A Summer Checklist for Planning a Music Trip for Your Students
By NAfME Member Glen A. Brumbach
Planning a music trip, or “going on tour” as I like to refer to it, can appear to be a daunting task. Over the course of the next year, I will post in “Music in a Minuet” information and tips that I have found to be of use over my many years of traveling with students.
Traveling to different locations and interacting with people using music can provide experiences that lead students to profound realizations about the world and themselves. It is difficult to measure the impact that music travel has on students, but students recall and refer to these experiences for the rest of their lives. Every student I have taken on a trip has come home with personal growth stories. The further we traveled, especially trips to Europe, the more of an impact the trip had on their education and personal growth. They learn far more on one of these trips than they do in the classroom.
These experiences and impressions are hard to quantify in order to justify the time and expense it takes to produce such a venture. However, you can plan a great experience for your students, music staff, and parents as long as you stay organized and keep the students’ educational experience the priority and purpose of the trip.
Summer Check List
May – June:
If you have recently taken a trip, now is the time to recall all of the details while it is fresh in your mind. What were the highlights of the trip? What were the lowlights? What would you change? What would you definitely do again? Having students write a reflection paper about the trip can provide great information that you might not have been aware of and produce ideas to consider when planning the next trip. As part of the reflection paper, have the students provide a paragraph with their parents’ thoughts on the trip as well. Use quotes from the students’ reflection papers of your trip to recruit membership for the following year and kick off a new trip fundraising campaign with your music booster’s organization.
The first concern is choosing a time frame for next year’s trip. School calendars are becoming increasingly more complicated, with more and more events from different organizations and the complication of different testing schedules. Many schools are starting “black-out” dates where trips may not be taken due to standardized testing.
Some types of festivals occur only during certain times of the year. For example, the first weekend in May is host to many festivals such as the Kentucky Derby, Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. If you are looking at a December or November trip—such as a Bowl game trip, major holiday parade, or Christmas at Disney—be aware that the turnaround time is quick. It may be better to plan a year and a half ahead for these.
After you decide your time and then your location, travel arrangements are the first aspect of the trip to book. Coordinating with spring concerts, graduation schedules and school proms can restrict your available dates. Bus companies fill up fast, especially in the month of May with school field trips. If you don’t reserve early and lock in rates you may pay more for a subpar bus company. Travel agents will also want to block out seats on airlines as soon as possible to get the best rates. Once you decide when and where you are going you will have to decide if you want to do the arrangements yourself or employ a travel company.
- Get Permission from the Powers That Be!
Before you start making commitments to festivals and travel companies, it is important to know you have backing from your school board, administration, and whoever else has the power to say “yes” or “no” to your trip. It has become increasingly more important to justify the purpose for your trips. Here again, after each trip have the students write and use their personal insights when having to justify the next trip. The travel destinations that provide adjudications can provide an assessment by impartial adjudicators that could appeal to administrators as quantifiable. Invitations from prestigious locales or from a major event like one of the December bowl games, national championships, or a parade including holiday events or spring festivals can also prove advantageous for your district and your community.
Remind your administration that the music department students and staff act as ambassadors to the community and the school, which brings prestige back home. It is always helpful when a few of your student leaders can give a report to the school board concerning their experiences on the trip and what they learned. Journals by students kept during the trip can provide great qualitative data to provide evidence of students’ musical, educational, and emotional growth.
- Initial Arrangements
- Travel Company, or No Travel Company?
There are many companies out there who would be willing to plan your trip for you. Whether you use a travel company or not may depend on how comfortable you are with planning and how much time you need to make your own arrangements. Either way, you know your students better than anyone and should be involved with every detail of planning the itinerary.
I always enjoyed planning my own trips and luckily had support from my school districts to have the time and resources to do so. For the more involved trips, especially any involving air travel, I always engaged a travel company. Many travel companies will provide a preview, or planning trip, as part of the experience. This gives you the opportunity to see the accommodations and venues to make sure they are up to your standards and help you envision the trip. This is extremely important the farther and larger the scope of the trip.
