on knowing that our program is growing and getting stronger," said Van Name.
This story was originally published by Jada Williams at Scripps News Tampa.
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