Opportunities Abroad

SBO Staff • ChoralMarch 2014 • March 19, 2014

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By Tori Cook

Traveling abroad is a highly educational experience, especially when it comes to influencing young adults. 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. School music groups have a unique opportunity to enable such trips.

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

Something to consider before booking venues for a musical tour is their ability to attract an audience, and the destination itself can play a big role in that. It’s less likely that Costa Ricans or Argentinians, for example, will get to experience an American group performing in their local town. You may find that the locals in these less-traveled destinations are therefore more interested by these performances, leading to more eager, enthusiastic, and appreciative audiences.

Musical Collaborations

A traditional dance performance in Argentina can make for an outstanding educational excursion.

A traditional dance performance in Argentina can make for an outstanding educational excursion.

Straying from the beaten path 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 any 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, it is recommended that the teacher allow the students to work on their repertoire with the local conductor and even perform aay 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 very familiar with playing “Western music,” they are 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 many African locations, 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 collaboration 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.

Joint concerts with local ensembles are a great way to foster intercultural exchange.

Joint concerts with local ensembles are a great way to foster intercultural exchange.

Cultural Awareness

Every destination is going to offer sightseeing opportunities 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, school music 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, groups will 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 over into their individual lives.

Choosing a Performance Tour Company

The Catedral Metropolitana in Buenos Aires, Argentina is a world-class performance venue that can host both choral and instrumental groups.

The Catedral Metropolitana in Buenos Aires, Argentina is a world-class performance venue that can host both choral and instrumental groups.

Veterans of travel understand the complexities of making the tour arrangements. While some teachers may decide to carry the burden of planning, 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 considering a tour company, tour leaders should search for one that understands the intended educational goals and can help maximize the experience for the students. The should be able to assist in the further development of an educational plan and can even discuss appropriate repertoire choices for the specific performance venues.

Funding the Tour

Every group faces the ultimate challenge of raising funds to support their tour. Here are some of the top tips to help manage funding goals and put the fundraising action into place:

  1. Determine budget and fundraising goal: The first step to a successful tour is to determine realistically the budget every person is willing to pay for the tour and the estimated amount of money to be raised through various efforts. With a budget in mind, it is easier to narrow down the limitless possibilities of destinations, sightseeing activities, and number of performances to include.
  2. Choose the destination: Yes, destination does matter. For reference, South America is on the low-end of the price spectrum with Peru and Costa Rica as relatively inexpensive options. Meanwhile Africa and certain areas of Europe, such as Italy, are on the high end. China, surprisingly, can come at a reasonable mid-range rate if the tour focuses on one or two cities. Limiting the number of cities will help minimize costs for internal flight tickets, which can be pricey.
  3. Choose the season: If costs are a concern, avoid traveling in high-season (the summer months). Look for ways to travel in low-season and the savings between land and air will certainly add up.
  4. Fundraising activities: Benefit concerts are always great as they serve a dual purpose: They allow time for practicing the touring repertoire while also providing the chance to promote your ensemble within the community.

Service organizations or local businesses are also often willing to help donate some funds to your students, though it helps to give them specifically laid-out sponsorships guideline. This can give a business/organization the information it needs to promote their activism in the community and for their own tax purposes. For example, instead of asking a business for $500 for the general tour, ask them to sponsor a particular singer with a $500 donation. This is not only a more effective approach, but it also helps build lasting relationships between the ensemble and its community leaders.

Raffles/silent auctions can be very successful in raising funds, especially if a “big-ticket” item is involved. Some tour companies are willing to help offset the costs of their tours by offering up various travel items or even weekend getaways for the organization to use for raising funds. If you’re using a tour company, be sure to ask them how they can help with the ensemble’s fundraising efforts. Also, if planning a raffle, be sure to check with your local city/state laws on the proper handling procedures.

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, learning can begin.

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, she can be contacted at encoretours@acis.com.

The Great Wall is a popular destination for performing groups on tour in China.

The Great Wall is a popular destination for performing groups on tour in China.

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