How To Combine A Choir Tour With History Lessons

“Music has the power to bring people together like no other art form” – Michael Franti

It’s true. You see it at concerts, at carnivals, at the school disco. It is of little surprise a music trip brings students closer together; sharing a unique experience that not only creates new memories and bonds, but delivers a learning experience conducive to the development of each individual in attendance.

Seeing new sites, performing in historic venues, and taking the time to learn about the history and culture of a new area is a valuable experience to all. Here, former Head of Music, Howard Sayer, shares his experience of leading a music performance tour abroad and his top six tips to support trip leaders in their planning.

Connecting Choir Trip with an Experience of WWI

The Worle School Youth Choir from Weston-super-Mare sings abroad every two years. Sometimes we travel as a choir on our own and at other times we have decided to partner with another school for a joint tour. Our tour to Tuscany in 2014 was shared with another choir from Spain whom we had some links with.

In Summer 2016 we decided on a short hop over to Bruges. There were the obvious connections with the 100th anniversary of WWI and we aimed to give the singers a feel for the historical significance of this as part of the tour. Bringing together the opportunity to perform abroad with the chance to mark a significant event adds extra value to a music tour abroad and provides students with a unique experience few would be able to take part in away from the choir.

Choir on the streets of Belgium

Our excellent hostel was situated just outside the city of Bruges and we were able to walk to and from the centre easily. The facilities at the hostel were ideal: we had areas where we could practice our singing, hold entertainment evenings and quizzes, and there were even social areas and grass for ball games.

St. Salvator’s Cathedral in Bruges provided us with a lovely acoustic to sing in. The evening concert in Nieuwpoort, a municipality in Flanders, was on a stage on the promenade and attracted a large passing audience; the atmosphere was buzzing!

Perhaps the most memorable of all our performances in Belgium was the privilege of being able to sing at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate, in Ypres. We had a specially commissioned piece to perform and the students understood the dignity and solemnness of the occasion perfectly. Singing here was something the staff and students will always remember.

A visit with lessons that can only be learned outside the classroom

The occasion had been preceded by a visit to Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing (highly recommended for an hour or so), which put the losses caused by WWI into stark reality for all of us with almost 12,000 graves of soldiers barely a couple of years older than the students themselves.

For students, the visit placed learning in the classroom in context. The thoughts and feelings the landmark conjures is not something that can simply be replicated within the school walls.

More singing and plenty of treats

In Bruges itself we enjoyed the climb up the Belfry (singing most of the way up and down) and the trip on the canal. However, the students were equally happy having free time in the centre to explore and returning to the group with bags piled high with the famous local chocolates!

I’ve led 12 choir trips abroad and so my top 6 tips for doing so yourself would be:

  1. Go and do a recce visit yourself. This is ‘gold-dust’ in term of being one step ahead when you are out there with the students.
  2. Plan ahead and launch really early. We launch 18 months to 2 years in advance to give the students plenty of time to organise smaller bi-monthly payments.
  3. If you haven’t quite got enough singers to make it viable, invite a school rock band to come on tour as well. This might just tip the numbers over the mark. It also provides a variety of music styles on the tour. Sometimes, with the correct and timely suggestion they can be drafted into the choir to sing.
  4. Use former singers who maybe have left school as ‘helpers’. They can enjoy coming back to sing, but also provide an extra pairs of hands for supervising.
  5. Set aside a whole weekend a couple of weeks prior to the tour to blitz the admin.
  6. Take around 200 small bottles of water on the coach to sell during the tour. It’s cheaper than buying at service stations and crucial if you experience a coach breakdown on a hot journey. Small profits go into the choir fund for the next trip.

About the author | Howard Sayer

Former Head of Music at Worle School, Weston-super-Mare, Howard Sayer has sought numerous opportunities to bring students together on a music tour with a difference. Identifying key events and points of interest, Howard has looked to bring added educational value to his music performance tours. With the support of Head of Music, Emma Burlinson, and Conductors, Gill McLorinan and Ben Gutsell, the team have successfully overseen music trips to such destinations as West Flanders and Tuscany.

You can watch his final school concert at Worle School here:

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