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MAC Corner

Mike Lawson • Features • April 7, 2015

MAC Corner Tips for TripsMany school bands, orchestras, and choirs take trips with their ensembles. Regardless of the reason, directors have to work closely with administrators, parents, students, their colleagues, and community in order to make any trip a success. Here are a few ideas that I believe every director should consider when beginning to plan:

Set The Stage

The first meeting any director should have is with the building level administrator. This meeting should happen 12 to 24 months out, and should be an honest discussion on why the group should begin the process. There are times when some real preparation will need to occur to prepare application materials for a special event, while other times it may be just a few months of fundraising to get the job done. Chances are they will also want to know how you intend to pay for the trip. But in any case, have the conversation and be sure that you have their backing before you proceed. What you don’t want is for your principal to find out in the grocery store when a parent says, “Isn’t it great that the orchestra is taking a trip to Chicago!” None of us like surprises – especially administrators. Communicate early and often.

Do Your Homework

Contact other directors who may have taken a similar kind of trip with their groups. Find out what their students enjoyed most and find out what things to avoid. If the trip involves an application, ask them about the process and find out if there needs to be additional follow-up once the application has been submitted. If the trip will not happen without acceptance from an organization, stop here. Do not “oversell” a promise to your students and parents only to have to later tell them they were not accepted. It is better to do all the work behind the scenes and wait.

Directors should also determine their optimal time frame for the trip, intended means of transportation, lodging preferences, meal provisions, and the special events or attractions that they want to be sure are included. Once this has been done, it is time to put together a Request for Proposal (RFP) and send it out to travel or tour companies that specialize in band, choir, and orchestra trips. You will see many companies who exhibit at state and national conventions and in-services and you will also want to ask other directors about their experiences. Although most every town may have a travel company, most of them do not have the experience or connections necessary to really meet the special needs of a musical ensemble. Using a professional music travel company also gives you their experience. Many times they can make suggestions that one would not normally consider or be able to secure tickets to hard-to-get venues such as symphony orchestra concerts, plays, and shows. Set a deadline to receive and review all the proposals.

Don’t make your decision on price alone. Study each proposal and evaluate them on the merits of the proposal’s contents. You may want to have a committee of music parents, students, and an administrator to help review the proposals. Whereas one proposal may be a bit higher in price, look to see if they are offering you better meals, a nicer hotel, higher priced admission tickets, or a liaison that will be with you the entire time. 

Once you review these proposals you will begin to get a sense of the company or companies that seems to provide you the best value for your money. That is when you can begin to have more conversations and narrow it down to a final decision. Ask them for references and do diligence on them. You may even want to have one or more companies make a presentation to the review committee or the executive committee of your parents’ organization. It is important to remember that you are entering into a business transaction that will involve tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Seek Approval

In some districts your building administrator will be able to secure permission for your trip while others may need the approval of the Board of Education. Regardless of the level(s) of approval you need, it is important to prepare a detailed trip proposal. This trip proposal should address the big six questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

Who. Identify the student, faculty, and staff members that will go on this trip. Indicate the number of chaperones you plan to include and how their trip will be paid for.

What. State what the trip is. If it involves an invitation then include a copy of the invitation. If it’s a destination trip such as Washington, DC, Orlando, Chicago, et cetera, then indicate such.

When. Indicate when the group will depart school and when they will return. If any classes will be missed as a result of the trip, indicate how missed classes will be handled.

Where. In addition to informing them of the destination, include other special events and opportunities the students will get to experience along the way. Provide a suggested trip itinerary if possible.

Why. Let them know why you are proposing this trip. There are many benefits to taking a group to another city. In addition to the musical benefits, such a trip might offer your students a huge social experience. Indicate the benefits of having a group of people working towards a common goal, as well as the fact that some of your students have probably never been outside your local area. If the trip is the result of an invitation, then the positive benefits for the school district and community should also be emphasized. The “why” of your proposal must make a strong case as to the benefits a trip will offer everyone involved.

How. This is where you will provide a detailed breakdown of the costs of the trip. Articulate the total cost for the trip and break it down to a per person cost. Identify how funds necessary for the trip will be raised and if the trip is to be paid by total or group fundraising efforts or if each participant will be responsible for raising their own money. You will want to include if this trip is optional, if students can opt out of the trip. You will also want to address what you will do if a student really wants to participate but simply cannot afford it. State if there will be financial assistance available. You will also want to include if you plan on having a contingency fund for unforeseen expenses. In essence, the “How” of this proposal is your business plan. It should clearly state how you plan to raise the money needed and how you plan to spend it.

If you are working with a tour company, explain the process you used to secure and review proposals and what led you to your final recommendation. Include any support materials the tour company has given you as a part of your proposal.

Conclude your proposal with a statement of thanks and your personal pledge to assure the trip observes all of the rules and regulations of the school district, and that you will work to provide a positive, educational experience for the students. 

Once you have the approval to proceed, the fun begins!

Prepare The Participants

In addition to getting your musicians musically ready, you will want to be sure that you prepare them emotionally and socially as well. You will also want to be sure that you prepare the parents and chaperones who will be accompanying the group. For the students, it is the added responsibility they will assume by being representatives of their school, community, families, and self. For the parents, it will be continually reminding them that this trip is for the students, and they are there to serve. Chaperones are there only to help facilitate a safe and positive experience.

Don’t Forget To Remember

Keep a database of everyone who has helped make this trip a reality. Have your tour company arrange for you to get picture postcards from your destination and have them shipped to you in advance of the trip. Make sure you order enough for all your district administrators as well as the faculty and staff of your school. A week or so before you take the trip, have a meeting where you are covering the expectations of the students and parents in person. The final activity is to have students write a personal “thank you” note and address the postcard to one of the people on the list.  Collect all of the cards and once you arrive at your destination, find a mailbox and mail the postcards home. 

FollowUp and Closure

Once the trip is over it is time to say “thank you” to everyone who helped to make the trip possible. Include your students, parents, administration, and community. Ask your local newspaper to run a story about the experience and include quotes from the students. Prepare a trip summary for your principal, superintendent, and Board of Education. Appear at a board meeting to offer your personal thanks and bring a couple of students who went on the trip. Let them also say thank you. Try to bring home for each of the board members and your superintendent a small remembrance of the trip. 

Bon Voyage and Good Luck!

If you are looking for ideas to help build support for your program, get a copy of The Music Achievement Council’s “Tips for Success” by visiting nammfoundation.org/for-educators. The Music Achievement Council is a not-for-profit organization that is sponsored by the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) and the National Association of School Music Dealers. Its purpose is to enable more students to begin and stay in instrumental music programs, to share real-world, successful strategies developed by instrumental music teachers.


Charles T. Menghini is president, professor of music and director of bands at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, Illinois. He began his teaching at VanderCook College in 1994. Originally from Iron Mountain, Michigan, Menghini attended Northern Michigan University and the University of Missouri – Columbia where he earned his bachelor of science degree in music education. he also holds a master degree in education from the University of Missouri – Kansas City and a doctorate of arts in wind conducting from the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory. Charles Menghini has written for numerous professional journals and magazines and is also co-author of the Essential Elements 2000 Band Method, published by the Hal Leonard Corporation where he also serves as an educational advisor. Dr. Menghini frequently serves as a national and international conductor, clinician and adjudicator. An active performer, Menghini played lead trumpet in the Kansas City Chiefs Professional Football Band for fifteen seasons. Menghini is an educational member of the Music Achievement Council of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation.

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