Because of a Band Trip

My whole life started because of a band trip.

OK, wait...that sounds worse than it is. What I mean is that so many of the incredible things that have become my life started because of a band trip. So many other incredible things that have become my life happened because of a band camp just a year earlier--but that's another story for another time. However, that one formative year set the course for pretty much everything that's happened since.

It was the summer before my senior year in high school, and our marching band had been invited to represent the state of Iowa in the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C. I was drum major, and more important than leading the band down Pennsylvania Avenue in one of the most memorable experiences of my life would be the leadership experience the role would bring. That spring not only included a high level of performance preparation...with the pressure of knowing that our band was now on a national stage...but also the added layer of activity that accompanies a large venture like this.

Countless fundraisers. Intense teamwork. Lots of public events to generate support. And being drum major, I was often tapped as a representative face of the band...attending everything from Kiwanis breakfasts and Masonic Temple meetings to a ceremony with the Governor. I was the face of the band in other ways too...

That's me on the right. Note the look of uncontrollable teenage euphoria.

But the side benefit of all this was it helped my introverted self develop the key life skill of confidence in public speaking and presentations in front of an audience of strangers, something that in retrospect has contributed to not only professional success...but some fun opportunities. It is a skill that has served me well.

The trip itself was eye-opening of course. Up to that point, aside from a single family trip to Orlando, the boundaries of my travels had been Mt. Rushmore, Duluth, St. Louis and the Wisconsin Dells. This would be the largest and most diverse place I'd ever been, and I would see more of the country than I'd ever seen before. When we finally reached the Capitol, seeing all these sites that up to that point had been images in history books, movies, and the nightly news would whet an appetite for a bigger world.

Where did it go from there?

Because of a band trip, I eventually went into music education. I took my own groups on trips and broadened their circle of experiences in the same way. Eventually that led to a career as a performance travel planner, creating experiences for thousands more students.

Because of a band trip, I've been to the Rose Parade and the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. I've met an Oscar winner and a Disney legend. I've seen landmarks from the Grand Canyon to the Big Apple. I've been on stage in some of the great concert halls of the world. And I've seen miracles happen when communities come together to reach a goal.

Because of a band trip, I can navigate cities far removed from my rural Iowa roots. I've come to understand other cultures rather than fear them. I've learned to accept other lifestyles and respect other beliefs and opinions rather than reject them. And I've met countless people who have touched my life in amazing ways.

Because of a band trip, I went to grad school. I kept learning and growing as a musician, and met incredibly talented people who became dear friends and colleagues. Because I went to grad school, I met my wife...and we have two outstanding, clever, fun and loving boys.

So, here's the thing. What if for me that band trip never happened?

That's the unfortunate reality for many students today. Finances and circumstances too many times don't allow for individuals, and often times entire groups, to have the kind of experiences that can be so formative. How many life trajectories could be changed for good if the resources were there?

This is why the SYTA Youth Foundation exists.

The philanthropic sister organization to the Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA), the purpose of the SYTA Youth Foundation is to create ongoing awareness and assistance programs for the direct benefit of deserving youth who may not otherwise have these sort of opportunities. Their mantra: "Travel Changes Young Lives For Good."

Their various programs provide scholarships and grants that make it possible for these students to have the same kind of life changing experiences I had. My family and community were able to financially support this endeavor, and I was very fortunate in that regard. Thanks to SYF and their programs such as Silver Lining, Next Generation, the Ripley Hunter "World is a Classroom" Essay Contest and the Road Scholarship, the financial gap has been filled over the years for hundreds of youth who have been able to expand their horizons and have their lives changed for good. And yet, SYF has only been able to award approximately 12% of the requests they receive.

This is where we all come in as a community. At the recent SYTA conference in Orlando, my colleagues and I were honored to present a donation to the SYTA Youth Foundation on behalf of Festivals of Music, our sister organization Music In The Parks, and the Wells Foundation. This is one way we are proud to give back in gratitude of the success we have had within the performance travel industry.

As you can see from my face, this was much more enjoyable to pose with than a trash bag.