Keep in mind when you use a travel company to get recommendations from the company and other people who have used them before signing on with them. Getting the wrong company can cause you headaches and problems down the road. Some travel companies will also provide you and the chaperones with food and refreshments to stock your “meeting” room for those late night meetings.
- Do It Yourself
Despite it being time consuming, I usually enjoyed making the arrangements myself. With so many online resources available it is easy to locate lodging and attractions near your destination. I found it reassuring to have a personal contact person with each type of accommodation I would make for the trip. It was always a pleasure to put a face with the name and number you were dealing with when you finally make the trip.
Summer months are ideal for you and your family to incorp orate a vacation into a travel-planning trip. Many hotels and resorts will provide free or discounted accommodations for you to check out their accommodations. I found this advantageous especially if we would be traveling to a new location. Inspecting the hotels, performing sites, and dining options helps reduce potential problems that could lessen the experience for you and your students.
July – August
- Explore Venues
The type of performing group (or groups) and goals and philosophy of your music program may determine your performance venues. Music festival companies provide venues where you can be adjudicated and perhaps even participate in a clinic. If your end of the year experience culminates in an assessment, there are many from which to choose.
I would advise talking to the companies and getting credentials on exactly who will be critiquing and working with your students. Depending on the size of the festival you may end up with an orchestra person judging your jazz band. Companies are usually accommodating; these festival organizations provide the best opportunities for entire music programs where you may have choral, band, and orchestral groups. Most will try to accommodate the smaller ensembles also. The down side of these venues is that you usually have a very sparse audience and/or the facilities may be less then desirable. Take this into account when planning your trip.
Community-established festivals will feature huge parades in which you are guaranteed a large audience. In the late 1950s and into the 1960s the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in Washington, D.C., was a very prestigious event that many bands traveled to in the spring. Sometimes they will partner with area colleges and universities to provide concert instrumental evaluations also. Unfortunately many of these are solely for bands.
Many directors plan for just performance venues without adjudication. Of course some of the most popular of these venues are the Disney parks and famous concert halls such as Carnegie Hall. Again, you can try to arrange these on your own or you can go through a travel company that sponsors a program. Be sure to pay attention to the details involved with participating in these events. Audition audio and video recordings are sometimes required.
You can also think outside the box. Washington, D.C., for example offers the great memorials and museums. Do some research into historic sites—for example the historic Willard Hotel—and you may find their managers amenable to having your string ensemble play in their outside restaurant during lunch hours. You could have an audience and perform in a venue where Presidents and foreign dignitaries frequent while the hotel enjoys entertainment for their guests. The National Park Service also allows performances in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.
Contact the music faculty at a college or university near where you are visiting. I have found faculty members are usually more than happy to do a clinic with your students given early notification.
- Incorporate Educational Outcomes
Implementing an educational plan into the trip makes the experience even more meaningful; just be mindful of your destination. Obviously playing a fall field show featuring Disney tunes seems logical if you are planning either a December or May trip to Disney World, but keep in mind Disney stipulates you should not have Disney tunes as part of your repertoire because their guests are already saturated with that genre of music.
For our trip to the Fiesta Bowl National Championship in Phoenix, Arizona, we chose a southwestern theme and even used the Native American Kokopelli figure as a type of mascot for the trip. Students had a preview to the life and culture of the Southwest. Our trip to Prague and Vienna by our music department inspired our fall field show—New World Symphony by Dvorak with more of a new world (jazz) twist. Performing the music from the show in the town square of Prague where Dvorak himself once walked was quite an experience, only to be topped by having citizens from Prague appreciate and compliment the performance. These planning details made the trip even more relevant and meaningful for the students.
- Begin Financial Planning
If you are making your own arrangements start with a spreadsheet to document potential costs. There are several types of costs you will encounter.
