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ChoralNet: Tour scheduling



At long last, here is the compilation concerning taking college choruses on
domestic tours. Thanks so much to all who responded.

David Griggs-Janower
228 Placid Drive
Schenectady, NY 12303-5118
518/356-9155 (h); 442-4167 (w)
janower(a)albany.edu

Univ. at Albany Music Department
UAlbany: www.albany.edu/~singers
www.albany.edu/music/chorale
Music Department fax: 518/442-4182


-----Original Message-----

So far all of our college chorus concert tours have been early summer
European tours. I haven't been able yet to establish a strong domestic tour
during the academic year. I have two questions for those of you who do
that.

1. Do you do it during school or during a break from classes, like spring
break?

2. Any secrets to getting kids to miss classes, if during school, or to
give up their break, if at that time? I must be missing something.


Responses:

What you are missing is a tradition. We have always toured at Spring (unless
it's an overseas tour). It is a tradition to do this. Missing class is much
harder for us due to the faculty and no the students. In the past we would
take
Spring Break plus a week of class. Now we try and not miss any class or
maybe a day at each end at the most.


When I was at Rutgers, we took a number of tours during spring break and
winter break. Destination is always important, but I actually had
better luck getting the students to give up spring break than
extricating them from their summer jobs.


This is the first year I have had trouble getting the kids out. I
waited too long to set the tour up and notify them of the plans. We try
to take a three day midweek tour every other year and a five-day
extended tour in between. When we do the extended tour we usually go
out at the beginning of spring break so they miss some of their break,
however, I always try to go somewhere that is more fun - Santa Fe, NM,
New Orleans, etc. when we go.

I always send a note to the faculty, through the VP of Student Services,
explaining trip and the purpose of the tour and explain that it is a
university sponsored tour. That has always done the trick. Maybe
someday it won't, but for the time being it is working fine.

We tour generally over spring break or over a week end. I have the same
problem when I ask students to miss classes for in state or region tours. I
believe the secret is to make the tour interesting enough in terms of
destination and to pay for as much of the trip as possible so the students
will
have an exciting time with little expense in addition to the stunning music
making of the choir. We usually tour abroad every other year.


David, we do a five day tour over spring break...the kids get to go home, or
somewhere for part of the break, then we go on tour, or we start break with
the
tour, and then they go home, depending on the schedule.


We do a fourteen concert tour the second week of our two week March
break. Typically, we sing a morning assembly, go through a school
lunch line, sing an afternoon assembly somewhere else, and perform an
evening concert at a church, auditorium, or theater. Usually the host
organization has a pot luck on site, but sometimes the choir goes home
with the host families for dinner and returns to the concert site for
the performance. After the performance, the choir returns with the
host families for an overnight stay and morning breakfast. We repeat
this schedule daily for five days. The assembly length is varied
according to the length of the school period, and those performances
are very diverse and entertaining in terms of repertoire since we are
frequently singing for an entire student body. The evening concerts
are full length concerts. The first half is classical, the second half
is more diverse and lighter.
>2. Any secrets to getting kids to miss classes, if during school, or to
>give up their break, if at that time? I must be missing something.
The choir is always very excited about touring. There was a time when
it was more difficult. At that time we took kids out of class for
about 4 days...there were always a small number of engineering students
who felt they could not afford to miss that much class. Since we have
gone to a two week March break, that problem has been solved. In
addition, we have a retreat on the Thursday afternoon of the tour
rather than a concert. It takes about 3 hours, and it's a magical time
for us all. The bonding which ensues is unbelievable. Finally, on the
Saturday of tour, we stay in a hotel in a major northeastern city (New
York, Boston, Washington, Montreal, etc.) and have a free day on the
town. This year our tour crosses New England to Montreal. When
classes resume, the first Sunday afternoon is the time of our home
campus concert. After this concert, I have the University Singers (the
70 voice touring choir) join the 125 voice Oratorio Society for a
performance of a major choral/orchestra work in May. Last year we did
the Britten "War Requiem." This event ends our semester of singing
activities.
I have to say, there is nothing like touring to build the morale of the
ensemble. And, the funding continues to be available since the
university administration realizes we are building the image of the
school and department as well as the recruitment of students of all
disciplines.


