More Touring Experiences

More Chorus America members share personal stories about touring experiences that made a big impact.

Mary Trigg; Princeton Pro Musica

Princeton Pro Musica (PPM) is a volunteer chorus of 110 annually auditioned singers based in Princeton, New Jersey. The chorus operates on an annual budget of $240,000 and maintains an endowment of equivalent size.

In July 2014, 42 chorus singers and artistic director Ryan James Brandau traveled down the coast of Croatia from the Istrian peninsula to Dubrovnik on the first PPM concert tour since 2001. The 10-day itinerary included three concerts presented in historic venues, as well as time to enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of a culture new to most participants.

The trip, paid for by the individual participants, was managed by a tour committee of PPM volunteers who began the planning process in the spring of 2013 with an extensive survey of the chorus regarding preferred destinations, length of stay, costs, and other considerations. Working with the results of the survey, the committee narrowed the destination focus and requested proposals from several concert tour specialists, eventually choosing to travel with Opus Performance Tours.

Tour members were thrilled to present the opening concert of the "Nights in the Euphrasian Basilica" Music Festival in Porec, performing under the mosaic dome of the 6th century Byzantine cathedral. Following several walking tours ranging from the Roman ruins in Pula to spectacular Plitvice Lakes Park, the second performance took place in the Romanesque-Gothic St. Lawrence Cathedral in Trogir as part of the Trogir Summer Music Festival. Continuing down the Adriatic coast, the chorus ended the tour with a concert under the stars in the atrium of the Rector's Palace in the magical old quarter of Dubrovnik. 

Singers enjoyed presenting American sacred and traditional choral favorites as well as the John Rutter Requiem to the varied international audiences in attendance. Interacting with concert-goers and town residents after performances was an unexpected pleasure. Along the way, fans of the television series Game of Thrones also enjoyed visiting filming locations in both Split and Dubrovnik.

The 2014 Croatia tour was a tremendous success on all levels. Responding to member enthusiasm, the chorus expects to plan another trip in 2016.

Melissa Eddy; Conspirare

Conspirare tours regionally in Texas and has also made several national and international tours. We do regional touring in conjunction with our local concerts, sometimes involving an overnight stay. The distance and number of stops determines how we handle the logistics of a bus and/or hotel.

When we do a tour that does not originate locally, we have a two-day rehearsal period at the tour venue. In several instances, our tours have been anchored by an ACDA national or regional appearance. We have been presented, self-presented, and co-presented on tour.

Financing has been our biggest challenge, particularly with a choir of 32. It is important to our artistic director Craig Hella Johnson that we tour with this size choir to present the highest standard of artistic quality.

Touring has allowed us to connect with folks who know us from our recordings and our 2009 PBS television special, and is an important part of expanding our audience. 

Patrice Arasim; Minneapolis Youth Chorus

In June 2014, Minneapolis Youth Chorus (MYC), a program of the Minnesota Chorale, embarked on its first tour: a seven-day trip to Washington DC via coach bus. 

Our singers are in grades 6-9 and attend the Minneapolis Public Schools. Other than an initial $25 registration cost, the singers pay no other fees. We operate with support from the Minnesota Chorale, grants, foundations, personal donations, and other forms of fundraising. As an example, our annual poinsettia sale is a big help in providing the singers with a formal uniform.

After discussions with Gateway Tours about costs, we did a Kickstarter project and three other fundraisers to make the trip possible for all singers—knowing that some families were financially able to cover the cost of their child's trip, while others could not. We traveled with 57 singers, eight chaperones, one registered nurse, 11 family members, our assistant director, and our director for a total of 79 travelers on two buses.

The trip was fantastic. We scheduled concerts at Mt. Vern on, Union Station, and St. Alban's Episcopal Church, and performed for our legislator Representative Ellison and at an impromptu concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. We also toured many of the attractions at the Smithsonian and even had time for a swim in the hotel pool!

This experience clearly demonstrated to our singers the value of goal setting and hard work. It broadened the vision of singers from challenging neighborhoods and underperforming schools. It nurtured a developing pride in being a member of MYC and being thought of as an accomplished young person.

The singers’ responses to tight performing spaces, waiting in long lines, hiking up hills in hot sunlight, and performing in noisy places was admirable. They learned to act professionally and respectfully in many different situations. We are a better chorus as a result of this first tour. Many followed us on Facebook and the Minnesota Chorale website, which increased our visibility and support.

The chorus was well-received at all venues, which was a great affirmation for me. I know their families and friends think the chorus is great. It is even sweeter when a listener from Uganda comes up to you, at the end of a performance, to say that your song in Swahili made her cry tears of joy. This kind of spontaneous response encourages me to perform more diverse music from other cultures and languages.

