Perspective: Often Overlooked Student Benefits of Band Travel

Mike Lawson • Commentary • June 11, 2015

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(c) Sterling OrtizThis past week I’ve spent a lot of time meeting with the top brass of the performing arts programs put on at Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. as well as spending time in the two respective parks, meeting cast members in all areas of their hospitality, entertainment, educational, and management operations. A common theme among them was how many ended up working in their current capacity because of a band trip taken to perform in the parks. At Disney, in particular, it was almost a running gag after a while for me to ask what year a park cast member (as their employees are called) visited the park with their high school marching band.

Of course, this is just anecdotal, but it seemed like a majority of the time I asked a cast member how they ended up in Orlando, Fla. working for Walt Disney World, their answer involved them first visiting the parks with their high school band program, performing in a concert band competition, or a jazz band performance, or marching with their band in a parade. This was true of college kids I met who were working for a few months for college credit/work experience through the Disney College Program; on up to senior management who experienced and fell in love with Disney in high school back in 1979. One of the concierges at the Disney Grand Floridian was a 24-year-old young man who moved down from the middle of Illinois to take a job at Disney after college, having also participated in the college program, but having first-ever experienced the world outside of his corn-growing small farming town on a high school band trip to march in the parade on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. Throughout the management meetings I had, I met at least four people who work at Disney in their performing arts educational programs who either came down as a student with their marching band, or brought their band down to the park, loved it, and explored career opportunities.

 Much was made by the management of the programs that students gain a lot from band travel, as for many students it may literally be the first time they’ve left their state, left their small town, and seen the big world that awaits them. So many skills can be picked up in the process of planning a band trip, taking part in an educational workshop, and performing in public. It’s really up to the band directors to drive the points home to the school administrators and even to the band boosters and parents that preparing for and taking part in a trip to do a band performance can produce a lifetime of benefits. First, the planning that goes into the trip – including the tasks of fundraising and working hard to meet a set goal to afford what is no doubt an expensive excursion – should be invaluable in helping a student learn how to plan, how to budget, how to set goals, and how to meet them: all critical life skills.

As a musician, a student can never have enough experience performing in front of an audience. From rehearsals to sight-reading, from costume/uniform prep to hitting the stage together, if a student has any aspirations of making music part of his or her future vocation, public performance experience is mission-critical. Beyond that, some of the workshops I witnessed spoke to the career-planning skills the students need to work on to the degree of complete proficiency if they hope to work professionally as a musician in a setting like an orchestra pit for a Broadway show, or a session musician in a studio, or an on-call sideman for a local band. We’re talking about the kind of skills that it’s easy to forget students can glean from choosing the right band travel opportunities – opportunities which give the band more than just a long bus ride and a stage to perform on as an excuse to ride a roller coaster. If the band directors put the right kind of planning and thought into what kind of trips the band takes, they have the chance to make a lifelong impact on some of their students; to give some of those students their “aha moment” when that light bulb might just go on and shine brightly, illuminating a path for them post-high school that they may have never considered prior. That’s a lot to consider, but the evidence I saw just in listening to clinicians presenting at theme parks, and watching the students’ faces as they realized their instrument might just be their ticket off of the farm and out of their small town into the brave new world, kept them on the edge of their seats throughout the workshop. That is, until it was over and it was time to hit the roller coasters. They are, after all, still kids.

Mike Lawson

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