My choirs tour during our spring break. If it is a short tour I will take
them out of class 2 days prior to spring break and come back a couple of
days early to let them have a couple of free days.
This year we're going to the east coast (we are in Kansas) so we're using
the entire break.
When I was doing my undergrad degree we took an entire week of classes off,
but our choir was mostly music majors.
As for secrets to getting them out of class. I think it depends on the
size
of your school and if it's a private institution. My school is a small
private school affiliated with the United Methodist Church, so our trip is
not only a choir tour, but somewhat a mission trip.

Here we do three tours from the music department during the
school year for 3-4 days each. The choirs tour in mid-November, the jazz
band and chamber choir do a jazz rep in March, and the concert band tours in
April. We take at least one day of a weekend so the students only miss 2-3
days of classes. A lot of the faculty from other depts. bitch and moan
about it, but the administration realizes it's vital to recruiting students
for our department (who also end up being the best students academically at
the university and often major in other fields). Our campus policy is that
these trips are to be excused and students allowed to make up work missed.
It's been suggested that we move one tour to spring break, but the students
have voiced strong opposition.
I've also taken my choirs on more extended trips during the week between
spring graduation and the beginning of our month-long May term. This year
we're flying to Chicago and touring by bus through Michigan to Toronto and
back.
If you want to take tour during school weeks, I would suggest that you
start
small - take a 4-day weekend. Your biggest opposition would be from faculty
in other depts.

My experience seems to be exactly like yours. I have even found it
hard to get 20 member of a Chamber Singers group to take an entire day
away from classes and work. Getting the 80-plus Concert Choir on any day
other than Sunday has been a real challenge. I find that summer European
tours are the only time I can really get them to focus completely. That
seems to be a bit of an expensive solution!

I have much of the same problem. Because we run on a term system, our
students cannot miss excessive classes. And most athletes are gone on
spring break so I can't get them for tours. My solution, which is probably
less than ideal, is to do a mini-tour for the Concert Choir which runs from
a Friday through Sunday evening during the term ... they miss only one day
of class. We can't go far, but at least get some touring experience. Then

my small select ensembles tour during spring break ... and students cannot
audition for those ensembles if they cannot be free to tour during break.

I had the same problem - during class or spring break. My students are
reluctant to give up even one day during class time so I had to tour during
the break.

This is our first year - here's what I did. I arranged a long weekend tour
- we start on Friday right after classes end and get back to campus very lat
Tuesday. I also arrange one "home" concert before we are leaving. We had
that concert and will leave "on tour" this Friday. First, I made sure that
all expenses were paid by the college and that students did not have to
"pay" for their own tour. Everything has been paid for by the college with
"food" or "spending money" provided for each student. Also, my first tour
was in the area of NYC, and we will have one free day in the city. This was
the incentive that got the students motivated to give up part of their
spring break and do this tour. My theory is that they will have such a
great time doing it that they will want to do it again next year and next
year will not include a free day in New York but a more mundane tour to
churches and High Schools.

I did a tour last year during Spring break, but then I cheated myself
out of a much needed break. This year, I'm doing it two weeks before
spring break touring domestically. I had to get sanction from our
vice-chancellor's office, so the students can get officially excused.
The thought of going to New York City and Boston was quite enticing to
the students from the Midwest. I still have some grumblers who have to
juggle things to get requirements in, but mostly, students can't wait to
go.

We toured every March break.
Generally, we went from Friday (last day of classes) around noon, until
Wednesday of the break week, doing a concert every evening, and some
workshops
in the morning if we were hosted by schools. On occasion, the women's
chorale went places during the long weekend we have off ("Fall
Break") in October -- Thursday to Sunday -- usually to festivals or Carnegie
or
something!!! =)

1. Do you do it during school or during a break from classes, like spring
>break?

When our chamber choir of about 20 tours it is usually over
a weekend, perhaps performing and doing workshops in school for recruiting
on Monday & Tuesday. Usually only one such tour per year, in the spring.

My own situation was very different, and probably not much help to you. I
came here specifically to rebuild an entertainment troupe that
had a mandate from the university administration to travel outside
town, across the state and the region, representing the university in
a very positive way by presenting clean-cut entertainment and showing off
our students.

We took basically two different kinds of bookings. Community concerts were
almost always done on weekends, with a local community service organization
sponsoring us as a fundraising benefit. It was a win-win-win situation.
The local sponsors raised money and raised community consciousness for
their service activities. We got to play for wonderful audiences with all
our expenses covered by our share of the proceeds. And the university got
strong, positive public relations basically for free.

The other kind of booking was conference, convention, or banquet
entertainment, and we had no control over the dates when the entertainment
was needed. These were, again, fine positive public relations for the
university, and because our fees were usually higher than for community
concerts it helped pay for our seasonal expenses.

