If you are fortunate enough to lead a youth choir, then the words “youth choir tour” may have been uttered to you at some point. These words may have come from a hopeful youth, an overly anxious parent, or that pesky, subliminal voice that urges each of us to keep trying new things to enhance and develop our music programs. These words may fill your heart with fond memories, or they might incite deep fear: “Is our group really ready to go on the road?” you may ask. In this two-part series, I will share some insights into planning a successful youth choir tour.
Define Your Purpose
First, you must ask yourself, “Why are we doing this?” I believe every facet of our program deserves this simple reality check from time to time. Is your youth choir tour a recruitment tool? A reward for their hard work during the year? A mission opportunity? A music-centered team building experience? Whatever the purpose, you need to answer this question for yourself and your program first, because, chances are, you will have to defend it a time or two as you make your plans.
After clarifying your purpose, you need to select your tour dates approximately one year in advance. This will give you enough time to plan the details and will put your youth and parents in the best position to plan on joining you. Today’s youth lead busy lives. Summer camps, part-time jobs, internships and vacations are often planned many months in advance. Meet with your other church staff and your music leadership team to avoid conflicts with any church activities and consult your area school calendars too. Once you’ve selected your dates, communicate this to your youth and parents. There is no perfect date free of all conflicts, but I have found that if you stick with a consistent window of time each year, (i.e. the last week in August, or the first week after school is out) parents and youth will begin to build that into their own planning. If this is your first trip, consider planning a 3-day excursion to a destination that is 2-3 hours away. Center your activities in one or two locations so you spend more time singing and enjoying other activities rather than commuting. With one successful tour under your belt, you can always expand it to 4-5 days the following year.
Book the "Big Three"
Transportation, Lodging and Unique Special Events are the three things you need to nail down first. Are you taking a bus, plane, train, rental vans, or private transportation? Establish a rough itinerary and get quotes if there are several bus companies or airlines that travel the route you need. Will you stay in a hotel, college dorm or sleep in a church gym somewhere? Explore all options that fit within your desired budget and get some of your potential chaperones to help weigh the options. While you certainly want to keep costs down, keep in mind that you and your choir will need a good night’s sleep in order to be able to perform decently and enjoy the time together. (My number one rule of youth choir tour: If the director is not happy, no one is happy!) Finally, if there is a special event that is the centerpiece of your trip (i.e. singing at the Dodger’s game or performing at the National Cathedral) you need to secure that at the very beginning of your planning.
Coming in Part 2: Places to sing and serve, daily details and making the experience meaningful.