Selecting the Best Trip for Your Students

Tom Merrill • Travel/Festivals • November 11, 2016

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Traveling with your student performing groups can be a rewarding and enlightening experience.

The world of music travel is full of incredible opportunities, allowing students to take their talents on the road to locations ranging from music festivals close to home or even to Europe. The advantages of traveling are endless – performance trips create camaraderie between students, allow students to develop independence (after all, it could be the first night away from home for some of your young ‘Padawans’), encourage performing to an audience that does not consist solely of mom and dad, immerse students in an unfamiliar culture, and treat students to a fun and educational reward for their efforts throughout the year. Not to mention creating motivation to practice and the recruiting benefits attached to a performance trip. It has been said that, “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer,” and I wholeheartedly agree.

With all of the amazing opportunities available across the country, the seas, and the globe, how do you choose the best trip for your program? This article will summarize the benefits of each category of performance trip and provide real world feedback from the best possible sources – school music directors just like you! Please keep in mind that each trip discussed will also include myriad significant experiences, including attractions, museums, professional performances, and more. While a carefully planned performance trip includes a balance of fun and educational activities, this article will focus on the most important component of any performance trip – the performance itself.

Music Festival Tour

A Music Festival Tour, perhaps the most common performance trip, offers substantial advantages to most music programs. Music festivals typically include an adjudicated performance, followed by an on-stage clinic, and conclude with an awards ceremony at a local attraction. Many festivals offer competitive and non-competitive options, providing directors a choice as to the more appropriate motivating factor for their students. Music festivals can be found in most major cities and theme parks across the country.

So how do I know if a festival trip is the right choice for my program? Mark Kadetsky, Band Director at Fernwood Middle School (New Jersey) plans a festival trip on an annual basis: “Since we began participating in music festivals, the retention and performance levels of my groups have risen significantly. Any time you combine rigor, authentic assessment, and fun, your program is more likely to succeed. In addition, several teachers and administrators attend the festivals with us, and this has, in turn, deepened the relationship between the band and the school faculty and leadership.”

Music festivals offer the “best of both worlds” – a performance and an inspiring clinic – and are often able to cater to schools on a budget as the costs to produce the event (performance hall rental, adjudicator stipends, etc.) are spread between multiple schools. Dr. Mike Mazzarisi, President of Performing Arts Consultants, has been planning festivals since 1984: “A music festival is the perfect opportunity to receive feedback from a team of adjudicators, rather than just one clinician. Price is certainly a major factor – a music festival trip can be more affordable than a customized tour while also offering an amazing performance experience.”

A festival trip can also be an appropriate choice for a school traveling with several ensembles as the performances take place in a pre-planned location, eliminating the need for multiple venues. Finally, music festivals often offer opportunities for students from multiple schools to interact, allowing them to realize that music students, no matter where they reside, are truly the cream of the crop!


Customized Performance Tour

Do you have a location in mind for your trip that does not have an associated music festival? Is one of your primary trip goals to showcase your ensembles to an audience rather than a panel of adjudicators? What if your school will not allow students to travel during state-mandated standardized testing, eliminating virtually every regularly scheduled event? Or do your students just really, really, REALLY want to perform at Disney World? It sounds like a customized performance tour may be the right choice for your program!

Peter Markes, Orchestra Director at Edmond North High School (Oklahoma), has planned several customized performance tours: “In choosing to rent out facilities for longer periods of time, our students have been exposed to a more professional experience. Whether it’s Chicago Symphony’s Armour Stage, Carnegie Hall, the Strathmore in Baltimore, or NJPAC, we have always been treated professionally by the venue staff, and our students really rise to an even more mature demeanor. These rentals also allow us time to host clinics with some of the nation’s greatest educators, and the professional development for both our students and staff is off the charts.”

Customized performance tours can also be the best choice for schools limited to a shorter trip or a specific budget as many attractions include performance opportunities in the cost of admission. Kim Sutton, Music Director at Culleoka Unit School (Tennessee), recently traveled to Orlando with her ensembles: “My students had a great time and it was an experience they will never forget. The performances at Disney World and Epcot were so exciting for everyone, and the Disney Performing Arts staff treated them as professional performers! We really appreciated the red carpet treatment on our shoestring budget.”

The most considerable advantage to a performance tour is obvious – an attentive director can customize a trip to fit his or her vision of the best possible performance experience.