The first is easy to document: per person costs. Entrance fees for music festivals, admissions to amusement parks and/or attractions, and meals are usually assessed on a per person basis. Always ask if there are complimentary tickets per so many purchased. These can keep your expenses low and go towards the cost of chaperones.
A second kind of fee can be divided per person: lodging and transportation. Rooms are usually figured out on quad occupancy, four students sharing a room. Chaperones are charged based on double occupancy. Check with the hotel or travel company for complimentary rooms depending on how many rooms and how many nights you need.
Transportation by bus involves one-time fees that can be divided by the number of people going. An example of this: two 47-passenger busses would be quoted to you for $5,000, and you have 65 students and staff going. Cost per person works out to $77 per person. Keep in mind that you should tip the bus drivers and students may be added or dropped before the trip actually occurs. It is always better to over-estimate the cost. You may want to include your teachers and maybe the chaperones as well in the cost per student.
A sample-planning sheet for a three-day performance/adjudication tour would look like this:
12 adult chaperones
55.21 per quad occupancy
$ 12.50 per person
$20 per person
4042 per bus
55.21 per quad occupancy
$38 per person
Registration, some transportation costs
This gives you a start and an idea of working out a payment plan for the students. This price chart does not include any complimentary rooms or tickets you may receive.
- Set up a Payment Schedule
Once you have an idea of potential costs you can construct a payment schedule to help students and parents prepare for the trip. Keep a calendar of when certain vendors have money due. Usually a deposit is due to a bus company to hold the busses. Make sure you receive a contract and read it closely. Some hotels ask for a deposit or a credit card to hold the rooms. Be aware of cancellation policies. Should something happen and you are unable to do the trip you may still be liable for some costs. Spread out your payment schedule and coordinate it with when payments are due, fundraisers come in, and other events such as school holiday breaks, or other organization payments if that is even possible.
- Enjoy the Summer
Putting in place this initial plan before school lets out can allow you to devote more time to your summer priorities such as vacation plans, reeducation and rejuvenation, and—dare I say—band camp!
Durrant, C. (2003). Cultural exchanges: contrasts and perceptions of young musicians. British Journal of Music Education, 20 (1), 73-82.
Mark, M. L., & Gary, C. L. (2007). A History of American Music Education. Lanham, MD: NAfME, National Association for Music Education.
About the Author:
Glen A. Brumbach, NAfME Eastern Division Band Council representative, recently retired after 34 years of teaching in the public schools of Pennsylvania. He has been director of bands at Boyertown for the last eight years having also taught in the Reading, Muhlenberg, and Muncy School Districts. He is a past District 10 President of PMEA as well as a former officer and committee member of the Cavalcade of Bands Association.
While teaching at Reading and Boyertown, his bands traveled across the United States, Canada, and Europe. Performance venues and destinations have included such festivals as Fiesta Bowl National Band Championship, Phoenix, Arizona; Kentucky Derby Festival, Louisville, Kentucky; Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, Carolina Dogwood Festival, and Niagara Blossom Festival, Niagara Falls, Canada. Performance venues included locales such as Walt Disney World, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; Washington, D.C.; New York, New York; and Boston, Massachusetts. His jazz band was the first such group to perform in the Piazza del Signora in Florence, Italy, as well other performances in Rome, Prague, Czech Republic, Salzburg, and Vienna, Austria.
Glen also was the marching band director for the 1993 Pennsylvania All State Lions Band and traveled with them to the International Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota. He is currently a Teaching Assistant at the Maryland University School of Music, where is also pursuing his Ph.D. in Music Education. Glen resides in Greenbelt, Maryland, with his wife Andrea, a high school choral director in Arundel County, Maryland, and his son Wil, a professional jazz guitarist and music educator in the Prince George’s County school system.
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.
Catherina Hurlburt, Communications Manager, June 15, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)