Rhinegold Photo credit: Club Europe Concert Tours
One of Club Europe Concert Tours’ groups on tour in Europe

Hanh Doan

Vacation of value

8:00, 16th January 2018

Arranging a music tour with your pupils, while stressful, can make for a hugely rewarding and memorable experience. Hanh Doan asks: why go on tour?

In today’s tough climate, organising a music tour is likely to be the last thing on your mind. As teachers, the pressures on our time are relentless, not to mention expectations regarding new specifications and maintaining the highest standards possible. On top of that, money is tight for both parents and schools, so why on earth should we consider going on tour?

If you recognise yourself in the above, then a music tour is exactly what you need. Yes, it is hard to organise, but if you have right support network (including tour companies and school-based support staff), the experiences you have will make you want to do it all over again.

I spoke to David Guinane, head of music at Beaumont School in St Albans, and Alahree McDonell from Club Europe about their experiences of planning and organising tours.

The ensembles
While taking students on tour is a unique experience for everyone involved, deciding which groups to take can prove difficult. Sometimes it is easier to take choirs only, or perhaps to alternate – taking choirs one year, instrumental groups the next.

‘I have always taken all of our music groups – choir, chamber choir, orchestra and concert band – on every tour,’ counters Guinane. ‘As well as being a great bonding experience, tours with a variety of ensembles inspire students to join other music groups, or at the very least give them an appreciation of the skills and talents of their peers.’

Your destination
This depends on your budget, but there are numerous destinations to suit all budgets. Across their four departments (ski, sport, concert and education), Club Europe runs between 180 and 200 trips every year, with the concert tours accounting for approximately half. It offers trips to over 20 countries, but more recently there have been some firsts: in 2017 McDonell and her team organised tours to Madrid in Spain, Riga in Latvia, and Grado in Italy. As well as this, Club Europe sent its first music tour to South Korea this summer, and is now planning one to Taiwan.

Depending on the type of group, you will need to consider a variety of venues. For choirs, the most obvious choices are cathedrals and churches, but beware of repertoire restrictions: most will request your repertoire two to three months in advance for approval and concerts usually have a half-hour time limit. For instrumental groups, the options include smaller concert halls, hotels and other quirky venues specific to the town or village. Taking more than one group means that you can mix and match them for each concert, ensuring that everyone performs a similar number.

The best audiences are usually found at smaller churches with loyal congregations, while cathedrals tend to attract tourists who will stay for a short while and take lots of photos. The experience of performing in a prestigious venue like the Notre-Dame in Paris, Vienna’s Stephansdom, or St Peter’s in Rome is unforgettable and can be the highlight and focus of a tour. Cathedrals will generally only allow choirs to perform – the perfect hook for getting students to sing!

Students and staff will come back from these places with memories that will last forever. Guinane recalls his highlight: ‘Performing at the Menin Gate in Ypres, as part of their daily remembrance service, was a real highlight – it was an emotionally-charged occasion that meant a huge deal to the students and the audience.’

Big venues aren’t the only route to creating memories. I will never forget taking 30 students into a restaurant in Bad Tatzmannsdorf (a tiny village near Vienna) which had opened especially to feed the students. The lady who owned the place was desperate to hear them sing but was unable to make the concert later in the evening. Before we left, the students broke out in a spontaneous rendition of Bruckner’s Locus iste. She cried and said she would remember it forever.

Budget and transport
If your destination is somewhere in Europe, consider whether to fly or go by coach. Flying adds at least £200 per student, but if you are only taking a choir, and students can afford it, it is the easier option. The cheapest option is of course to travel by coach (and trailer) for the whole trip – and while a 25-hour drive to Vienna might sound unbearable, most students will enjoy it and the time passes quicker than you’d think.

Club Europe has published guidelines for organising your music tour Photo: Club Europe Concert Tours
Club Europe has published guidelines for organising your music tour
Photo: Club Europe Concert Tours

Whatever the cost, I would recommend including as much as possible in the overall price parents pay (including excursions, venue hire, tour sweatshirt, etc). Most parents prefer to have one figure and then assume that anything extra is pocket money.

Benefits of a tour company
Opinion is divided among colleagues about using a tour company. I have always used one as they take responsibility for contacting venues, booking hotels and advertising concerts, thus relieving you of much of the stress – though you should always do your own research. Some tour companies are more competitive than others, and service varies.

Most companies usually have representatives at the destinations who can liaise with hotels and concert venues, which is useful if you don’t speak the language fluently. While you might have to pay a little extra for their services, a tour company will alleviate you of a lot of work, leaving you to organise the students and, of course, enjoy the tour!

Final tips
Guinane advises factoring in extra time for travel: ‘Make sure your itinerary has a bit of “wiggle room”. The primary reason you organise a music tour is to perform; cultural experiences are great, but nothing should get in the way of ensuring your musicians give the best performances they can. Rushing to a venue five minutes before they’re due on stage, just because you wanted to visit an extra museum that morning, is not good.’

Club Europe (like many other tour companies) has published guidelines about how to organise a tour, but McDonell’s top tip is: ‘No two tours are the same, so it’s important to talk through your ideas with the tour company in the early stages. A 20-minute conversation over the phone can reveal a lot more about what’s important to you than a series of emails, and will save you time in the long run. It can also tell you a lot about the tour company.’

Communication is key to organising a tour, but the benefits clearly outweigh the stress. Get going and pick up that phone now!

Tour companies
Club Europe: www.club-europe.co.uk
Rayburn Tours: www.rayburntours.com
ACFEA Tour Consultants: www.acfea.eu
OneStage: www.onestage.co.uk
Absolute School Travel: www.absolutetravel.co.uk
Halsbury Music: www.halsbury.com
NST Group: www.nstgroup.co.uk

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