But more help is needed. If you can appreciate the difference that travel can make to a young person, the way it can open eyes and minds and futures undreamed of, we urge you to make a donation of any size to this worthwhile cause. Every dollar counts and helps a deserving student get one step further on a thousand mile journey.

I cannot even imagine the course my life would have taken had these experiences not been a part of my youth. How so many things would be different than the life I enjoy today.

Please support the SYTA Youth Foundation. Because a band trip can go much further than the bus will carry you.

First Year Music Teachers: The Adventure is Just Beginning

The 2016-17 school year is now or very soon will be underway. Our teenage sons are continually reminding us of this. And not in an enthusiastic way.

With the new year there will be a new wave of music educators, out of college and leaping into their first teaching job. And to any new teachers reading this we say, congratulations...welcome to one of the greatest and most important professions in the world. We've been where you are. Your adventure is only beginning.

Part of our mission here at Festivals of Music is to do all we can to provide helpful resources to teachers--whether new or experienced--in order to make the job somewhat easier and contribute to reversing the trend of shortened teaching lifespans among the music teacher population. Speaking for myself, burnout on the profession is something I know all too well.

Don't get me wrong--I'm very happy with my lives as a performance travel planner and now festival organizer. I've still considered myself an educator in these roles. But there are things I regret not having achieved or experienced during the time I was in the rehearsal room and concert hall.

Well, so far anyway...who knows what the future could bring. I could still be asked to conduct Lincolnshire Posy on a future Eastman Wind Ensemble concert. Admittedly, the only qualifier I have to that possibility is the fact that I'm still taking in oxygen. But there's always hope. 

Because being a resource for music educators is at the core of our philosophy, we have begun partnering with organizations such as the National Band Association to create online resources for music educators to assist not only musically, but with the day to day administrative tasks and challenges. These are the topics for which there is not as much collegiate training and is by nature "on the job" training. And, sadly, often the factors that lead to short tenures in the music education world.

We're tapping into a network of experienced teachers to bring together best practices on a number of topics, and you'll see more of that on our blog in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned.

To jump start that process--we wanted to present some of the blog posts from the past year that might be most helpful to young teachers that are just beginning on their journey. Or, for that matter, experienced teachers just needing to see things through new eyes.

Here they are, at the risk of producing the equivalent of our blog's first "clip show":

  • Upon reflection of 25 years in great professions that can still be stressful, here's some thoughts on self care so that you can make it for the long haul.
  • One of the best things you can do for yourself is recharge at music conferences. For band and orchestra directors, here's some of the great things experienced last year at the Midwest Clinic. Consider attending if you haven't--we would love to see you there.
  • If one of the "to-dos" on your list this year is to take your ensemble on tour, we hope you'll give some thought to why and how this can best benefit your group.
  • If you are going to plan to tour with your group, here's reasons to consider a professional travel provider.
  • If on that tour you are considering a festival performance (and we hope you are!), here are ten reasons it can be the best option for your group. And, here are suggestions on how to get the most out of the experience.

There's more to come, and we look forward to sharing the journey with you. Bon voyage!

Ten Reasons to Perform in a Festival While on Music Tour

We lived in the Boulder, Colorado, area for nearly 15 years. If you've ever been there, you know that it is a bit of an eclectic place. Legally now.

One of our favorite things to do was to go downtown to the Pearl Street Mall, an outdoor open air plaza that was usually filled with street performers demonstrating a wide variety of talents. Poets, singers, and activists. Sometimes musicians with guitars or other instruments, always with a case open for spare change. The one that always drew a crowd was "the ZIP Code Guy." This was a person who could tell you the city and state where you lived if you told him your ZIP Code. Freaky, yet entertaining.

I often felt badly for the truly talented ones--and there were several. Here they were, pouring heart and soul and emotion into their performance art...surrounded by shoppers hustling about, the occasional siren screaming by, small children noisily running past them, and any number of other distractions that merely made them part of the scenery.

As the economy slowed in 2008, one of the natural trends in performance travel was to work to keep costs managed to allow as many students to participate as was a wise move and likely helped preserve travel traditions in countless music departments. One of the ways this was done was to find locations where groups could perform for low to no cost, thus being able to maintain the premise of a music tour and satisfy administrations and school boards by having musical content...while saving money in the process.

