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  • On the Road: Destination Cuba

    Jackie Bein | December 9, 2014

    In the Plaza de Armas in Old Havana, Cuba, student musicians perspired in the tropical humidity combined with the heat of performance. 120 members of the band, which consists of three concert bands and two jazz ensembles, along with twenty parents and teachers, departed for Havana via Miami on April 10th, 2014 and returned on April 16th. What we saw, heard, and learned on our trip gave us a remarkable perspective on a corner of the world that is controversially regarded by the international community.On our first full day in Havana, we visited an elementary/middle school designed for students who want to pursue music. Applicants to the school go through a rigorous musical aptitude audition process. The students take music classes for half the day and academic classes for half the day, heavily focusing on music beginning at a very young age.

  • UpFront Q&A: Andrew Yaracs

    Eliahu Sussman | June 17, 2014

    A conversation with the author of Travel 101: A band director's guide for planning student travel

    Andrew Yaracs recently retired after a 39-year career as a music educator, band director, percussion arranger, and music instructor. During a prolific 15-year stint running the Butler Senior High School Golden Tornado Marching Band in Butler, Pennsylvania between 1997 and 2012, Yaracs boosted the ensemble and program into the national spotlight, in large part due to his determination that he would take the entire 350-member band on a trip every year. Alternating between major excursions and more economical ones, the Golden Tornado Marching Band represented the town of Butler, the high school, and their community at such notable events as the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade (in 2000 and 2007), the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (in 1997 and 2002), and the Fort McDowell Fiesta Bowl Parade in Phoenix, Arizona (in 2004 and 2010), among others.

    Yaracs cites the genesis of this ambitious travel schedule as his time performing with and then managing a drum corps. “That experience of getting out there, performing in different venues and meeting new people taught me a lot about life and growing up,” he says. “That was something that I always felt was a great incentive. I marched and graduated from the high school that I later taught at. When I was in the band in late ‘60s, we only had 90 members in the band and all we did was go to football games and one or two local parades. I had always hoped that someday I would become a band director and thought that if I did, I would do something for those kids.”

    Drawing upon his vast and varied experiences on the road, Andrew Yaracs recently published Travel 101: A Band Director’s Guide for Planning Student Travel, a book chock full of anecdotes, sample forms and checklists, and advice and best practices. In this conversation with SBO, Yaracs speaks about his philosophy regarding band travel, fundraising, and some tips and tricks for having a successful and rewarding experience.

  • Guest Editorial: Offbeat Travel Destinations

    Tori Cook | June 17, 2014

    Maximizing the Educational Travel Experience for Your Performing Ensemble

    Traveling abroad is a highly educational experience, especially when it comes to influencing young people. It is imperative for younger generations to explore the world and to learn about different cultures so that they may grow up showing compassion for others.

    Many school music groups today are traveling to common destinations in Europe, such as London, Paris, and Vienna, which offer a long-standing musical heritage and can be very educational for students. However, there are many other destinations in South America, Africa, and Asia that are often overlooked, even though they can provide unique performance opportunities for the group, as well as a greater impact on the educational objectives for the tour. These locations offer unexpected surprises and can leave students with a new sense of cultural awareness and a truly unforgettable experience.

  • MAC Corner: Festival

    Marcia Neel | January 21, 2014

    Teaching to the Test: Preparing school bands and orchestras for Festival

    From time to time, I read articles or hear news stories that focus on teacher evaluation and how “unfair” it really is to judge a teacher by the assessment of his or her students’ work. Each time, I am reminded how much we music educators have been doing just that all along! Hello, “Performance” Assessment – even that term is borrowed from our vernacular.

    Being more about assessment than many of our fellow educators from the other academic areas, our students learn by “performing”; not necessarily in the concert sense of the word, but more generally in the “learning by doing” concept that is implicit in our instrumental music courses.

  • Top Travel Destinations

    Josh Harris | June 21, 2013

    SBO readers weigh in on the latest trends in band and orchestra travel.

    What’s your first choice when you think of the perfect destination for your school music group? In this recent SBO survey, readers made it clear that the top travel spot for school ensembles is an adjudicated festival. Nearly 60 percent of responding band and orchestra directors marked such festivals as the number one destination for indoor ensembles, with 34 percent agreeing that it is the best destination for marching bands, too.

    Looking at broader trends, the results of this survey indicate that school music groups are likely to be traveling less far and spending less money in the coming years, which makes sense given rising costs of travel, as well as the economic challenges still facing many parts of the country. On the other hand, a healthy proportion of respondents (45 percent) declared that they’d be taking their bands “wherever they want, wherever that is,” which seems like a nod to a spirit of adventure that is undeterred by economic woes.

    Read on for more insight into the latest trends in school music travel topics like budgets, participation, destinations, and more.

  • Planning the Best Trip for Your Band or Orchestra

    Thomas J. West | June 21, 2013

    During my days as a high school band member, one of my favorite events was the annual spring trip. Everything about it, from the big announcement about where we were going that year to being exhausted at school the Monday morning after it was over, was part of the experience. My high school’s fall marching program was non-competitive, electing instead to attend local band exhibition festivals. The spring trip, however, was another story. We would typically compete in concert band, parade band, field show, indoor drumline, and indoor guard, often choosing to attend events offered by North American Music Festivals in locations like Myrtle Beach, Nashville, and Toronto. Waiting for the spring to compete gave our band a chance to mature over the school year and to involve our indoor programs. While we typically fared well in competition, we still learned some tough lessons from going up against a band program whose competitive emphasis was more focused on their Fall [marching] band program than ours was.