I could go on and on regarding the many benefits gained as a result of traveling with the chorus. My closing perhaps says it best: overseas travel is definitely a new goal!

Sara Boos, Northwest Girlchoir

Northwest Girlchoir is a volunteer, non-profit children's chorus with about 250 singers, ages 7-18, in six choir levels. Our budget is between $530,000 and $730,000 per year, depending on whether or not it is an international tour year for our high school choir.

Each year, our 3rd-5th grade choir, Fresca, has a "Tour Day" around Seattle—for instance, singing at the Seattle Art Museum Sculpture Park and the Seattle Aquarium, eating at the Spaghetti Factory, and touring the Aquarium.

Our 5th-6th grade choir, Amabile, goes on an overnight tour every year. Last year, they attended the overnight Fort Worden Children's Choir Festival in Port Townsend, Washington (a ferry trip away). Two years ago, they went on a mini-tour: master class at Pacific Lutheran University; sing inside the Museum of Glass, Tacoma; sing in the State Capital Building, Olympia; and overnight fun at the waterpark Great Wolf Lodge.

Our 7th-8th grade choir, Vivace, goes on a one-week long festival trip each year to work with a guest clinician and other choirs, to places like PICCFEST in Eugene, Oregon or Sing-A-Mile-High Festival in Denver, CO. Several years ago, the Vivace choir toured instead, performing in several places in Hawaii (an Northwest Girlchoir created tour).

Our 9th-12th grade choir, Amore, tours internationally every other year. Some of our recent tours include: England/France, 2013; Finland/Estonia, 2011; Australia 2009; Croatia/Slovenia/Italy 2007; and Festival 500 in Newfoundland, 2005. We are hoping to get enough interest from choristers and families to tour in June 2015 to Malta and Sicily. On alternate years, Amore often sings at a local/regional location, such as touring performances on Whidbey Island, just north of Seattle. 

Touring has a big impact on our choir’s culture. We feel more connected to the national and internal choral community, with conductor and chorus friends across the country and globe. Our singers and Northwest Girlchoir have Facebook friends from around the world.

Our repertoire has broadened as we've learned music for tours and from choirs and conductors during our tours and festival experiences. We've learned to think more globally about ways to improve our program offerings and our organization as a whole, using ideas and models from around the country and world.

Our young singers gain confidence in performing for varied audiences and having to perform well for people who don't know us at all (often, young people are singing for mostly parents, grandparents, and friends). We've learned about the importance of communicating to our audience, particularly when the audience is from a different culture or when we don't speak their language. Many of our high school singers are inspired, after our tours, to study abroad and spend time living in other countries for a time, including some of the places we've visited (for instance, Finland and Australia). The world seems like a more accessible and friendlier place.

TJ Busse; San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus

In the wake of the passage of California's Proposition 8, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus decided to bring its message to the areas of California that had supported the anti-gay proposition. The chorus self-presented the 2010-12 California Freedom Tour: three consecutive tours in the California Central Valley in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Performing venues included Bakersfield, Modesto, Redding, Chico, Vallejo, Stockton, and Sacramento, all communities underserved by the performing arts. In each community, we joined with a local LGBT or HIV/AIDS service organization to raise support for the work they do in their communities, and this helped us establish an audience base in each city as well as wide press coverage.

In the process, we learned quite a bit about touring, as well as the importance of touring as a way to reach underserved regions. In 2012, we used our expertise to add a touring component to our participation in the 2012 GALA choral festival by adding a self-financed run-out to Laramie, Wyoming to raise funds for the Matthew Shepard foundation. In 2014-15, we added a satellite series in Santa Rosa, and are touring the production of an opera by Jake Heggie about gays in the Holocaust to numerous inland locations in Northern California.

Our experience has allowed us to develop a robust tour scholarship program, and touring has helped member engagement in fundraising. One success story was the development of a "dragathon" fundraiser concept.

The California Freedom tour has a happy ending: in 2013, the chorus led a five-chorus co-commissioning consortium to premiere a major oratorio about the legacy of Harvey Milk. The premiere of this work, the largest project in the chorus's history, occurred the same day the Supreme Court overturned Proposition 8. To celebrate, our co-commissioning partner, the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, invited all the co-commissioning choruses to join them in Los Angeles to perform the work at Disney Hall in 2014. Our tour experience allowed us to coordinate maximum participation.