Open air plazas, shopping centers, lobbies or entrance areas of attractions and even observation decks in skyscrapers became places where groups could perform for little or no cost (besides the price of admission). The unfortunate trade-off was in the quality of the performance setting, and the acceptance of "good enough" for the cost. These talented musicians became simply part of the scenery, and this became a new normal for music tours.

As the economy improves, perhaps now is the time to reconsider this approach. And while it will obviously appear self-serving to hear this coming from a festival the bigger picture should consideration be given to the impression that use of these free locations makes regarding the value placed on music education? Is it truly "good enough" for our young musicians?

Compared to a free performance at an open public venue, a festival offers much more:

  • You are performing in a venue meant for music performance, in a location of acoustic and aesthetic quality where your musicians will be able to sound their best and truly showcase their talents.

  • You are in an indoor venue and not at the mercy of weather conditions. Many free venues are outdoor locations.

  • Nearly all equipment needs—large percussion instruments, piano, choral risers, music stands, chairs and sound systems—are included in your festival cost and readily available for use, rather than being rented and carted to and from the site. A self-contained performance location greatly simplifies your planning and allows you to focus on the performance.

  • You are not subject to repertoire and ensemble restrictions (as you may be in a church), noise levels (as you may be in a museum) or extraneous sound interruptions (as you may experience in an open plaza).

  • Audiences in a public venue are generally passive and transitory. At a festival, those in the audience are people who are engaged in and appreciate your work—whether they are adjudicators, other student performers or music booster parents (your own and perhaps those of other groups). They understand the hard work you put in to achieve what you do.

There is deeper educational and musical value added to your tour:

  • The commentary and clinics from the adjudication panel provide a variety of ideas, opinions and feedback from several experienced educators with differing viewpoints and expertise. This provides a wider range of ways to improve musicianship, all from a single performance.

  • The opportunity to hear other ensembles provides insight on what you may be doing well musically, what areas you can improve upon, and may introduce you to interesting unfamiliar works in the repertoire and other new ideas.

  • Listening to and supporting other ensembles develops community in the music education world, providing the opportunity to hear and interact with student musicians from many different areas and backgrounds. It makes our musical world more connected.

  • An accomplishment quality rating at a national level festival can provide a benchmark that can be a point of pride and program advocacy within your home community.

  • Even if not all of your ensemble members are able to attend, quality adjudication panels at an educationally focused festival understand these tour realities and are able to provide constructive observations in a confidence building manner.

Quality over Quantity. A meaningful music tour should include setting and achieving goals that lead to growth for the individual musician and the program as a whole, rather than a “checklist” of activities. If a performance is to be a part of your music tour plans, you want it to be a worthwhile opportunity that enhances the education and growth of your students and your program.

Ultimately a successful music tour is about balance--putting equal weight on the musical aspects and the fun activities. Making certain that the music portion is worthwhile and rewarding makes it easier to justify the truly long-term value of the experience.

Backstage at the Big Parade

The question is always the same: "Did Santa's pants fall off?"

It's our Thanksgiving tradition here. First thing in the morning, I prep my apple sausage stuffing and get it into the crockpot for a long, slow cook. (It starts with two sticks of butter and kind of goes downhill from there....) I grab my second or third cup of coffee and, as I have for as long as I can remember, sit down to watch the NBC broadcast of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. As the years pass the list of guest celebrities gets less and less familiar; I'm currently at "The Cast of Sesame Street" when recognition finally dawns on me. But one thing over the years has never changed.

I'm here for the bands.

But back to Santa. My wife Jen swears that sometime in the early 1980's, at the end of the parade when he arrived at 34th Street and Herald Square, Santa stood to wave to the cheering crowds--and due to either a faulty buckle or mischievous elf he lost his pants. She distinctly remembers her and her Grandma Edna looking at each other with the expression of "did that just happen?" I've never seen video evidence of long-lost footage on YouTube, nothing of the sort. She has found other people with the same memory, but no proof. Just like Area 51, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Cubs winning the World Series.....I want to believe.

