Guest blogger: A teacher’s take on music tours

Published: 16th February 2016

Phil Redding’s years in arranging music tours for his students runs into the decades. In his teaching career, Phil was Head of Expressive Arts at Boston Spa for 31 years and part-time teacher at Ashville College before working for the exam board and later joining the York Music Services. As a freelance musician and composer, he has worked as Musical Director on a number of theatrical productions. We caught up with Phil to hear how and why he started arranging tours for his students and why he continues to despite entering retirement.

Finding a focus

Ashville College performing | Rhineland Tour

There have been many times when I’ve been asked as to why I choose to run music tours. For thirty years, I have been organising music tours to different parts of Europe and I felt it was time to document my experiences.

When I began leading music tours, I was teaching in a large state comprehensive school (11 – 18 mixed) based in North Leeds. It all began very humbly with a small group of students (essentially my school soul band) staying for a long weekend in Bayeux, Normandy. I felt that in order to bind the group together we needed a focus in the UK. A foreign visit would help to give purpose to rehearsals and allow us to perform in external venues with a guaranteed audience. 

Soon, the music tour became an annual event. Every year, following exams at the end of the summer term, we would go abroad for a week to perform 5 or 6 concerts for new audiences and to enjoy a break in different parts of Europe. We still visit Normandy, but in France we have also visited the Loire Valley and the French Alps. We have also taken music trips to Germany – the Mosel region; the Netherlands – Valkenburg aan de Geul; Italy – Lake Garda; and Spain – Oviedo and the Picos de Europa.

Seeing music groups grow

Ashville College | Rhineland platz

Our numbers grew from a small start! From a small coach to take a soul band in our first year, we moved to taking two single-deck full specification coaches to incorporate a soul band, a jazz band and a concert band on each of our visits. We placed a limit of 72 students on the tour and each year we still had a waiting list! We always tried to book a centre/hotel with a rehearsal space and a pool. This made for a fantastic experience as we were able to rehearse properly while also having the chance to relax, which made the whole trip feel like one big holiday. It is therefore really important that you feel able to trust your tour company and work closely with your Tour Administrator.

I retired from teaching around ten years ago, but still organised European Tours for a local Music Centre, an adult choir and, after returning to teach part-time, I introduced the concept of an annual music tour at a new school. I have retired again, but am still organising their tours – this will be their sixth year!

Why do I do it?

Ashville College | Rhineland strasse

Primarily, I choose to organise music tours for my groups because I enjoy it, but also because I see the value the students get from these music tours on multiple levels. There is of course the musical value to consider. Being able to rehearse in a concentrated way over a short period of time vastly improves the musicianship and performance skills of the groups. I can also quote you numerous examples of students who have begun tuition on a musical instrument simply to be eligible for the music tour! Ultimately, we see an increase in the number of students picking up an instrument and willing to learn whether it is to achieve an independent goal or to be a part of a wider collective.

There is also the cultural value: the opportunity to experience first-hand how other countries “work” and “play”. Music is universal and therefore a very important element in the lives of people all over Europe.

Finally, there is the social value for the students. A music tour sees students working and living in close-quarters and encourages greater unity to work against a common goal – the performance. There is a focus on their ability to work together, play together, and enjoy making music together.

Is it worth it? 

Of course it is! For many students, music tours are the highlight of a student’s time at secondary school. There are memories created on a music tour abroad that will be lasting, whether it is a particular performance or having the opportunity to visit one of many cultural attractions. I still bump into students in their late thirties who talk of things that happened on their school music tour!

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