By Patricia Guth
In my last blog, I wrote in detail about choosing a tour company and a destination that are right for the make-up of your non-auditioned choir. To review, things to consider include a company that truly understands your singing organization and plans for them accordingly, as well as a locale that is suited to the age, mobility, and interests of your group.
Once you’ve decided on a suitable performance tour destination for your ensemble as well as determined the proper length of the trip, it’s time to think about the daily itinerary. The way each day is planned is so important to the well-being of your group, especially when you’re journeying with older travelers, which is very often the case with non-auditioned choirs included both community and church ensembles.
First things first
Obviously, the most important part of any performance tour itinerary is the concerts. You’ll want your choir to be provided with the best possible performance opportunities; concerts that they’ll remember for years to come in locations that are unlike any you’ve previously experienced. We’ve had those, even on our first trip, which didn’t go quite as well as our others.
While you might think that the ultimate performance location is opulent, elegant, historic, and so forth, what we’ve discovered is that the most meaningful and memorable concerts aren’t always in grand churches or old palaces.
While we’ll likely never forget singing in Helsinki’s famed “Rock Church” or at Salzburg’s Residenz Palace, other less-grand performances continue to permeate my memory and will always be amongst our most epic travel moments.
There was the small community center in Venice, where you could open the windows behind us and hear the gondoliers singing on the canals outside. Add to that the joy on the face of the tiny Italian woman who sang every word of Over the Rainbow with us. Magical! And the senior home in Bruck an der Letha (near Vienna), where a group of residents – most of whom couldn’t speak English – were so obviously touched by our singing that they hugged us again and again, thanking us with their best danke, then feeding us apple strudel and sachertorte until we could eat no more! Truly unforgettable!
Hence, we discovered that the people for whom we perform are often more important than the location of the concert. This is where we – as directors – need to put our egos aside and recognize that the size of the room doesn’t always equate with the depth of the experience. Rather, the size of your heart and the swell of your love for singing and sharing music is much more important.
Of course, emotions aside, you’ll also want to check on some logistics. Make sure that the concert locations are easy to reach on foot and/or are close to bus parking (see my first blog where I spoke about walking a mile on cobblestones to a concert location in Italy), that there are ample and easy-to-reach restrooms, and that risers or stages aren’t too steep or hard to reach and are comfortable for your singers, especially your older members.
We’ve found that 3 concerts on a 10-day tour is ample, avoiding the first full day and last day of the trip. Jet lag at the beginning and worries about packing and buying last minute souvenirs at the end make those difficult days for performances.
And then there’s collaboration. Most tour companies will happily pair you with local choirs for joint concerts and, for us, these have been so very special. A clever tour company like ours will do everything possible to match you with a choir similar to yours. One of our favorite memories, for example, is a performance and post-concert social with a non-auditioned mixed voice choir in Stockholm. Like my singers, they exuded a joy for singing and showed it! We could have talked for hours and many of us are still in touch with singers from that group. So, don’t miss that opportunity to share the stage and much more!
It’s all about pacing
Have you ever come home from a trip proclaiming that you need a vacation from your vacation? Often, it takes you a week to recover!!
While it’s okay, of course, to be pleasantly exhausted by the time you get home, I’ve discovered that it’s really no fun to deal with a bunch of overtired choir members each and every day of the tour. Eliminating that problem comes from working closely with your tour company to draft a daily itinerary that’s suitable to the age and stamina of your singers.
While directors of high school and college ensembles want to keep their students as busy as possible – simply to keep them out of trouble – that doesn’t need to be the case with adults. While touring, we opt for a pleasant mix of singing, sightseeing, and free time. While we make sure that we get to the see the highlights of each destination, we incorporate that free time so that our very capable adults can make their own choices, be it a nap in their hotel room or a trip to that art museum or botanical garden they’re always wanted to visit. Free time provides options, and when you’re traveling with a group of independent adults, it’s okay for them to wander off on their own or, if they prefer, spend their time in the hotel bar. That built-in free time allows for each person to exercise their individuality!
So, as you and your tour company are crafting each day’s itinerary, make sure that there are some days available for sleeping in, others with free afternoons, and some with nights where your singers can head to the opera, a nightclub, or simply take in their destination under the lights. It’s okay if you don’t do everything as one big group!
Coming up next: Tips for immersing your choir in local culture; choosing the right flights, hotels, and dining.