We have lots of great memories of this holiday classic, mostly viewed through increasingly larger TV screens. One of our favorites was watching at home as our alma mater, Illinois State University's "Big Red Marching Machine" brought in the jolly man himself:

But for me, nothing tops where I was one year ago--when I actually got to BE there for the first time.

It was one of the last tours I organized, for a school and a director who had become dear friends over many tour experiences together. The American Fork High School Band from Utah was making a return trip to the parade, and I decided this time around I wanted to be there with the group to finally experience the Macy's Parade first hand.

During the planning process of something like this, and then actually being there, you learn a lot that generally you would never know sitting in front of the television in your slippers with a hot cup of coffee. It greatly increases your appreciation for the hard work that goes into a performance at this event, and how this gives hundreds of band students a glimpse into the world of professional entertainment.

First, the area where the bands perform for the cameras on 34th Street in front of Macy's is much smaller in person:

No, those aren't jazz hands.

It feels smaller still on parade day when they bring in the lights, cameras, bleachers for special guests and the broadcast booth. Not to mention the massive broadcast team that runs the show. You would look at this and wonder how the large bands can maneuver as they do in that tight space. Apparently, the camera not only adds ten pounds, but about 30 feet as well.

It's also a very precisely timed event. Just off camera there is a red starting line on the street, and each group has precisely 75 seconds once they begin crossing that line to do their entire camera performance. That includes getting everyone into the staging area. If you've watched and it looks like the bands--especially the large ones with 200+ members--are practically running into their spots, it's because they are running in step to their spots.

Bands film their routines in advance to send to the Macy's Parade creative team for approval of length as well as critique and suggestions. The Macy's creative team is there to help these groups look and sound their best during this "once in a lifetime" moment, and this collaboration works to create a performance that has a professional polish and appeal for the millions in the TV audience.

But the truly amazing part of this is what leads up to this moment. The part behind the curtain that goes unseen on parade day.

The day usually starts for some of these bands around 1:00 AM. And it's earlier if the band is staying outside of the city and needs to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel. We stayed in midtown which allowed us to sleep in to the lazy hour of 1:30 AM. They get into full uniform, load themselves and their instruments (and nothing else) onto their buses and make their way to Herald Square for camera rehearsal.

The camera rehearsal serves two purposes. It gives the camera team their opportunity to finalize what you the viewer will see by deciding points of interest in the performance, setting proper camera angles and getting the timing "just right". It also gives the group their only "run through" of that routine they've been perfecting for months on the actual stage. Often this will be the first time they will have had the opportunity to review the routine as a full group since leaving home days before.

This will also be their only practice with the creative team who will give them their visual "GO" cue for that critical 75 seconds to start. Visual because of the factor that is still not in place and won't be until their actual performance moment--the overwhelming sound of cheering crowds echoing off of the canyon of buildings on 34th Street, making it virtually impossible to hear an audio cue. At most groups will get to run this twice...and that's usually only if the camera crew feels they need another look. This gives a completely new definition to being "on" in a rehearsal, and the focus demanded of a group is tremendous.

So now it's about 4:30 AM, you're in midtown with very little to do until parade line up around 9:00 AM. What to do before traveling 50 blocks uptown to the step off point? Shawarma take-out for 300?

Many groups will do a combination of the following, in no particular order:

  • Find a quiet street, park the buses, and get some sleep. In full uniform. With your instrument on your lap.
  • Get breakfast.
  • Repeat the sleep plan.

We had set up a buffet breakfast for the band at Planet Hollywood, and they and locations like Hard Rock Café tend to be some of the "go-to" places for the Macy's bands. They are incredibly efficient at serving multiple bands of hundreds of students and chaperones in these early hours of the day. It is likely one of their biggest days of the year--and the day hasn't even started at that point.

I can also tell you this: one of the most surreal things you can ever experience is Times Square at 5:00 AM on a holiday.

I half expected to see Charlton Heston running down the street yelling something about soylent green.

Finally the groups arrive near the American Museum of Natural History, and to say the atmosphere is festive is an understatement. Bands and parade units lining up, floats being boarded, the iconic balloons being inflated....and everyone in a jovial mood and happy to be there, despite the likelihood of complete lack of sleep. It is a truly unique and wonderful experience that, in a city with a reputation for brusqueness, exudes the warmth and generosity of the holiday.

