Creating Enriching Experiences:
There are pros and cons to participating in money-driven Performance Opportunities, Festivals, and Competitions. These experiences can be terrific opportunities, albeit expensive ones, and not always the best bang for your buck.
Pay-to-Play opportunities (Carnegie Hall, Music in the Parks, Disney Festivals, etc) are created with the primary purpose of making a profit. When ensembles are invited to these festivals and competitions, our students usually pay huge sums of money. These experiences are often misconstrued as accomplishments and/or validation of our ensemble’s success; the reality is that they are positive experiences that are overpriced and are rarely merit-based.
The purpose of this article is to provide a hands-on ways to circumvent the promotional “Industry of Invitation.” An alternative approach is by creating enriching performing/travel opportunities that are focused specifically on the needs of our specific ensemble. In many cases, we can plan these experiences ourselves, but there are definitely times that we need a professional travel agency to plan our trips, tours, and concerts.
This list below provides opportunities for an enriching performing experience. In comparison to the pay-for-play opportunities from the previous article, these opportunities are generally more organic, require less preparation time, cost less money, are centered specifically on the needs of our individual ensembles, and are less likely to be falsely presented to our students, parents, and community.
Here are 11 enriching performing/traveling opportunities, most of which we can plan ourselves:
1. Bring in an esteemed guest conductor…sometimes for free
A local college director may be willing to visit our school to provide a workshop. Schedule an in-school field-trip, after school, or evening rehearsal. Most college directors love visiting high schools as it can help to recruit students for their school. It is a wonderful opportunity for everyone.
2. Skype with a composer or conductor
Many of the top composers and conductors across the country are accessible via Skype sessions at a relatively affordable cost. Even at $200 per hour, for example, the value of a special rehearsal with the composer of a work we are rehearsing can provide incredible enrichment. That cost divided by an entire choir is minimal compared to working with that same conductor at Carnegie Hall in a huge ensemble with no personalized attention.
3. Plan a college visit/schedule a workshop with the college director
Schedule a tour of the college, eat in the college cafeteria, and have a workshop with a college director. This can be a local college or even an overnight trip. Perhaps a college workshop could also include attending a college a-cappella performance. Maybe an exchange rehearsal with the college choir could occur as well. This is an inexpensive trip that provides tremendous value.
4. Plan an exchange rehearsal/concert with several local schools.
Select 2 or 3 pieces to sing together; each director can conduct one of them. Find a unique venue (beautiful church or concert hall), and hold one joint rehearsal followed by an informally catered meal with all groups, and conclude with a concert where each group sings a short program along with the closing unified ensemble selections. The audience will be filled with parents who have never heard our group before. Each choir will get to hear the other two choirs sing by themselves and work with two different directors. When adding in a social event, the experience creates even more potency.
5. Plan an exchange rehearsal and concert with a distant school
Perhaps a day trip or an overnight trip to a location that is 2 hours away could be a musically and socially rewarding experience. Similar to #4, a combined rehearsal where both groups also perform independently for one another is a great experience. If an evening concert can be worked out, even better!
6. Create your own major choral festival
Hire a guest conductor. Share the opportunity and expense with 2-4 other high school ensembles. This could be done at one of the high schools or possibly at a nice venue with beautiful acoustics. Many churches will offer a fair price for one day of use. If we divide the cost of a beautiful church and the cost for the conductor, it will be fairly inexpensive compared to a promotional company planning a festival. Usually the cost of this experience can be offset mainly by reasonably-priced admission tickets. There is no need to pay a middle-man, unless the ultimate goal is just to be able to say our students sang at Carnegie Hall.
7. Perform as part of a pre-established concert series
There are many venues throughout our country that are known for weekly or monthly concerts. In some cases, they have lunch-time concerts, Saturday afternoon performances, etc. Any event that brings in a regular audience that is new to us, not an audience filled with our parents and friends, is a special performing opportunity.
8. Welcome a touring college choir to Perform at your school
Colleges throughout the country are looking for places to perform along with the opportunity to recruit. Sometimes they will approach us to visit and other times, we may choose to reach out. The key to maximizing a touring choir’s impact is by turning the experience into a two-way event. At the event, our choir can also sing for their choir as well as pre-plan a piece to work on/sing together. In addition, the college director can allot some time to coach our choir, and both choirs can share a casual meal together where they are strongly encouraged to co-mingle and learn about one another.
9. Participate in an adjudication festivals that is sponsored by our music educator’s organization
It is always beneficial when our ensembles can be evaluated with unbiased feedback. We are not competing against anyone; instead we are asking for ways that we can improve. Instead of going to a theme park competition where we receive a trophy and possibly have 5 minutes with a random adjudicator, we can have an adjudicator take the time to give feedback aimed to help our ensemble. Should we believe a theme park will create a bond, plan a celebratory trip to a theme park.
Sight-Singing for the Non-Sight-Singers! – a simple system
10. Commission a work
Commission a work by a quality composer and find a unique opportunity to premiere it. Depending on our budget, we can hire a local or well-recognized composer. Many composers will gladly visit and/or Skype with our ensemble as part of their fee. This experience is priceless. Students will appreciate any piece of music when they enter the heart, soul, and mind of the person who composed the piece, especially when they know the piece was created specifically for them.
11. Hire a travel company that specializes in customized choir performance tours.
After we choose a viable destination, possibility an international tour, let a licensed tour company choose a variety of venues that offer great audiences and great acoustics. While the expense is great, it will be an enriching experience that is focused on our students, not on somebody else’s vision and profits. A fine performance travel agent will become part of our team, looking out for the best opportunities as they plan our trip from scratch but with a great wealth of knowledge and experience.
In my opinion, there is much more value in traveling on our own personalized tour than traveling for a preplanned major work by a big-name conductor/composer in a specific venue. A planned performance at St. Peter’s Cathedral with 5 choirs in Rome is vastly different than a tour company that plans 5 or 6 concerts that are varied between small towns, major venues, masses, evensongs, and exchanges.
Should you be looking to get a customized tour quote, please consider contacting the tour company that I use, Trump Tours (not affiliated with Donald Trump), a family-run company based in Bentonville, Arkansas; they have been leading choir tours for over 20 years and coordinated my last three tours (England, Spain, and Italy).
If we are traveling for the right reasons, we will not pretend we were invited, selected, or chosen, and instead just be excited to represent our school, state, and country and share our universal love of live music!