How to Travel with a Music Ensemble, Part 3

 “Later” Always Comes . . . with a Vengeance.

Part 3 of the series

By Dan Schwartz


With so many moving parts, it’s easy to put off “finalizing” tour details until much closer to the travel time. But there are many tasks that you can work on much earlier in the tour planning process to alleviate your load later.




Chances are tour-planning starts before you even meet the ensemble that will perform. This is a very common situation if you have started the process during the previous school year, or over the summer. If you haven’t heard the ensemble yet, how in the world can you plan the repertoire already?

You can’t finalize your program, but you can get a valuable start on it. If you are participating in a festival or competition, do you have the list (if any) of repertoire from which you will have to choose? Knowing what is expected of you at these types of events both prevents on-site surprises (“we have to play what??’) and gives you time to integrate those works into your year’s concert repertoire.


If you have a choir that is going to sing at a major church, like St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, or the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., know that the music directors and committees at high-profile venues like those won’t even think of considering your ensemble until you provide them with a repertoire list. I call it a “representative” repertoire list, because you want to show what you are able to sing, even before you have decided what you are going to sing during the tour. Waiting until you have met the ensemble, assessed their strengths and weaknesses, and chosen the appropriate repertoire is simply too long of a process for these venues. Pick something representative now, and adjust it later.

Because if you wait for “later,” the opportunity may have vanished.




With few exceptions, passport names and numbers do not change over the course of the planning period, especially when dealing with younger travelers. Collect copies of passports early and store them securely during the planning process. Some savvy parents will want to wait as long as possible to apply for their child’s passport, so that it is valid for as long as possible. Fair enough, but over the course of its validity a passport costs $1-2 a month, depending on the applicant’s age.




When I was planning college trips, a student told me they were delaying their application because he wanted his passport to “last longer.” Fair enough. I pulled out a $5 bill and said, “There’s five months on me. Go get your passport now.” That’s not necessarily a tactic you can use with parents–and might not have been a good way for me to interact with my student–but it got the point across: Cough up the extra dollar or two and get this crossed off the list!




Instrumental ensembles traveling by plane need a manifest that lists the weights and measurements of every instrument on tour. Last I checked, instruments don’t grow like children do, nor do they gain weight like adults do. Measure and weigh your instruments at a quieter time, earlier in the process, and file away the information until it’s needed. Someone dropped from the trip? No big deal! Just cross off their instrument and be done with it. It takes far less time to cross off one instrument–or weigh and measure a late addition–than to weigh and measure your whole ensemble’s instruments on a deadline of “the airline needed it last week!”

Lastly, bands and orchestras with percussion always seem to struggle with percussion needs. First, determine if your concert or festival organizer will be providing the percussion. Oftentimes they do. But you need to then check on what percussion is available and whether the cost is included in your fees or not. These are simple questions to ask early in the planning–or even the bid–process, and your questions need to be met with clear answers. Do not risk having no percussion at your performance because you and the organizer weren’t clear about responsibilities and costs!


As discussed above, your repertoire can–and surely will–change between now and tour time. But the orchestration of that repertoire will not. More specifically, the percussion needed for the various works you are performing will not change over time. Ask a percussionist to make you an accurate list of percussion needs for the music in the folder, and for music you might consider putting in the folder. Then have someone else double-check it. Then have someone else triple-check it. More curtain-time mishaps occur as a result of missing percussion than anything else, and they are all preventable when time and care is taken at a calmer point in the planning process to iron out these important details.



Taina Sohlman/iStock/Thinkstock
Taina Sohlman/iStock/Thinkstock


Think about how you could apply these “get it done (or at least started) now” concepts to tasks like creating bus rosters, forming chaperone groups, or even making rooming lists. In each case, the work you do earlier in the planning process will save you valuable time–and stress!–in the days before you depart.


Next installment . . . the series finale: “Your Moment of Zen.


Previous Installments:
Part 1: “Taking the Show on the Road: How to Travel with Your Music Ensemble

Part 2: “It Takes a Village: Your Next Steps to a Successful Tour


About the author:

Dan Schwartz has 17 years of experience in music travel and event management, having planned part of almost 2000 tours and produced over 50 festivals at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Vienna Konzerthaus and many others. He currently heads the Classic Performances division of Corporate Travel Service and can be reached at

Did this blog spur new ideas for your music program? Share them on Amplify! Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Brendan McAloon, Marketing and Events Coordinator, July 24, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (