By Tom Merrill
Once you’ve decided that performance travel will be a part of what your program offers, it’s wise to set some goals to achieve related to the tour itself. This will help you focus towards ensuring that educational, musical, financial, and subjective goals are pursued.
Musical and Educational Goals
In the same way that a history class trip to Washington D.C. or a French club trip to Paris has at its core activities that supplement classroom study, so should a music trip enhance what happens in the rehearsal room. It doesn’t need to be ALL that happens on the tour, but the other plans should be built around the musical experiences, rather than the musical activities being “tacked on” as an excuse to take a trip.
A performance tour itinerary that very clearly has musically and educationally oriented activities will play a key role in gaining the approval of the parents, administration, school board, and even fellow teachers. Time allowed out of school continues to be increasingly difficult to gain due to expectations of instructional time and test scores. If you can show substantial time dedicated to workshop or performance opportunities and—better still—sightseeing excursions that incorporate areas of science, art, history, and other subjects, you have a much better chance of winning allies among the school faculty regarding taking students out of their class.
This value can also be persuasive to parents, who have to decide what kind of experience is going to be the most value for their child (especially when lots of dollars may be involved). Remember, they are likely weighing this decision against other school activities, work commitments, and perhaps family vacation options. Your tour needs to have content that they feel will benefit their child’s overall education. At the same time, find balance—they will also want their child to have a fun experience (because they have to motivate them to participate in all of the fundraising to pay for this!).
Group Dynamic Goals
This is harder to quantify, but still can be an important part of the experience. In short: how do you want the group to grow together from the experience? A lot of words are used to describe this—bonding, camaraderie, cohesiveness. Whatever the term, it is that intangible that happens when a group must work and spend time together to achieve a common goal.
What type of activities can be incorporated into the tour that might get them to step out of their comfort zones or “clique” of friends and interact more widely? Or, simply get them to spend less time on phones and devices and interact with the world in general? Some locations will have programs ranging from musically-focused workshops to more game-oriented techniques to help the group learn to collaborate and gain trust in each other. Seek out those opportunities if you feel this is an area of growth needed for your group.
While no one likes to talk about this part, it is necessary–unless you have a wealthy benefactor with bottomless pockets! But even if you DID have Bill Gates and Elon Musk as music boosters, it’s still a good idea to have some parameters regarding the overall costs of the tour.
First of all, you’re going to spend money on a lot of things this year that are completely unrelated to the tour. Music, uniforms, supplies — the funding of which will come from your school budget, your community (via fundraising), or the pockets of your students and parents.
As you look towards the “long game” over the course of years and the needs your program will have, it’s important to not overburden any one of those sources at any given time. A pattern of this will make it difficult to get a “yes” at a time when you might vitally need it. Having a long-term plan allows you to some extent map out which years need major purchases, and which years might be more open to a larger scale tour experience.
It’s important to have a sense of what is a realistic amount that families can put forth to send their student on a tour. This takes having a very connected sense of the demographics of the community. While that is not the all-encompassing factor, it MUST be considered. Look at their past travel history and costs, and ask your key parent boosters what they feel is achievable.
This needs to be done before any initial planning is done, and absolutely before EVEN DROPPING A HINT WITH STUDENTS about possible locations. The last thing you want to do is unveil an idea that sets an expectation that might end up in disappointment.
Given these factors you should now have an idea of a working budget for a tour, and a set of goals you wish to accomplish. The next step will be using that information to help you decide what type of tour plan will provide the best opportunity of success for your program.
Tom Merrill is the executive director of Festivals of Music. He has over 25 years of experience as a music educator, travel planner, and festival organizer.