Here's the truly amazing part to think about. When you see those bands from the warmth and comfort of your living room, you're seeing about 200 teenagers who have been up since 1:00 AM, have had a rehearsal at about 3:30 AM, have slept sporadically on a bus, have just marched almost 3 miles in who knows what kind of weather....and are giving the performance of a lifetime at the end of the parade.

And they're nailing it.

Tomorrow I'll watch the parade, as I always have, but with a new set of eyes and a bigger sense of awe and appreciation that comes from the perspective of having been there. And I'll be thinking about the incredible memories of that experience, grateful for having had the opportunity to peer briefly behind the curtain of magic of this holiday tradition.

And of course, watching Santa closely. Because you never know. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Part 4: It's Not Where....It's WHY. Performance Tour Philosophy.

In this final part of this series, we'll discuss ways to keep the non-musical parts of your experience authentic and truly memorable for your musicians.

Keep It Real

Full disclosurethis one is a personal pet peeve. Its also part of our human nature and our own comfort zones, because we are creatures of habit who like to know what to expect.

Youre in a major cityperhaps New York or Chicago, maybe even somewhere like Dallas or New Orleans. A place with a culture, history, and ethnic mix all its own. Why on earth would you want to experience a chain restaurant or attraction that has no innate connection to your location? Or worse, that can be found close to home? (I cringe when I see touring students walk into the golden arches in Time Square.)


A perfect example: I once saw an itinerary for a group traveling to Hawaii that included an Aloha Italian Dinner the first night, pizza and hula lessons another night, and a meal at a chain Italian restaurant on a third night. With the incredible cultural mix that makes up HawaiiPolynesian, Japanese, etc.this was a missed opportunity that could have been avoided by creative guidance on the part of the travel planner.


In their defense: sometimes these types of places are the only ones capable of handling large numbers of people, particularly for mealsand they do an outstanding job of it at a very reasonable cost. And sometimes there are no other options logisticallyI have found myself in the same predicament during my travel planning days. But whenever possible, consider ways for your students to get a more authentic experience of that city.


Get creative. Ask your travel planner to identify the more unique restaurants and sites, music related or not. Sometimes this means taking the approach of splitting into smaller groups with chaperones and really learning to explore (which would be a necessity if in a foreign country). Thanks to my in-laws, Im a huge fan of travel expert Rick Steves and his Europe Through The Back Door philosophy of travel. Many of those basic concepts could be applied stateside, and you may even find that the out of the way places and activities have less cost (and more authenticity). Yes it has its challenges, and yes it means more research and logistical pre-planning.but the benefits can be truly unique and memorable.

A wise friend had a saying that is one of my favorites: There is no growth in a comfort zone, and no comfort in a growth zone. Get uncomfortable and grow!

In Conclusion

It is my hope that these ideas are helpful and thought-provoking as you map out your philosophy of performance touring. They are certainly not meant to ruffle feathers but instead to challenge us all to take a deeper look at the opportunities we provide our musicians as they venture out on performance tours. Our students, and our field of music education, certainly deserves no less than the best that we can provide them!

Part 3: It's Not Where....It's WHY. Performance Tour Philosophy.

In the first two installments, we've discussed setting the tone of your performance tour philosophy, as well as keeping the experience meaningful and well-paced for your ensemble. In this section, we'll address expectations as related to the performance experience itself.

Performance Prep

This isnt about musical preparation. This is about having a clear vision of the type of performance experiences you want for your musicians. There are three primary facets to this:


Setting. Consider the venue and how your group will sound and be able to present themselves. You and your musicians work hard to hone your craft and create beautiful performances with artistic merit. Dont sell yourselves short! For exampledoes having your string orchestra, wind ensemble or madrigal choir perform in a public space for whomever happens to walk by present you in your best light? Will ambient noise or weather conditions detract from the quality of your work? Does it make the kind of statement you desire to make about the importance of your programand music education in general?

