Maria Belva and David Vernier, a husband and wife pair from New Hampshire, are preparing to lead their 8th international tour with the choir that they co-founded and lead together, the Cecilia Ensemble. This year, Maria and David will take a group of 18 high-school-aged girls to the Czech Republic. Maria and David believe that traveling and performing with their group abroad not only gives their ensemble concrete goals to work toward and adds depth to their program, but also provides their young singers with the opportunity to learn about and truly experience a culture different from their own.
“Touring is very important for the Cecilia Ensemble because it gives us a focus and we work towards that. It’s a way for all of us to come together to become friendlier with each other, the girls come from eight different schools in southern New Hampshire. We also learn at least one song from the country where we will be visiting. And this is very important because we become ambassadors of our state and of our country and we can present the United States to the world,” says Maria.
The Cecilia Ensemble has traveled every other year since 2003 and Maria and David have seen the changes that touring and performing abroad has had on their choir members. They have had a number of singers go on to study languages after traveling abroad, as well as some who have become rotary exchange students. They’ve heard from parents of their singers that the experiences that they have as individual young people and as an ensemble have changed their lives.
“The connection with the culture and the people of the place where we are visiting is of prime importance. The music is a way of getting there, it’s a way of connecting with the people and showing who we are and some of our values,” says David. “When we have a chance to meet people who are living in that country, it really does have a long-term effect on the girls in our choir and how they go forward in perceiving some place in the world that they’ve never been before.”
Maria and David agree that singing a song that is relevant or native to the country they will be performing in is a great way to introduce the culture of the place to their singers and that it is also a way to connect with audiences and choirs they may collaborate with while abroad. Paige Long, director of the Metropolitan Flute Orchestra, takes her international tours one step further by finding or commissioning pieces of music specific to a place in the world and then performing the pieces there!
“[Our performance tour company,] Encore Tours worked with us to customize all of our tours. The most recent one was to England and Scotland. A flute composer had written a piece for our ensemble called Hampton Court Palace, which is based in London, so we wanted to perform at Hampton Court Palace and they made that happen. Another American flute composer composed a piece called Kylemore Abbey which is outside of Galway in Ireland, and again, they made that happen for us. We performed Kylemore Abbey in Kylemore Abbey — it was just such an incredible experience, everybody had tears in their eyes! It was fabulous,” says Paige.
No matter what song or piece of music you perform, having a goal to work toward with your ensemble provides guidance and structure to your rehearsals. Creating a tradition of touring also serves as a fantastic recruiting and retention tool. Having an additional cultural component, like learning a piece of music connected to a specific culture or place in the world, adds depth to your program. As many music directors who travel express, experiencing a different culture and connecting with others through music is an invaluable experience for directors, choir members, and ensembles as a whole.
Encore Tours, the high-quality choice for international and domestic performance travel, believes that successful music programs and great music travel go hand in hand. In addition to going above and beyond planning customized tours for music ensembles, Encore is also committed to supporting music education at home. From director workshops and professional networking events to our scholarship programs for young musicians, Encore continues to give back to our musical communities year-round.
If you’re looking for something special to perform that is unique and highlights the special talents of your group, why not compose a piece yourself? Download our free guide “How to Compose a Piece for Your Choir Tour” at www.encoretours.com/ComposeForChoir. In it, you’ll find instructions for identifying project parameters, example anchor charts and storyboards to guide lyric writing, tips on crafting a melody and adding voices, and much more! Contact Encore tours at firstname.lastname@example.org or 877-460-3801 for more information on how to take your choral program to new places.
Kate Huffman is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Encore Tours. She first discovered the power of intercultural communication and exchange through music on a month-long trip to China and Japan with her college wind ensemble. She’s been hooked on traveling ever since and has performed with different groups in cities such Beijing, London, and Kyoto to name a few! Kate is a clarinet player and a passionate arts advocate with degrees in music, arts administration, and cultural policy.