Traveling with your school ensemble can be a wonderful experience for your students and your program. It can help deepen the social ties within your ensemble and it can help grow your program. It is also a marvelous and fun way for the director to receive some important musical feedback and observations from exceptional clinicians and adjudicators—something that is usually missing during classroom observations.
However, solid planning is necessary for this experience to remain positive and fun rather than turning into a nightmare!
Even before you begin to plan, it is imperative to involve your administrator, particularly if this is the school’s first trip of this kind. Be prepared to sell the idea from an educational perspective, highlighting its importance to the growth of both the program and the students. Having the total buy-in, support and blessing of the administration will be important in countless ways.
Planning the trip begins with some basic research and decisions on the part of the director before really involving anyone else in the process. For example:
- Will it be a one-day festival, an overnight trip, or an event lasting several days?
- Will the trip be open to all music ensembles or just a few?
- Will instrumental and choral groups be traveling together? If so, engage the other directors now if you have not already done so—they need to be a part of every decision.
Now that you have decided the length of the trip, it is time to start looking at possible dates. Here are some scheduling issues to consider before booking a music trip:
- the academic calendar and major testing dates
- sports schedules
- the district master schedule (including holidays and special events)
We now teach in a time when testing has become very important. There are typically three testing windows to consider avoiding: state testing, AP testing and IB tests. Your administrator may be of assistance in helping you to check those testing calendars or speak to the people in charge of those tests, helping you to eliminate these potential conflicts right away.
The next person you should meet with is the athletic director. Since so many of our students are involved in extracurricular activities, it is wise to avoid as many conflicts as possible. Know which sports your students are involved in and work with the athletic director to pick a couple of dates that will avoid those big and important games (you don’t want to leave the coach with only half a team!) Working with the athletic director will go a long way to keep the coaches happy and will avoid having your music athletes drop from the trip.
The last calendar to consider is the school district master calendar to be sure that the dates you are interested in don’t conflict with something important within the school, the district, or the local culture. Starting with these steps will help maintain positive relationships with your colleagues as well as avoid any major issues and problems.
After you’ve identified a few prospective dates, this is the time to look at festival offerings. Serious consideration should be given to activities offered for the students during non-performance times. You will also want to check the quality of the festival itself. Some things to consider are:
- Sites and venues at your prospective destinations
- Qualifications of adjudicators
- Types or classifications of ensembles that will be judged
- Ratings and opinions from other directors
- What is included in the festival package and what might have to be added on.
Try to narrow your choices to the top two or three from a director’s perspective and price them out. You will need to figure in the cost of transportation (approximately $1500 – $1800 per day for coach bus transportation depending on the distance traveled) to come to a rough cost per student. Here is a link to a cost analysis for a school’s music department trip to a festival in Florida. Notice that in this particular case, the directors divided the cost of the transportation among the students, and charged the chaperones only for their hotel rooms. Chaperones worked hard on this particular five-day event, so they deserved some compensation.
Now is a good time to engage the students and the parents in the decision-making process. If you have student officers or parent leaders in a booster club, have them look over the possible trips and offer their ideas. They can help you present the options or their favorite option to all the members of the ensemble as well as the parents. Once a consensus has been reached, it is time to make all the preparations!
- Contact the festival organization to secure your dates. Some festivals will limit the number of schools or groups that can participate on a given weekend. There will be forms to fill out and a deposit will most likely be required.
- Contact a bus company to secure coach transportation. You might want to check with the school district transportation coordinator to find the best company and maybe get a better price. If you are planning a longer trip where a flight will be involved, make those preparations as soon as the trip dates and sites are determined. Since you will also need ground transportation, you may wish to enlist the services of a travel agent who can arrange all the specifics into a single package and quite possibly save you some money.
- Fill out the necessary school/district paperwork regarding field trips. Check with the administration to make sure that all the proper forms are filled out and sent to the correct people for approval.
- Begin securing chaperones to travel with the ensemble. Include an administrator as a chaperone if they are available. Other teachers in the building make excellent chaperones on trips. The majority of the chaperones should be parents of students who are currently in your group. Plan on one chaperone for every eight to ten students and be sure to have both male and female chaperones, especially if you are planning an overnight trip.
- Start looking for fundraising ideas! While some students or parents may pay for their entire trip, most will have to raise money to help pay the cost. Running a simple and profitable fundraiser is paramount. Some ideas might be:
- Music patrons
- Car washes
- Talent show sponsored by the music department
- Set up a payment schedule. Since payments to the festival and transportation companies will have to be made regularly, it is imperative that you set up a payment schedule to ensure that the funds are available when you need to make a payment. It is wise to regularly send out student statements showing how much they have raised along with their payments—this helps the students and parents see their payment progress and also alerts you if someone falls behind in their payments—before it becomes an issue.
About a month before the trip there will be a flurry of activity. You will need to submit forms to the festival which may include your festival selections for each group, staging and equipment needs for each group, rooming list, and final itinerary. You will want to familiarize yourself with the rules surrounding the festival and any sites hosting the different events as well as the rubrics and grading that the judges and adjudicators will be using at your ensemble’s performance.
There will also be forms that you will have to fill out for the school, including permission forms and medical forms. Work with the administration and school nurse to secure the proper forms or to create a form if none currently exists. Sending those forms home along with an attached letter that details the expectations, rules, and regulations is important to make certain that both parents and students understand those rules and expectations.
You should have a chaperone meeting prior to the trip so the chaperones understand their role, know what students and rooms that they will be responsible for, what buses they will ride, and some general counseling on how to handle those “difficult” situations that will occur. Realize that while they are comfortable handling a few teenagers at a time, they are not used to handling the large number that will be traveling with the ensemble. Here’s a link to sample chaperone instructions that you can distribute to your chaperones.
- Have extra copies of the itinerary. Posting it on the school and ensemble websites is also a great idea.
- Make sure you have adjudicator copies of the music you will be performing (normally two or three numbered scores).
- Have extra copies of the rooming and bus lists.
- Don’t forget the medical and permission forms. You never know when something unexpected is going to happen and you will need them right away.
We hope you have found these tips helpful in preparing for your next trip. A lot goes into planning an excursion with your ensemble, but there is no need to panic. Take everything one step at a time and remember there are resources to help you along the way. Best of luck!
Have some tips of your own? Share them in the comments section!
Tom Sabatino currently works as Manager of Choral Product Sales, choral clinician and voice-over actor for J.W. Pepper & Son, Inc., the world’s largest sheet music retailer. Prior to working with Pepper, Tom taught general, instrumental, and vocal music in Delaware public schools for 31 years. He also directed the University of Delaware choir Schola Cantorum, was a tenor with the Christ Church Christiana Hundred Choir, and was Director of Music for St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Wilmington, Delaware. He was active in the Delaware Music Educators Association where he served as President and All-State Chorus Chair, and ACDA where he served as chair for High School Standards and Repertoire. Tom holds active memberships in NAfME and ACDA and is a freelance voice actor and narrator through audible.com.
Tom Dean is School Choral Editor for J.W. Pepper & Son, Inc. Prior to working for Pepper, Tom taught instrumental and choral music as well as audio engineering at the high school level in Delaware public schools for 32 years. He is a member of the ACDA and is active in the Delaware Music Educators Association where he served in numerous positions including President, All-State Coordinator, Technology Chair, and Composition Chair, and NAfME where he served as Eastern Division President and National Executive Board member. He was a member of the music writing team that developed the new music standards for the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards project.