This is my twenty-third year as a tour manager of taking groups of young (and sometimes more mature!) Americans around Europe. It’s worth reflecting, I think, on what makes me still give up my time to lead these trips. It’s very much my part-time, “enjoyable” job and something I wouldn’t do unless I really enjoyed it.
It all began when I saw a poster that said “Travel Free in Europe and Get Paid For It!”. Well, I thought, this can’t be bad. I was studying languages at Cambridge University and was a bright-eyed 20 year old who loved Europe and genuinely wanted to share my love for it with other travelers. I did my first trip of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, successfully, but beyond exhausted by the end of it. The following day I was already considering how to refine things and do better the next time. I knew I was hooked.
Back then there were only “regular” educational tours. My first concert tour was a mammoth tour in 2005 with the Kentucky Youth Orchestra. It was a total of 167 people with just three of us tour managers. We had a convoy of buses and instrument trucks on a huge 12 day tour in the heat of summer. It was a whole different kettle of fish: the regular trips had become familiar and to some extent far less of a challenge to me. They were fun, but straightforward. This Encore required military type precision, organization on steroids, and working with other colleagues for the first time. Our jobs are so personal, and we all have our own ways of doing things. That’s therefore an interesting challenge in itself.
I now relish the thought of the big Encore trips. The participants often have an out-of-classroom bond to the group leader. The “ordered” side of me (my dad was a British army man; my mother is Prussian: oh, my poor groups!) loves the need for everything running like clockwork. The tours are often big, and I’ve taken to working with other tour managers with huge enthusiasm: we can learn from each other, share a drink in the evening, and it’s quite different to being out on the road on your own.We get to go to some far more interesting, off the beaten track places (Filling the house at the Sarajevo National Theatre in Bosnia, anyone? A spontaneous song inside Hollókő Castle in rural Hungary? An evening outdoor concert in the elegant spa resort of Montecatini in Italy?). It’s not just the big European cities we go to on these tours: often the concerts go down far better in the smaller places, where a performance by a US group is something still really unusual and special.
But what really makes Encore tours for me is the participants. They’ve been working towards the performance tour often for an entire year. Coming to Europe and giving concerts here is the absolute highlight of their orchestra or choir experience. There’s a focus and an excitement about the performances that is tangible. They’re here because they love music and they’re here to perform it. The energy levels are quite different. There is actually a defined focus for the tour: it’s all about the music. Put simply, I love the groups and I love that they’re here to have such a great time. How special it must be to them to be in the cities where the composers lived and worked, and to perform in specific places where the music was sometimes written for.
It’s not just classical music, however, which brings me to the title of this blog post. Back in 2010, I led the Palo Alto High School choir from California on a Central European tour. I’d become very familiar with their repertoire, having heard it in multiple rehearsals and concerts on the trip. We’d just been in a tiny Slovakian town, performing in an old church that had standing room only. The group was on a complete high and we were driving back late at night to our hotel in Bratislava. The group decided to burst out into song on the coach, but to contemporary “pop” songs. I put in a request: the Glee! version of “Don’t Stop Believin'”. We crossed the Danube with a huge firework display coincidentally going off as they sang their hearts out for me (yes, for me!), really, really well. I’m not going to lie: it was actually the highlight of 2010 for me. It was a complete moment to treasure. I’d love them to know what it meant to me. It is still a wonderful memory for me, and I hope some of them remember it as well as I do.
So there in a nut-shell we have why I love leading Encore tours. Don’t Stop Believin’, Bratislava, summer 2010. It’s the experience of 50 young people who share a passion for music, and the complete privilege of being part of it. No other job I’ve found gives the satisfaction and simple joy of being part of this. It’s a life-changing experience not just for those who sign up to come on one of these tours. Many of us are affected by them, sometimes without the participants quite realizing how much this is the case.
About the Author
Peter Ede has been an ACIS Tour Manager since 1993. He speaks 5 languages, has traveled to 65 countries around the world, and has a passion for history. His specialty at Encore is leading off the beaten tracks through Central and Eastern Europe.More Content by Peter Ede