Keeping it Real: Having Growth Experiences on the Road

Tom Merrill • ChoralTravel/Festivals • November 6, 2017

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There’s no growth in a comfort zone, and no comfort in a growth zone.

I was reminded of this great saying from a longtime friend and colleague while sitting behind the microphone in the press box of a local university recently, where I was announcing for a marching band festival for the very first time. Public speaking in an announcer capacity is nothing new for me—for the past few years I’ve been doing narration for concert band performances and commentary for live concert band webcasts.

But announcing a marching band festival is different, primarily because there are so many “unpredictables” that can happen at any given moment. Like your script pages blowing all over the floor of the press box. Or a bee landing on your forehead in the middle of introducing a band. Or vamping when the tabulator is still finalizing scores while the drum majors are at attention on the front sideline and an audience is on the edge of their seats.

All of which happened that weekend. At least it wasn’t raining. But at the end of the day, I was able to do something that was a new and exciting challenge that also happened to be a lot of fun.

Taking a group on a music tour is perhaps one of the best ways to have your students break out of that comfort zone and transcend into their growth zone. Often this can be done by developing an itinerary that explores experiences unique to the destination and different from anything they would have the opportunity to do at home. It can be challenging because it’s human nature to gravitate towards what we know, to where our “comfort zone” resides.

Case in point: many times I would be with student groups in New York City who would have a block of time to get lunch on their own.

Here they were in the crossroads of the world, with almost every kind of cuisine imaginable available within a few blocks, and inevitably many of them would beeline to the place with the golden arches. This pattern is increasingly easier to do as various chains of restaurants, shops, and even attractions that were only in the largest or coastal cities proliferate across the country.

How do you find those experiences that will push your students out of their comfort zone when on a performance tour? Quite simply: keep it real.

Musically this can be accomplished by exposing them to the “gems” of a location. The major orchestras of any city—Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, etc.—each have their own characteristic sound. So do ensembles like the Los Angeles Master Chorale or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Don’t forget the amazing collegiate or military ensembles as well. Go a step further into unfamiliar territory by taking in something like the Metropolitan Opera of New York or Lyric Opera of Chicago. Make it a point of experiencing those “only while you’re there” opportunities.

Also consider what historical or cultural aspects make that destination city remarkable. Think about what would immerse your students more fully into understanding key aspects of that location. Or, if you plan as I tend to, what’s the food that best defines the area? (How could you NOT have deep dish pizza in Chicago, barbeque in Kansas City or Dallas, or a hot dog off a cart in New York?) Use these types of experiences as the blueprint for non-musical activities.

The sites with an educational component outside of music can serve two additional purposes. First, they can often show your students significant artifacts of culture and history. Second, they can provide that additional value that administrators and school boards seek to either justify with themselves the approval of a tour experience…or help convince the science, history, and art teachers in your school that it’s going to be okay for students to miss their classes during the tour. Cross curricular thinking may create allies supporting the tour among your teaching colleagues.

You’ve all heard the term “tourist trap”—referring to places or destinations usually with little relevance to the area that seem to exist solely for the purpose of extracting money from travelers.

These may be attractions and restaurants that are the same experience regardless of the city in which it stands. Almost every location has enough sites, local flavor restaurants, or entertainment experiences that provide a very full itinerary without spending your students’ time and money taking in one of these types of options.

The typical reasoning is these offer “fun” for the students. I can tell you from 25 years of experience with my own students and thousands for which I planned travel—the authentic locations that are unique to the site are just as fun, often less expensive, and significantly more memorable.

Here’s the thing—the right balance of activities and the togetherness of the group is what MAKES the fun. Combined with the satisfaction of authentic experiences that truly broaden your students’ horizons expands their comfort zones and their appreciation for new adventures. All aboard for the growth zone!

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