Bryn Nelson, Seattle Men’s Chorus

In June 2014, a group of about 125 converged on Berlin for the first leg of our four-city tour through Germany. In addition to roughly 75 singing members of the Seattle Men's Chorus and seven members of the Heartland Men's Chorus from Kansas City, we were joined by musicians, staff, significant others, and friends. 

On Saturday, June 21, we marched in Berlin's Christopher Street Day parade with rainbow umbrellas, which came in handy on a cool, occasionally rainy afternoon. Being part of such a big event was an amazing experience, and we were warmly greeted by a long line of onlookers who seemed to love our sea of matching shirts and twirling, bobbing umbrellas. After the parade, we had an even bigger thrill: singing four songs on the main stage to thousands and thousands of enthusiastic fans - the biggest live audience we've ever had. "Happy" soon had the entire crowd clapping along and when we ended with "Tired of the Silence," which includes the words of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk, our final "Come out!" was met with a roar.

At our first full concert, in Berlin's dramatic Admiralspalast theater, we premiered "For a Look or a Touch" for a small but appreciative audience that included a Nigerian LGBT activist, a well-known gay rabbi and one of the film makers of "Paragraph 175," the documentary on which the mini-opera is based. “For a Look or a Touch” examines the fate of gay Germans in the Holocaust through the fate of two lovers. Before our first entrance, I felt more than a few butterflies: how would a German audience respond to such a deeply personal and emotional story? I soon had my answer: chorus members were thanked again and again after the show by truly touched concert-goers. We also received a glowing review on the queer.de website, which remarked on how important it was to have a gay chorus deliver such a powerful message. 

For the third major concert of our Germany tour, we made a day trip from Leipzig to sing in Dresden’s St. Pauli Ruine, a venue that encapsulates the city’s rise from the ashes. Today, the bombed-out and half-ruined church is a fantastic concert and theater venue covered with a glass roof. The visual effect is stunning, and the acoustics are superb. With such a poignant reminder of the war all around us, our concert there took on added meaning, and many of us agreed that the sound, the emotion, and the terrific audience response made this our best performance yet. 

We ended the evening with our a cappella signature, “Over the Rainbow.” In this unforgettable setting, it was a song of hope and encouragement. It’s also something we sing often at the funerals of chorus members. And so it seemed a fitting tribute when we sang it again the next day at a simple memorial in a large clearing on a wooded hillside above the town of Weimar: the Nazis’ Buchenwald concentration camp. We had stopped here on our way to Cologne. To sing. To mourn. To cry. To remember that this is why we’re here. 

I knew that the proceeds of our concerts in Germany had been earmarked for the foundation that runs the Buchenwald memorial, but being here in person gave the trip a far deeper resonance. We gathered in a semi-circle, in front of the foundations of a barracks that held Jewish prisoners, and sang “The Buchenwald Song,” written by the prisoners themselves. It speaks of hope, of freedom, of saying yes to life. We followed with “Over the Rainbow,” and the Kaddish prayer by several members. There were few dry eyes on our walk back to the buses.

On the evening of June 28, our entire tour group gathered for a farewell dinner cruise on the Rhine River in Cologne. Aboard the boat, we were no longer the Seattle Men’s Chorus or the Heartland Men’s Chorus or staff or musicians or allies but one big family that had bonded over 10 remarkable days. We laughed and hugged, sang and danced, and took pictures of each other and the dramatic nighttime skyline.

Liebe gewinn. 
Love wins.

Edward Maclary; University of Maryland Chamber Singers

Our ensemble was selected to perform at the 2014 World Symposium on Choral Music in Seoul, South Korea, sponsored by the International Federation for Choral Music. We were notified in October 2013 of our invitation to the August 2014 event, which gave us a very brief time to organize fundraising, programming, roster, and scheduling of rehearsals. After making a budget and an itinerary, we engaged tour company Classical Movements to procure our travel, and we set about raising the money. Each singer committed to a certain percentage of the cost per person.

We received initial support from the University Provost and then developed a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds from alumni, friends, and families. The ensemble received several fees during the year for professional engagements with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra respectively. Those were applied to funding the project. Finally, the University Relations office helped to fund the remaining amount and the Vice President of University Relations used the opportunity to travel with us on tour to develop and enhance contacts with UMD alumni living and working in Korea. We believe strongly in the “ambassadorship” aspect of what our choral ensembles can do for the University and our School of Music, so even though this project came suddenly and somewhat took over the focus of our entire academic year, we thought it would be worth it. 

And it was. The students, who had to make financial, summer work schedule, academic work schedule, and family travel adjustments to make the trip, came away from the experience with a unique perspective on choral performance. To be recognized as one of the top choral ensembles in the world, to share the stage with ensembles such as the Stuttgart Kammerchor and the Sofia Vokalensemble, to perform at the very highest level of their abilities, was a unique and gratifying event. 

