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.
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.
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.
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 possible...it 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.
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.
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 organization...in 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.
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
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.