After a year (or two) off due to the Covid-19 pandemic, festivals are ecstatic to welcome you and your students back for a year of fun and edifying performances. Whether you lead a choir, marching band or youth symphony, this is your chance to give them an experience above and beyond the typical concert.
WHY PERFORMANCE FESTIVALS?
Even if it’s not a competition, students performing alongside other schools get to see how they perform, giving better context for their own skill level and likely providing motivation to improve—or providing affirmation for all their hard work. Often, you can get external feedback as well from adjudicators.
Then there’s the travel aspect. Groups traveling together have more time to bond, which means they’ll perform better together as well. A festival trip can easily be paired with additional activities in the area, giving the trip value beyond the destination itself.
Kim Burger, senior travel consultant with Educational Tours Inc., frequently helps groups prepare for performance trips and said tour operators will gladly help plan all the activities around the festival itself, from museums to shows and beyond. After years of experience, Burger also said the cost of these trips is usually higher, but it’s worth it. Her advice? Pick a venue with great acoustics, and make sure the students are fully prepared.
PICKING THE FESTIVAL
There are endless performance festivals to pick from around the world, especially if you’re willing to travel. The question is: Which one?
Finding the right festival for your group is key, and there are plenty of factors to consider. For advice, we turned to Geoffrey McQueen, executive director of Choirs of America and Harmony Festivals. He suggests answering these seven questions:
- What festival options exist at the destination and during the dates I want to travel with my group?
- Can I see the performance standards and/or rubric for the festival prior to attending?
- Does the festival company have a comprehensive COVID-19 policy in place?
- Is the festival company aware that my group may not be at its peak performance level for a few years due to the pandemic?
- Are there any valuable inclusions built into the festival beyond the standard adjudicated performance and five minute onstage performance review (i.e., longer clinics, video/audio recordings of both the performance and the clinic; opportunities to interact with similar groups from across the country, etc.)?
- Does the festival and tour cost align with our needs?
- What is the reputation of the festival company with my friends and colleagues?
- Much like finding a job, finding the right festival is a two-way street—the fit has to work for everyone involved. You’re not just asking permission to play at a festival, you’re asking what your hard-working students will gain from the experience as well.
“A myriad of other data points can also help determine the best festival experience for each individual group,” McQueen said. “Mostly, though, the main question to ask is: Do I feel good about bringing my performers to the festival I’ve chosen? Our advice: Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ‘interview’ each festival company you’re considering.”
Chances are, even if you have done a performance festival before, you haven’t done it in a few years. The Covid-19 pandemic may have lessened but its impact is still felt in a number of ways.
“Based on numerous phone calls and Zoom meetings we’ve had with directors from across the country, it’s clear that COVID-19 has drastically affected most school performing arts programs. From high percentages of attrition to lower musicianship ability across the spectrum, the pandemic has knocked most instrumental and choral groups to the ground,” McQueen said.
“Fortunately, our country is blessed with some of the best, most passionate music educators in the world, and we’re already seeing most groups picking themselves off that proverbial ground, dusting themselves off, and making their way back in a big way. It will be a slow process, but it is definitely happening.”
For McQueen’s part, Harmony Tours & Events believes their primary role is to help directors maximize their retention and recruitment. Performance festivals help with both. “Getting student performers outside the four walls of the classroom to travel and experience their world through performance can be an invaluable cornerstone to helping an ensemble re-discover their passion for music and music education.”
WORDS OF WISDOM
Wherever your trip ends up taking you, just remember that everything may not go according to plan—especially after all this time away—and that’s okay. What’s important is to enjoy the process and do your best.
“One big thing most would probably say is needed to fully prepare for a performance festival/competition is to ‘practice, practice, practice.’ That is, of course, great advice,” McQueen said. “But, for me, I think the one big thing would be to enjoy the process of making music together at every opportunity, because you never know when that privilege may take a detour. After all, the journey is the destination.”
This story originally ran in Teach & Travel’s January 2022 issue, alongside a complete listing of performance festivals.