Meaningful Student Travel

Over the past several years, I’ve found that some of the most meaningful exchanges I’ve had with my students have been during our trips. Each year, I take my students to a city to learn more about the musical history and culture of that particular area. In the past we have visited New Orleans, Memphis, New York, and Miami. Currently, I’m planning two trips – one back to Miami and one to Cuba. During these trips we’ve attended jazz conferences, St. Patrick’s Day parades, concerts with everyone from Wynton Marsalis and the LCJO to the Soul Rebels Brass Band, and clinics with local musicians and internationally known artists.

The students form countless memories that stay with them, whether or not they continue their involvement with music past high school. In this first installment, I’ll discuss some of the benefits students receive, what we do on our trips, and why I believe trips are essential to our program. In the next installment, I’ll discuss the nuts and bolts of booking a trip yourself. Yes, you read correctly. Now, on to the benefits!

I can truly say there is no part of our program that excites my kids as much as our trips. A trip can help form stronger bonds, expose the students to other traditions, and show these young musicians the musical culture of some of the great cities of the world; and all of this might just be in your very own backyard! No matter how many gigs my kids play in Denver – and they play 40+ per year – none of these gigs can compare to playing onstage at BB King’s in Memphis, listening to traditional Cuban music while eating Cuban food in Miami, or listening to a jazz legend perform at the Blue Note in New York.

Fundamentally, there are two types of trips – playing and non-playing. I find a great deal of value in both, but what you plan depends largely on your understanding of the dynamics of your group. Also, a more recent piece of that puzzle would be baggage costs – is it financially feasible to bring your instruments? My kids have had great experiences that have a life-long impact on them musically and culturally, regardless of whether or not we bring our instruments, so I urge you not to let that be a roadblock. If you don’t plan your trip around a performance you’ll just need to be a little more proactive when it comes to scheduling.

As for our itinerary, it varies from city to city, but the bulk of the trip usually consists of listening to music (University of Miami ensembles, Iridium in NYC, Blues Palace in Memphis, anywhere in New Orleans, etc.), visiting a local university to learn more about college level music programs, performing at or attending a clinic, taking in the sites, and eating. Frankly, the eating component is the real vehicle for our trips, it seems!

I can honestly say that at the conclusion of our trips we come back to our rehearsals a more friendly, cohesive, and unified group. We’ve not only seen what’s possible with music, but what’s achievable in the world at-large. It helps our students to gain a better understanding of the possibilities outside our immediate sphere, and it excites and drives them to no end!

I’ve posted a topic to the Jazz forum, as well. It can be found here. I look forward to hearing your experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Steve Holley, posted Nov 11, 2012 © National Association for Music Education