>
>2. Any secrets to getting kids to miss classes, if during school, or to
>give up their break, if at that time? I must be missing something. (Maybe
>it's charisma!)

When I took over, the organization already had a long
tradition of doing this kind of touring, so I didn't have to establish one
from scratch. We very definitely had to deal with the missing-classes
problem. We would often leave on a Friday at noon for a schedule of 2 or
even three performances over the weekend. (On average, we probably did the
equivalent of traveling every other weekend during the academic year, but
it sometimes got more hectic over a period of 2 or 3 weeks.)

Students who got involved with the organization knew up front that we
toured and that they were going to have to devote serious time in order to
be a member. We made our expectations very clear, and believe me, if the
schedule started getting too hectic, they let me know real fast! It was up
to me to keep the schedule livable, and to get them to buy in when the
university president, for example, asked us to do an extra performance
during a time when we already had a heavy schedule. We had a very strict
set of operating procedures that sort of grew over the years as problems
came up and had to be solved. We insisted on nice travel dress, so when we
arrived at a site we made a quick, positive impression. And so on, and on,
and on!

Academics: We asked students to talk with their professors at the
beginning of the semester, let them know that occasionally they might have
to miss class on university business (all our contracts were approved by a
university administrator), and that they WOULD keep up with the class work
and WOULD have their assignments turned in. (We strongly encouraged them
to get in the habit of turning them in early, rather than late!) Because
we had a generally good and positive image on campus, most professors were
as accommodating as they could be.

Health: Someone is always going to be sick, and someone could be injured
at any time. All solos (large or small) and all dance numbers had
understudies, who had to be ready to step in at less than a moment's
notice. This also helped in cases of family emergency, car breakdown, etc.
For emergencies, we carried cold packs, our student manager always had a
list of family contacts and a (very confidential) list of individual health
problems, and we stressed that if anyone had a problem that might come up
on tour I, the manager, and a close friend needed to know about it in
advance. We often had a Rescue Squad member with us on one or another of
the staffs, and the manager also had a list of those who were trained in
CPR, etc.

Image and attitude: I never tried to tell my students that they were
better than anyone else on campus (my predecessor had done so), or that
membership in the group precluded them from any other campus activities (he
did that, too). What I did try to impress on them was the honor and the
responsibility of representing the university to the people of Virginia and
beyond. Most people bought into that, and all those who stayed for more
than one season did.

Personal satisfaction: The students loved what we did, did it because they
wanted to (some with an eye toward future professional work in
entertainment, but more without), and because they felt appreciated and,
yes, loved as individuals and respected as performers. We had a leadership
honorary operated by the students themselves, and appointed management
positions that had real responsibilities, so the incentive to develop as
leaders was there. Solos were very important to people, and part of my job
was to spread them around in such a way as to show off people's individual
talents rather than their deficiencies, and to give younger members a
chance to develop as soloists.

Now, how large a group was this? Around 80 to 90 in an average year, but
divided up rather differently from your standard college touring ensemble.

Cast: 22 singer/dancers, 11 women and 11 men. I know, kind of a weird
number, but we found it worked well. Since they were choreographed and had
positions on the stage set, they all had to make it to all performances.
For emergencies I had understudies, and a student Dance Captain to fix that
kind of problem.

Showband: 12 pieces. Basically they had to make all performances as well,
although bringing in a sub was possible given enough notice.

Technical Staff: Between 20 and 30, so they were able to trade off and not
go on all trips. I think 8 to 10 made each trip, using local labor for
loading, setup, strike, and loadout, and then taking show positions during
the performances. Since they had to work effectively with local people,
they had to (and did!) get very good at organization and supervision. They
traveled about 12 hours ahead of us to show sites with a staff Technical
Director in charge.

Public Relations Staff: Around 15-20. Usually 2 or 3 traveled with us,
including those who had been the contact people for each performance, and
sold our albums at the performance. They handled news writing, sponsor
contact, graphics and layout, photography, hometown news releases, and
promotion for our on-campus concerts.

Wardrobe Staff: Usually one person out of a staff of 4 or 5 traveled on
each trip.

As I said, definitely not a "normal" situation for a college musical
ensemble, but perhaps somewhere in there you might find an idea that would
be helpful. I know that several of our "classical" choral directors have
organized European tours, but I've always been adverse to the idea of
taking students on trips that put a financial burden on them.