Bands on the run

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Taking a school orchestra on tour can be a life-changing experience, says Carolyn O'Grady.

When a party of school musicians arrived in Liguria, northern Italy, to give a concert, they were met by the local band, who accompanied them to the stage in the town square, playing a rousing Italian march.

Around 500 local people had gathered in Savona to see the young musicians from Kingsmead high school in Staffordshire and Heath Park high school in Wolverhampton, being welcomed by the mayor.

Their concert, including numbers from Abba and The Beatles, was greeted with uproarious applause. It was an exhilarating moment, says teacher Sharon Brear from Kingsmead: "The kids said they would remember that forever."

Every two years, Kingsmead and Heath Park join forces to send their pupils on a five-night music tour, organised by Club Europe Concert Tours. In charge of arrangements at the Heath Park end is Sharon's husband Alan, who is music teacher.

The Liguria trip is one of Club Europe's latest initiatives. Another is the inclusion of marching bands: in May, the Dorset Youth Marching Band will be the first to travel with the company. The performers will be staying in the town of Traben-Trarbach in the Mosel Valley and giving several local performances. "One of our aims is to attract our stylish and wonderful UK marching bands to perform at Disneyland in Paris in one of their daily parades," explains Lucy Szymonski, the company's ambitious concert tours product manager.

Destinations for music tours are expanding. Eastern Europe is popular, but some operators go further afield. Rayburn Tours sent a Staffordshire comprehensive school to Toronto and a south London independent girls school to South Africa last year.

In Europe, tours usually last between three and 10 days and schools are offered a mix of performances and sightseeing. On their tour of Liguria, the Kingsmead Heath Park party were kept busy giving concerts every day, usually at night, said Sharon Brear, but they had plenty of time to explore during the day.

The service is comprehensive: "All the school needs to do is collect the money, rehearse and we will do the rest," says Lucy Szymonski. Concert venues are booked by the tour operator, who usually asks for a tape of music from the school beforehand. Venues range from old people's homes, through churche and town squares, to professional concert halls.

Sidcot school, an independent boarding school in Somerset, took a number of bands, including a chamber choir, to Prague and the nearby spa town of Karlovy Vary. They played a lunchtime concert at the famous St Nicholas's church in Prague and a jazz concert outside the castle.

This was interspersed with sight-seeing which included a boat trip and a visit to the city's Jewish quarter.

"We've certainly got more people joining the orchestras and choirs since the tours started," says Beverley King, Sidcot school's music teacher. "But there's a wider purpose too. The pupils definitely mature. It builds relationships."

While some schools have a specific orchestra or choir to take abroad, some want to encourage as many pupils as possible. Kennet School, a Berkshire comprehensive, invites the whole school. To meet the demand, it fields a huge range of ensembles, including a stage band, an orchestra, a choir, a steel band, a Dixie band and a string quartet.

"We are always over subscribed," says teacher Martyn Greenway, "but careful planning coupled with regular energetic and exciting rehearsals ensure that pupils are confident and able to give sparkling performances." They gave three concerts in which every child took part. Those who didn't play an instrument sang in the 101-pupil choir.

"The momentum generated by one tour lasts until we plan the next one," says Mr Greenway, "and a tour like this can often give pupils their first insight into music-making on a large and exciting scale."

Club Europe School TravelFairway House, 53 Dartmouth Road, London SE23 3HN. Tel: 020 8699 7788. e-mail: Website: Prices range from around pound;150 per pupil.NST Travel Group Chiltern House, Bristol Avenue, Blackpool, Lancashire FY2 OFA. Tel: 01253 503009. e-mail: Website: Onestage Specialist Concert tours 278 Worton Road, Isleworth, Middlesex TW7 6EE. Tel: 020 8568 5486. email: Rayburn Tours Rayburn House, Parcel Terrace, Derby DE1 1LY. Tel: 01332 347828.e-mail: Website: STS School Tours Lees House, 21 Dyke Road, Brighton BN1 3GD. Tel: 01273 775 776. email: website:

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