Cost. This is the difficult reality, and it is a huge challenge in the performance travel industry. Most public performance venues--parks, plazas, or locations associated with an attraction--are free or inexpensive, and usually outdoors. They are also few and far between, and have the added challenge of on-site equipment needs. Concert venues of high quality are usually a higher cost. The adage you get what you pay for is more true here than in any other aspect of the performance tour experience.the possible exception being sharing an exchange concert or similar with a local ensemble who has access to a remarkable location. An awareness of this will help you prioritize this facet in your overall plan.

Artistic Merit. Is this a performance event designed and executed by musicians with musical integrity at the heart of the event, or created by an organization to generate travel revenue? Is this a selective special invitation performance opportunity? Do your homework. What is the nature and selectivity of the event? (Speaking for myself as an examplefor every ensemble I would contact to invite for Carnegie Hall performances, there were many, many more that I did not.) Im not saying one is necessarily better or worse than anotherthey are just different and your fit all depends on what is important to the growth and image of your program.

In speaking with travel planners at recent conferences, these items present some of the biggest challenges to meaningful performance touring right now. I anticipate that a solution to this will need to be achieved via a collaborative creative effort involving ensemble conductors, travel planners, festival organizers, tourism bureaus and arts organizations with access to quality concert venues.

In the final installment of this series, we'll discuss ways to keep the experience authentic for your musicians.

Part 2: It's Not's WHY. Performance Tour Philosophy.

In the previous post, we discussed two critical points related to performance tour philosophy--developing your overall goals and determining the scope of your experience. In this post, we'll address how depth of experience is more important than quantity.


Make It Meaningful


So often I see groups doing the same things in any given city, almost to the point of predictability. And while every city certainly has their must see much of the itinerary content I see are attraction experiences that are no different than what a tourist walking up to the admission window will receive. (Much of this, sadly, has been driven by the bid process trend of school districtswhere multiple travel planners have to design a tour to the common denominator, and the low bid wins. A topic for another time.)


This could take many formsit might be a hands-on workshop at a museum, an extended behind the scenes clinic experience with a performance organization or show, a multi-day collaboration with a leading conductor, a walking tour that incorporates the history of the area, or even something as simple as having the budget to see both a Broadway show and a symphony concert (rather than only choosing one). The possibilities are as endless as your creativity and asking the question, what if?


For example: a good friend in the Los Angeles group travel industry has an incredible program where groups have a private screening of a movie in a historic theater, followed by a Q & A with a star from the film. Twice I've had groups who met an Oscar-winning actor from a legendary film (who brought his statue to show the students!). Yes, these experiences are often higher costbut they are also tremendously higher value, because they are not experiences they can have on a family vacation.


This ties into the redefinition of the "big" tour concept that was discussed in the first part of this series. Less resources towards distance traveled gives you more to work with once you're at the location.


The side bonus to this: content of this type will likely be easier to justify to administration and school boards, especially in this day and age of ever-increasing scrutiny of time away from school (and ever-prevalent testing). This type of experience places less emphasis on sightseeing and more on educational and musical value.which might help them see beyond the price tag.


Pack Light


This is not a reference to a suitcase, but rather to schedule.


As directors of music ensembles (and I was guilty of the same), we have a tendency of thought that reads fill every minute of the touridle time only means teens getting into trouble. The other reasoning is the concept of getting our moneys worth, meaning that weve come all this distance so we need to see and do as much as humanly possible from breakfast to bedtime.


Unfortunately, what we see so many times as a result of this are students too exhausted to appreciate where they are and what they are experiencing. Its a shame to see kids falling asleep in the middle of a Broadway show or a philharmonic concert.not only a waste of an expensive ticket, but more painfully a lost cultural opportunity. Even worse is seeing them sluggish during a clinic or rehearsal with a great conductor/educator, or during their performancetimes when we all want them at their very best. Pacing is everything.


Quite simply, its the old concept of quality vs. quantity. Do you look at the experience as a one-shot opportunity, or a way to whet the appetite of your musicians for future experiences?


This comes back to my own personal experience in high school band and that trip to Washington, D.C. We saw a lot.but didnt see everything. What it did though was open the eyes of a kid from rural Iowa to a much bigger world, and motivated him to strive in life to achieve success and be able to experience things like this time and time again. (And when he was finally conducting a band of his own, guess where he took them on his first tour?)