Clinic Performance Tour

A shared goal of every Music Educator is for their students to continue performing in college and beyond, either as a career or simply as an avocation. Exposing students to professional performers, conductors, or professors may be the single greatest advantage to planning your trip around a clinic. Dr. Chad Nicholson, Director of Bands at the University of Arizona, regularly works with traveling groups: “Conducting clinics for ensembles while they are engaged in major trips has been enlightening for me and for the students. Because they are away from their home schools and are completely focused upon the event at hand, they tend to be extremely receptive to instruction and excited to learn new ways to approach the music. Sometimes, the distractions of being in a regular school day packed with pep rallies, standardized tests, and fundraisers prevent a sense of musical momentum in the band room. College clinics encourage intense focus without distractions, and they provide students the additional benefit of exposure to the college learning environment.”

However, clinics are not limited to college campuses. Many U.S. Military Ensembles welcome student groups to their facilities to observe rehearsals and participate in clinics with some of the finest musicians in the country. Additionally, clinics with professional musicians can be planned at a local school or even in the ballroom of your hotel, as long as the clinic takes place at a reasonable hour.

Neil Delson, Band Director at Central Bucks High School West (Pennsylvania), traveled to Washington, DC with his students in 2016: “Our Jazz Ensemble participated in a performance and clinic that is unquestionably one of the highlights of my teaching career. Our students prepared music from the U.S. Army Blues library in preparation for the clinics on this trip. We knew we would be observing the Army Blues’ rehearsal, but as a special surprise, the band cut their rehearsal time short and invited our band on stage. Our band performed their repertoire at Fort Myer, with members of the Blues sitting in and the composers of each and every tune on site to give feedback on our performance. This is the type of trip that appeals to me and to my students. It’s always a bit of a

hodgepodge of kids who travel with us— it’s never the ENTIRE group — so playing literature can often be a challenge since we don’t require all of our members to attend. The flexibility of this trip allowed everyone to engage in amazing musical extensions of their curriculum and spend time as ambassadors for our school.”

A clinic performance tour can be a cost-efficient and inspiring trip that also provides invaluable exposure to lifelong musicians.

Performance Cruise

One of the more thrilling performance trips, cruising allows student groups to travel to exotic destinations, including the Bahamas and Mexico, in addition to offering a working venue for the group’s on-board performance. According to Mazzarisi, “There are several high points to taking your music students on a cruise. Groups perform in a venue that is a totally professional environment. Meals on the ship are upscale when compared to a typical land trip and are included in the pre-trip pricing, creating fewer variables during the planning process. The ship’s schedule includes constant activities, ranging from karaoke to professional shows, meaning that students will be entertained throughout the trip. Directors can also expect high quality service as cruise ships routinely cater to thousands of guests at a time.”

While cruising may sound adventurous, cruise ships actually offer a safe and secure environment as the ship provides builtin boundaries, prohibiting students from wandering off in an unfamiliar city. While in port, students would be required to remain with a chaperone on the beach and during excursions, as well as when re-entering the ship.

Are you concerned about the educational value of a cruise? Mazzarisi mentions that, “Many groups choose to turn their cruise into a music festival by planning an on-board adjudicator/clinician. This experience allows the director and the clinician to ‘talk shop’ throughout the cruise, creating an educational environment for the director, as well.”

Directors interested in cruising should be aware that cruise lines work exclusively with selected tour operators and that a passport is strongly recommended.

International Performance Tour

At last, we come to the Big Kahuna – an international performance tour! Quite simply, international performance tours offer an abundance of musical and historical values that are unmatched in the United States and an opportunity to become intimate with another culture. Consider the following scenario:

Jonathan Sylvester Bach, Orchestra Director at Stradivarius High School in Cremona, Massachusetts, is in the process of selecting music for the spring concert. Bach decides that the concert will only involve music from the Classical period, composed by Mozart and Haydn. Bach works diligently to create musical connections for his students, annually planning a day-trip to a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert. While brainstorming, Bach has an epiphany – “What better way to connect my students to Mozart and Haydn than a trip to Austria?”

I’m sure that you’ve considered the aforementioned scenario – an international tour is truly the trip of a lifetime for many student performers. Christopher Vitale, Director of Bands at Westfield High School (New Jersey) traveled to Europe with his students in 2015: “The international travel experience was special for our students and our community. To this day, our first trip abroad is something that students reference as one of the most memorable experiences as a member of our program. As a result, our upcoming students are excited and motivated to be part of the high school band program and for future travel opportunities.”

Please keep in mind that an international performance tour requires a healthy budget and passports. If you are considering an international trip, make sure to begin the planning process well in advance.

In Conclusion

Music travel options abound for student performing groups. With thoughtful planning and careful consideration of time, budget, motivational factors, educational values, and performance goals, the perfect performance trip is out there. The question remains: What will you choose?

George Nimmo is a tour operator for Performing Arts Consultants, in addition to being a music educator and professional trumpeter. In his free time, Nimmo is an avid outdoorsman, actively backpacking and mountaineering around the world. He resides in his home state of New Jersey.

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