The Sherwood High School Chamber Singers (Olney, MD) have been traveling with Encore once every two years, for over a decade now, though this was only my second trip as director and group leader. I had previously led a tour in Canada, and participated as an assistant group leader on a tour in northern Italy. Our itinerary this spring brought us from Prague to Vienna, with some really lovely stops in between – Třeboň, České Budějovice, Český Krumlov, and an unplanned detour to the ruins of Castle Dürnstein.
One of my students at the ruins of Castle Durnstein
The group was 43 students and 10 adults, plus our phenomenal tour manager, Peter Ede. We sang three official concerts in a variety of beautiful venues: an extremely resonant smaller church in Prague, a horseshoe theater in the southern Bohemian town of Trebon, and the breathtaking Stephansdom Cathedral in the center of Vienna. Other tour highlights included a Moldau Riverboat cruise, a Viennese waltz lesson, and all of the smaller towns we visited were just incredibly charming. The kids came home with hundreds of beautiful photos, performance recordings, and memories of a truly unique experience.
A group of students on our Riverboat cruise
I’m still relatively new at this, but I have learned a lot from my trips with Encore Tours. Here’s some advice for those of you still considering taking an international performance tour for the first time:
- If you’re not sure about traveling with Encore… Do it! The trip was a phenomenal experience for my students, musically, socially, and culturally. Encore is wonderful at taking care of all the details during the trip, so that you, the director, can really focus on the music and your musicians. They go above and beyond to provide a rich educational experience for everyone in the group.
- If you’re traveling with a school-aged ensemble, hire a security guard! For both of the trips I’ve led, I’ve asked Encore to arrange for a security guard to be in the hallway overnight, every night. It was worth every penny, and served as an effective deterrent from any post-curfew adventures. I love my students, and I generally trust them, but it’s always best to go the extra mile to let them know you’re serious about them going to bed and staying in their rooms every night.
- Bring a doctor, a nurse, or both. Offer them one of your few precious free trip credits. Ask them to attend all of your pre-trip meetings. Collect medical information, including chronic conditions, prescriptions, and allergies, from all of your travelers, and let your “trip doctor” worry about all of those things, so you don’t have to. This person can carry basic stuff like over-the-counter drugs and first-aid kits, and they can also be the best person to determine whether a sick or injured traveler needs to seek out more serious medical attention.
- Choir directors – On years when we’re traveling, I like to program only a cappella music, all year long. This means I don’t have to worry about bringing an accompanist, and I don’t have to worry about equipment availability in the performance venues. We can sing any of our music on any street corner or in any restaurant after dinner. Portable percussion instruments are great, and I’ve brought a cajon on the last three tours, which I’ve used to accompany everything from African to South American music, and even Irish jigs. We had about 20 songs prepared for this past spring tour, which allowed us enough variety throughout the trip, that we weren’t singing the same stuff at every concert. It also allowed us to select songs appropriate to each venue and acoustical space.
- Parent communication is key! We held meetings 12 months out, six months out, and one month before the trip. But in between those meetings, there were countless email updates and other info sent out to the parents and students. Every time I thought my emails were getting too long or too detailed, I would get several replies from parents, thanking me for the thorough and frequent communication. In addition to email communication, be sure to set up social media accounts and get everyone connected before the trip, which you can update with photos and videos on tour, so friends and families can follow along at home.
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