In the next installment, we'll discuss having the vision of the performance experience you desire for your ensemble.




It's Not Where....It's WHY. Performance Tour Philosophy.

I was 16 years old, it was my first year as drum major, and this high school band trip to Washington, D.C. was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me.

Little did I realize at the time how this was the first step in a journey that has taken me thousands of miles to see amazing locations, introduced me to countless incredible people (including my wife), and given me the opportunity to experience once in a lifetime events.sometimes even more than once!

This initial spark led to ten years as a high school band director and a masters degree in conducting. Upon leaving the podium, I spent another decade as a tour consultant for one of the most successful and well-respected organizations in the performance travel field. That led to a role as a concert developer for an organization that produces and promotes collaborative concerts in some of the most famous concert venues in the U.S.among them Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Orchestra Hall in Chicago. And now finally here to Festivals of Music, creating a series of educational adjudicated festivals across the county.

It is through that lens of experience that I offer these thoughts. Within all these roles in my life, the constant has been the sameto provide musicians the kinds of life-altering opportunities that I had the good fortune to enjoy. Because I understand first-hand where that can lead. And as music educators, it is an enormous responsibility that demands thoughtful consideration of the why to include a performance tour as part of your program.

Begin With The End In Mind

With full credit to Steven Covey and his Seven Habits, this is perhaps the most important (and effective) thought that needs to be addressed when you begin the planning process. How do you ultimately want this to impact your musicians and your program?

This will be different for every program, and you as the director have the opportunity and responsibility to set that course. Speaking for myself as a music educator, I would want my student musicians to have a performance opportunity that is high quality and meaningful, a chance to improve their musicianship by working with a skilled conductor/educator, and the ability to hear a remarkable professional level performance.all while having a fun and memorable experience.

Fun, incidentally, doesnt necessarily mean time on a roller coaster. Ive seen adult and student musicians having the time of their lives in rehearsals and clinics, experiencing those "bonding" moments with an outstanding teacher. You can clearly see that on their faces! The Boy Scouts have a mantra of fun with a purpose; that line of thinking applies here.


I would even take this a step further, beyond a single tour experience, and think in terms of a multi-year plan. This is especially true if the group has no established history of performance travel. Since I used to live in Colorado, here's the metaphor I use: each hike should have a "mountaintop" moment....but you don't have to climb a Fourteener every time out!


Often times Ive advised groups to start small to test the watersfind out how well the students travel, what the financial thresholds are and how to reach them, and give yourself the opportunity to set the tone for your goals. Biting off more than you can chew, simply to generate a lot of excitement or interest and get lots of students involved, will often lead to disaster. Which leads to my next point.


Big Does Not Equal Distance


This is a concept in need of redefinition. So often we hear groups say that this is a big trip year.meaning a destination like New York, Orlando, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Europe, etc. as opposed to something more regionally based. Usually this is a connotation attached to the amount of distance that it takes to get there, and consequently the time and financial resources to make that happen. 


Over the years Ive seen groups put in enormous resources just to get to the destination, and then be limited to their time at the location or ability to experience the location in depth. I once saw a group drive over 20 hours to New York City, spend one night with two partial days in the city and drive back home..all for the sake of being able to say they visited New York City. While certainly there can be merit to wanting to expose students to a place they might not otherwise experience, wouldnt it be more rewarding to stay closer to home but give them something with depth and meaning that could be a truly life changing experience?


What if a big trip was instead defined as a big experience”….something out of the ordinary that could be a game changer for both your program and your musicians? Perhaps youre only traveling 4-8 hours down the road from home, but instead of the cost for a bus or plane to take you farther you use that budget to participate in an experience that is remarkable and more in-depth. Something with qualities that they will remember and make a true difference in their lives and in your program.


This relates to my next point, "Make It Meaningful," which we'll begin with in the next post.




"If nothing's ever said, then nothing's ever heard."

Wise words from one of my greatest teachers and life-influencers. Its a mantra Ive worked to live by, with the goal of always striving to create better experiences and better performances. After all, its why we do what we do, right?

As we dive into what I plan to be an ongoing feature on this site, I thought the best place to start might be to answer the most likely question -- Who is this guy?

