Guest Editorial: Offbeat Travel Destinations

Mike Lawson • Travel/Festivals • June 17, 2014

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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.


Inspiring Venues

In Rosario, Argentina there is a large performance venue, the Teatro El Círculo, which holds up to 1,450 audience members. The theater has hosted many famous artists from around the world and its acoustic quality has even been compared to that of the Metropolitan Opera House. It is a high-quality venue and certainly comparable with its counterparts in Europe, particularly in its ability to attract large audiences. This is an attainable venue for many youth orchestras, and even superior high school orchestras have been known to make the cut.

The INBioparque Amphitheater in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Farther north, in Costa Rica’s capital city, stands the Auditorio Nacional. This gorgeous neo-classical arts complex in central San José is considered to be the finest historical building in the capital city. It frequently hosts the National Symphonic Orchestra for its regular concert season. The theater’s use is highly limited and requires that groups go through a selection process prior to admission for performing. For bands and orchestras looking for a more laid-back venue, San José also offers the INBioparque Educational Center, which holds regular performances outdoors in the amphitheater to eager audiences.

Across the globe, in Shanghai, you’ll find a very unique venue – the Shanghai Oriental Art Center. This venue in particular needs to be booked in advance due to its high volume of performances throughout the year. On its way to becoming a world-class venue, the SOAC features five halls within its domes: an Entrance Hall, the Performance Hall, the Concert Hall, the Exhibition Hall, and the Opera Hall. The Concert Hall is used for a large orchestras, concert bands, or choirs, and is home to the largest pipe organ in China. Particularly unique about this venue, though, is the shape of the hall. The ensemble performs in the center of the dome and the audience members surround the stage at 360 degrees. This design not only allows great views for its audience members but also provides top-notch acoustics. The hall itself holds up to 1,953 audience members.

Something to consider before booking venues for a musical tour is their ability to attract an audience. The destination itself can help. As mentioned earlier, so many music groups travel to Europe every year, but it’s less likely that Costa Ricans, for example, will get to experience an American school music group performing in their local town. It follows that the locals may be more interested by these performances, allowing for an enthusiastic and appreciative audience, which can be an important factor in determining any concert’s success.


Musical Collaborations

The less-familiar destinations can offer many opportunities for joint performances or cultural exchanges in the classroom. Of course, there are educational benefits to working with an ensemble from a different country, but one of the most influential benefits is the chance to discover new educational methods and become familiar with the differences between the two musical cultures.

Music education is approached differently all over the world and alternative teaching methods can sometimes be more effective with different students in helping them develop their skills. When traveling to another country, consider allowing the students to work on their repertoire with the local conductor and even perform a piece with a local ensemble in a joint concert. This will open up the students to a new approach to learning repertoire and they may come away with a new sense of the piece. One may even consider hiring a professional to lead a master class or workshop; plus, there are plenty of opportunities for peer-to-peer education, as well.

In China, for example, there are musical workshops that are offered by local Chinese students. In these workshops, the local students will pick up their traditional native instruments and, in small groups, teach each visiting student how to play the instrument. Even though the Chinese students are usually familiar with playing Western music, they are often also well-versed in traditional Chinese music and instruments, so they are able to offer a very authentic experience. At the end of the class, the different groups of students come up to the front of the class and perform what they have learned.

In Africa, students can participate in a traditional drum circle playing the djembe or other handmade percussive instruments. While participating in these activities, students will learn about the communicative powers of drumming and a variety of complex rhythmic structures originated within the area. They will also learn about the societal norms that are associated with African drumming, including both gender and regional influences.

There are still collaborative opportunities like this in other more familiar areas, such as many countries in Europe; however, learning traditional music from its original source can provide an especially enriching experience. When performers begin to understand cultural distinctions in music, the creativity and musicality in their playing will become heightened.


Cultural Awareness

Every destination is going to offer sightseeing tours that immerse the group in the country’s culture and history. Taking part in these activities will aid the students in making significant cultural connections and will help them grow as individuals. Utilizing time before and after performances is important for building these connections with the students; therefore, tour leaders should consider listing the learning objectives for each cultural activity to define a clear educational purpose for the tour.

Costa Rica, for example, can offer a variety of excursions: Arenal Volcano, Monteverde Cloud Forest Canopy Tour, Manuel Antonio National Park, and much more. By participating in these excursions, students will become familiar with many aspects of Costa Rican culture and how it has been influenced by the geography and history of the region. They will get a chance to explore and discover the diverse topography of Costa Rica’s lush rainforests, volcanic mountains, and sparkling Pacific waters, and will experience the rich Costa Rican biodiversity that will teach them the value and importance of preserving both endangered species and the environment.

In China, groups can explore the Forbidden City and great Wall in Beijing, visit the army of Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an, and discover the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai. When participating in these activities, students will become familiar with some of the fundamentals of the Buddhist religion and the ways in which they are expressed in Chinese temple architecture and Buddha statuary. They will also learn about the purpose of The Great Wall and of the history of its construction, partial demolition, and present preservation.

While exploring Buenos Aires, Argentina, groups can visit the Plaza de Mayo, the Metropolitan Cathedral, Congress Hall, Teatro Colón, and the fashionable Recoleta areas, which was once home to Evita Perón. Groups may participate in a tango lesson or visit an Argentinean estancia (also known as a ranch). The learning objectives of this tour can include exploring the differing cultural influences within Argentine society, especially as expressed in the tango, while also comparing and contrasting the cosmopolitan and multicultural city life of Buenos Aires to the ranch life on the Argentine pampas like that at Estancia Santa Susana.

By defining the tour’s learning objectives, students will not only grow as musicians during their performances, but will also build a deep cultural awareness that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.


Choosing a Performance Tour Company

Veterans of travel understand the complexities of making the tour arrangements. While some teachers may decide to do the planning on their own, others may choose to outsource to a performance tour company. These companies specialize in the logistical preparation and planning of every performance, as well as developing the overall components of the tour. When choosing a tour company, tour leaders should search for a company that understands the intended educational goals and can help maximize the experience for the students. They will assist in the further development of an educational plan and can even discuss appropriate repertoire choices for the specific performance venues.


Maximize the Education

With an educational plan and funding in place, every destination is going to offer a unique learning experience for the students. To maximize the educational aspects of the tour, tour leaders should look for the inspiring venues that will help their performances thrive, incorporate musical collaborations with the local schools, and foster cultural awareness through various sightseeing excursions. With these three components in place, the learning can be limitless.


Tori Cook is a travel professional working in the operations department for Encore Tours, a premier performance tour company. Cook studied Music Education, Music Theory, and Vocal Performance at the University of Idaho and is currently an active performer and music teacher in the Greater Boston area. For more information about performance tours, contact Tori Cook at




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