    The experiences I had on those trips were invaluable. It was a goal to shoot for, a chance to travel to new places, a gigantic four-day slumber party with 100 of my closest friends, and some of the most memorable musical performances of my high school career. Venturing away from the daily high school environment as a band allowed us to bond and to exist as a performing ensemble without outside influences or distractions.

  • Roundtable: Maximizing the Festival Experience

    Eliahu Sussman | June 21, 2013

    While a band festival can take many different forms, in every case, both students and educators should feel rewarded for having participated in these events. Deciding on the best festival in which to participate, properly preparing students musically, selecting appropriate repertoire, and knowing what to expect are just some of the keys to a successful festival experience.

    SBO recently caught up with three educators who each have decades of festival experience for this roundtable-style discussion on preparing for and measuring success, choosing the right festival, and the latest trends in school band festivals.

  • SBO Survey: Festivals

    Josh Harris | May 10, 2012

    In the microcosm of an instrumental music program, participation in a music festival is typically one of the primary highlights of the year.  When else do music students have the opportunity to show off the fruits of a year’s worth of labor to a peer audience, receive feedback from professional adjudicators, and bond with each other and members of other school ensembles?

    This recent SBO educator survey uncorks the latest trends on these events – what directors are looking for when selecting a festival, tips on performance, another chapter in the old competitive versus non-competitive debate, and much more.

  • SBO Survey: Travel Destinations

    Josh Harris | June 23, 2011

    Whether as an end-of-year vacation or a strict performance tour, many music programs take their students on adventures far beyond their school auditorium walls.  But where, exactly, is the best place to go?  At SBOheadquarters, we had some ideas about where the top destinations are for instrumental school music groups, but you, the SBO readers, are the experts, not us, so we recently put the question out to you.  We have asked, you have answered, and the votes have been tallied.

    The top U.S. destinations for school music groups, it turns out, are primarily along the East Coast. Orlando, Florida – home of Walt Disney World, Universal Theme Park, and a host of other attractions – narrowly edged out Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Broadway, and the multitude of other world-class sites and venues found in New York City for the top spot in this survey.  Washington D.C., Chicago, and Boston round out the top five, with Dallas, Anaheim, Hawaii, and several sites in Virginia among the other locations also earning considerable votes.

  • Travel On a Shoe String

    Josh Harris | June 1, 2009

    Travel affords music students and educators the opportunity to venture beyond familiar walls and familial audiences, to gain new experiences while testing young musicians' mettle. Whether on a sightseeing performance tour, playing a world-famous concert hall, or competing against distant musical peers, there is no substitute for taking an ensemble on the road. However, due to events beyond most of our control, many schools and programs are currently being reduced to only those elements that may be considered "essential."

    To gauge the true nature of how school music programs are tackling the challenges related to travel in these trying times, SBO took the question to our readers. Results indicate that perhaps the situation is not so dire: over half of the respondents state that their travel plans remain unaffected by national economic difficulties, and many readers were able to provide cost-saving tips for group travel on a shoestring.

    Do you deem travel for performance or attending festivals to be an essential part of your music program?

  • Creating an Inspired Musical Experience: 21 Tips for Success at Festival

    Josh Harris | June 1, 2009

    Performing at concert festival is an inspiring musical experience for both music students and conductors. Concert festival is more than an assessment event, it is an opportunity to challenge students to achieve at their highest level. In addition to the learning experience, it is an occasion that helps clarify goals for a student, ensemble, or program. Festivals have contributed much to improve the quality of groups and the musicianship of students over the last 70 years. As thoughtful music educators, it is a topic worthy of our deepest consideration.

    Following is a collection of tips for enhancing the festival experience. This advice focuses primarily on the actual day, not the musical preparation. Many of these tips are subjective opinions, some of which evoke various levels of agreement among professionals. Consider these tips first, then imagine the event as you want it to create the inspired musical experience your students deserve.

    Stage Presence

  • Traveling Through a State of Fear

    Josh Harris | June 1, 2009

    It seems like our country has gone from one crisis to the next during the past ten years, from terrorism fears after 9/11 to the economic turmoil on Wall Street, and even the recent panic about the swine flu. Unfortunately, each of these events has made it more difficult to arrange student band trips. Parents, administrators, students, and teachers have a very real concern that their trip be safe, as well as educational and fun. While travel has ebbed and flowed throughout these periods, the desire of many programs to provide students with a travel experience has remained constant. After all, high school students only have a short window of opportunity to experience a trip with their school band, and these trips will no doubt be remembered for the rest of their lives.

    A recent article in Our Children The PTA National Magazine, April/May 2009 edition made a very effective case for considering a tour operator that has handled many successful school music trips as they are the most likely to be capable to handle contingencies, last minute changes, hotel and airline problems or other emergency situations. Many experienced companies are up-to-date on the latest travel restrictions and intricacies which are constantly changing due to government regulation. Although many schools have planned and executed their own travel quite efficiently, this often leaves little room for error or problems that may be encountered.

    References are extremely important should you choose to arrange your travel with a tour operator. We have heard instances of "fly by night" tour operators who have absconded with bands' travel funds after significant effort at raising the money for a trip. A reputable company, however, will be happy to provide quality references in addition to information regarding their company history, professional associations, insurance policies, and risk management plans. Of course, everything that the travel company offers should be requested in writing. This will also help alleviate any possibilities for miscommunication that could affect your trip.

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