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 same—to 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
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
“Fun,” incidentally, doesn’t necessarily mean
time on a roller coaster. I’ve 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 I’ve advised groups to start small to test the
waters—find 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 I’ve 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, wouldn’t 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 you’re 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.