Though the tour lasted only eight days, there are many stories to tell. Events on a performance tour half way around the world never go quite as you might expect. Perhaps the most memorable one took place in our run-out concert in the city of Gunsan. Minutes before the sold-out performance the sprinkler system above the stage in the brand new performing arts center where we were to sing went off and rained hundreds of gallons of water. After a 30 minute delay and furious efforts by the staff to clean up the area, we went on and sang the concert to the accompaniment of the steady drip and hiss of the remaining water in the system and the mist of the moisture in the stage lights. A bit like performing in a rain forest!

Susan McMane; Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco

The Young Women's Choral Projects of San Francisco was founded in 2012 and has as part of its mission "to bring the expressive power of their music to the community, the nation, and the world." We tour annually, either nationally or internationally. We have an annual budget of approximately $300,000 and are a community youth chorus with girls from 46 different Bay Area towns coming to rehearsal twice a week in San Francisco. Approximately 30 percent of our singers are on scholarship, and it is our policy to allow every singer the opportunity to tour with the ensemble regardless of financial resources. A great deal of fundraising throughout the year is needed to raise sufficient funds so all can participate. 

We feel that touring raises the artistic level of an ensemble and motivates the chorus to be the best it can be. Singing in new halls for new audiences inspires the singers. From touring, they learn firsthand the history of the compositions, and their music making is informed by the acoustic of the halls and the audience size where the piece was first conceived. 

In our first season we decided to tour Italy and sing the Venetian ospedali repertoire in the very place it was first performed. This repertoire is the first music ever written for four-part female voices, and is an important part of the history of girl choirs. Therefore, taking this "pilgrimage" to Venice in our very first year was honoring our legacy. In Venice, we sang at Vivaldi's church on the site of the Ospedali della Pietà, and even visited the old buildings of another former ospedali. We saw the rooms that the young female orphans lived in, walked the old circular staircase down to the back of the church as they did in the 1700s, and sang in the church behind the screen as they did. 

Of course, touring bonds the ensemble like nothing else. The year after a tour, the friendships are more solid, the commitment to the ensemble is higher, and the artistic level is higher.

We feel that touring expands the cultural awareness for our singers of other parts of our country, too. This past summer we took an East Coast tour to Boston and New York City. My singers mentioned that their favorite part of the tour was singing with other choruses, where they met young people who love music as much as they do. They enjoyed the home stays where it gave them an opportunity to know another singer's family in a very different environment.

Jane Denney and Pete Chadwick; Voices 21

The chamber chorus Voices 21 is an all-volunteer organization consisting of approximately 25 members with an annual budget of less than $ 87,000. There is no paid staff so our budget covers performance costs, including advertising, communications, and other miscellaneous expenses. 

From the beginning, the organization embraced the idea of traveling as a way of broadening each member's performance experiences and building a tighter fabric around the group that would draw the members more closely together. A core value was that shared experiences while traveling would have the direct effect of creating a more cohesive singing ensemble.

Voices 21 made its European debut in June of 2003 with performances in Paris and Amboise, France; returned to Europe in June of 2005 for performances in Asolo and Pistoia, Italy; visited Ireland in 2007 with performances in Ennistymon and Crosshaven, and most recently performed at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, in May 2014.

Traveling with between 13-19 singers, we can do things larger groups could only dream of. On our first tour to France in 2003, we were able to present a "flash mob" performance of Claudin de Sermisey's motet Domine quis habitabit in Sainte Chappelle, the beautiful surroundings for which it likely was composed. It was a moving and unforgettable moment for the ensemble. Other experiences are more like scenes from a Saturday Night Live script: a soprano, in full concert gear, comes out of the stall in the ladies' restroom in the basement of the Basilica Madonna dell’Umiltà in Pistoia, Italy (our concert venue), saying, "Boy, I am going to need years of therapy after that (referring to the hole in the stone floor that served as a modern toilet)!" It is a story still quoted by members in the group.

Our one great touring disappointment was cancelling a planned trip to Spain in 2011. Because we are such a small organization, members pay the full cost of traveling when we tour, and the price of the one week trip reached our tipping block. We did not have enough singers willing to join the tour and create the critical mass needed to produce a true ensemble sound. That disappointment, however, prompted the organization to reevaluate touring options and the economics of traveling. The direct result was our application to participate in the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, which was a great success and something we would like to repeat in the future. The largest number of singers to date participated in that tour, affirming our decision to stay on U.S. soil and investigate the various music festivals that occur throughout our country.


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