First and foremost, I am a fully-fledged, self-avowed, unashamed, dyed in the wool band geek to the bone and proud of it. How so? Permit me some examples (I swear I am not making any of these up):

  • As a high school drum major, I once confronted the captain of the football team regarding why he had missed a critical band rehearsal. (Side note: do you know how to tell a well-constructed band uniform? The lapels dont stretch when youre lifted by them.)

  • My reception cake at my senior clarinet recital was decorated like a marching band drill chart. I actually fashioned flags and sideline pit equipment decorations made of paper and toothpicks. (Side note: yes, I should have been practicing more.)

  • My wife and I met at band camp.

  • We got engaged at Midwest. Then went to the Marine Band concert.

  • A brass quintet played Elsas Procession to the Cathedral at our wedding.

  • I wanted to name our sons John and Philip. (Side note: that got vetoed, as you can well imagine.)

A note of explanation and apology to choir and orchestra directors: I will write about wind band a lot. It's just my frame of reference, and not a slight to your endeavors in any way. My intent is that the meaning behind the conversations will be universal. Music is music is music. I know just enough about your areas to be dangerous, but adore and have performed in both genres. In the process of our conversations, I look forward to learning much more.


Aside from this, I do have a unique perspective in regards to the music education and festival performance travel areas in that Ive seen both from multiple angleshigh school band student, undergrad music ed major, graduate teaching assistant, ten years as a band director, twelve years as a performance travel planner, the past three years in concert festival recruitment and planning and now as a festival coordinator. This means Ive been a participant, a client, a consultant and a planner.thus experiencing the world of festivals and performance travel from both sides of the aisle. My goal is to share what Ive learned over collectively 25+ years in the field.


Does this mean I think I have all the answers? Not remotely! My goal for this forum is to be part how to, part advice column”, occasional “points to ponder”, but most importantly all dialogue. I want to hear your challenges and your successes. Weve included a comments sectiondont be shy. Odds are someone out there has a solution to a challenge you might be experiencing. If this forum can be a collaborative conduit for creative solutions—then weve made a difference together.


That said then, lets apply some ground rules:


  1. I will tell it like it is. Refer to the opening line of this post. But I do this from a position of honest observation, not inflammatory opinion. Frankly, none of us need that stress. We get enough of that from Facebook, and let's face it...there's an election year coming up too. There are incredible things happening in the areas of music festivals, music performance travel, and music education. I want to shine a spotlight to share those special opportunities. But like any field, there are things that can likely be improved upon and well pose questions about those. Lets work together to make things better.

  2. I expect you to do the same. Because I dont have all the answers, and my opinion shouldnt be the only one that counts. I'm also hoping to have some guests along the way.

  3. I am not here to sell you anything. Yes, I work for a festival planning organization. Yes, Id love to have your student musicians experience our events. But no, Im not going to promote it here. If you want to ask me about it, Im happy to discuss offline. Thats why I have an office phone and email address that you'll find here on the sitefeel free to call anytime. The only agenda here is helping you with your goals and sharing ideas.

  4. Play nice. No name calling, personal attacks, etc. Do unto others.

  5. Tell me what you want to know. Youre in the thick of it, every day, day after day. What would help you be more effective for your musicians? What would you most want your musicians to experience? Again, refer to the opening statement.

Finally, if you really want to better grasp my mindset and know what to expect, heres some recommended reading that has influenced me over the years:

  • Almost anything by business blogger Seth Godin. He has a daily blogId recommend subscribing to it. Very short and inspiring reads, and you don't have to be "business oriented" to gain something from it.

  • Lee Cockerell has written several books on leadership and client care (a term I prefer to customer service). Lee has held executive positions at Hilton, Marriott and most notably the Walt Disney World Resort. So, yeahhe knows a thing or two.

  • Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar. Nuff said.

  • How Full Is Your Bucket?" by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton.

  • "The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader" by John C. Maxwell.

  • Anything written by Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, one of the great mentors in my life....and yes, the opening quote of this post I attribute to him.


There will be more, but thats a start for you. Next weekwell start with what has become a core belief of mine over the years regarding the performance travel experience, and one that sadly often falls to the wayside in the planning process. Stay tuned!