On the Road Again

Going on a trip is one of the best ways to bond, make memories, and have fun with your band mates. But traveling with your marching band can also be an educational—even eye-opening—experience.

The Arcadia High School Marching Band from Phoenix might score a trip to New York this year, thanks to a few students’ hard work.

Because many students at Arcadia come from financially limited families, a small group of marching band students realized months ago that someone would need to start fundraising if a big trip like going to New York was actually going to happen. So, instead of sitting around dreaming about seeing Broadway shows and performing in Times Square, five or six students banded together to plan out what activities the marching band could do, where they could play and how they could raise the necessary amount of money to go to the Big Apple.

The group has now grown in size to almost 40, according to Richard Maxwell, Arcadia’s instrumental music facilitator. “The fact that the students are the ones doing all the legwork makes me confident that we will be able to pull it off because they have the vested interest to go,” explains Maxwell, who has been at the school for nine years. “The kids have taken to the idea of: ‘OK, if we are going to travel, it’s our responsibility to make it happen, not the parents’ or Mr. Maxwell’s.’”

These dedicated students clearly appreciate how much fun band trips can be. But traveling with your band is much more than just an enjoyable vacation— it’s “edutainment,” according to Patrick Connor, president of Director’s Choice Tour & Travel in Lubbock, Texas. While spending time with your friends, you get the opportunity to hear new music, see new sights and experience new cultures. How could it get much better than that?

Like a Band of Gypsies on the Highway

There’s probably no better way to bond with your friends than to sit in a vehicle with them for hours at a time. The journey to a destination is often one of the most memorable parts of a band trip.

The Brewster (N.Y.) High School Marching Band values this bonding time so highly that they were willing to endure an approximately 30-hour bus ride (each way!) from New York to Orlando, Fla., according to trumpet player Jeff Bentson.

“A lot of people wanted to fly,” says Bentson, who was one of the band’s founding members and is currently a junior at Alfred (N.Y.) State College. “But I was like, ‘No, you have to drive because you get to spend 26 or 27 hours with a lot of people who are really awesome.’”

Although traveling by plane is usually much faster than taking a bus, there’s plenty of time in the air to form priceless memories as well. Maxwell vividly remembers one particular plane ride that he and his marching band took a few years ago. The band was en route to San Francisco from Phoenix when a “class clown” was delighted to find an airsickness bag on the flight. The student approached Maxwell, intending to pretend to get sick in the bag.

“He said, ‘Hey Mr. Maxwell, I’m not feeling so good,’” Maxwell explains. “He opens up the airsickness bag, and someone on the previous flight had already made use of it without marking it—so he really did get sick! At first, we weren’t sure if he was just acting really well or what. It was the funniest thing.”

Although amusing occurrences on buses and planes are fun to recall, the act of traveling to the destination can be just as educational as it is goofy.

Director Dave Bellis of the Worland (Wy.) High School and Middle School marching bands says that many of his students have never left the state; some, their hometown. Traveling by plane, then, is a remarkable experience for them. “Some are scared,” says Bellis, who is also executive director of the Wyoming High School All State Marching Band. “They applaud when the plane takes off.”

Students who are new to the world of air travel also experience security at airports— which, with a group of hundreds of students and chaperones, can be quite an event. In 2006, Bellis’ All State Marching Band just happened to be at the Glasgow (Scotland) International Airport the day of an attempted liquid bombing at London Heathrow Airport in England.

“Customs came out and made us empty our suitcases,” Bellis says. “We couldn’t take on any carry-ons. We had parents throwing away expensive bottles of wine. It took us 54 hours to get from Glasgow to Denver because of security. … They had guard dogs and the works. That was scary for the kids and for me as their guardian.”

But Bellis insists that this experience didn’t “sour” him or his students on traveling at all. They learned that, when traveling, a band needs to expect the unexpected.

Goin’ Places That I’ve Never Been

Marching bands choose to travel for many reasons. Once your band has reached a destination, you will participate in tons of events—both planned and unplanned.

Some bands, due to financial or time restrictions, may choose to take local trips to nearby music festivals, competitions or schools. For instance, students in the Mayfair High School Marching Band from Lakewood, Calif., enjoy performing at other high schools in their region because simply walking around a new campus and seeing what other students are up to is a valuable learning experience, according to Director Tom Philips.

No matter how far away you travel, unique music events in every city are worth checking out. Catherine Musa, student group coordinator at Phoenix-based Terra Travel, makes sure that her marching band clients experience the music culture of a location in between their performance gigs.

“I always try to incorporate music, whether it’s street musicians, music dinner theatre or restaurants with a singing wait staff,” Musa says.

When Arizona bands want to take a trip to a relatively nearby city, Musa recommends San Diego. She has managed to get high school musicians into Q&A sessions with San Diego Symphony members and has scheduled bands to spend time in the Gaslamp Quarter, where talented performers line the streets.

Watching street performers may not sound like much of an educational experience, but according to Maxwell, who hired Musa to organize his band’s recent trip to New Orleans, it can make quite an impression on students. In fact, the sole purpose of Maxwell’s New Orleans trip was to expose his students to “authentic New Orleans jazz.”

“Arizona to New Orleans is a huge cultural shift from what the kids are used to,” Maxwell explains. “Walking around New Orleans, there are guys on the street playing instruments of horrible, horrible quality, but their level of musicianship is just staggering.”

Makin’ Music With My Friends

Probably the most popular reason bands travel is to march in parades. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, the Waikiki Holiday Parade in Honolulu and the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., are just a few options within the United States. Some bands such as the Wyoming High School All State Marching Band travel as far as Dublin, Ireland, to perform in the annual St. Patrick’s Festival Parade, which has more than 400,000 spectators.

Some bands even get to march down Disney’s Main Street, U.S.A. through Magic Music Days, a Disney Performing Arts program.

Bentson, who has been to Walt Disney World twice through Magic Music Days, believes that traveling to a Disney resort to perform is “the trip of a lifetime.”

“I really felt like I was a part of the Disney staff for a day because the band was entertaining thousands of people that were in Disney World, which was heart racing,” Bentson says. “Outside of Disney World, the biggest crowd I had played for was about 500.”

Lauren Hart, a senior French horn player in the Mooresville (Ind.) High School Marching Band, agrees. “Marching in Disney World was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done because everyone there was watching us and listening to us play,” Hart says. “Parades are one of the few ways a marching band can perform, so being able to perform for thousands of people was a feeling I’ll never forget.”

Besides marching in parades or playing on stages throughout the resorts, marching band students can perform near the entrances to certain attractions and become pre-show entertainment for the people waiting in line. Students can also learn from professional musicians at a Disney Performing Arts workshop. Band members rehearse and record songs from Disney movies, such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “Fantasia,” and then watch clips of the films with their renditions of the scores dubbed in. They then take home a DVD with the animated scenes that have their band’s music playing underneath.

No matter where your band travels, “stand-up venues” can also be a performance option. These are locations such as town squares, not necessarily created for performances but where bands can easily play or march. In 1998, Bellis’ All State Marching Band played in a Dublin square with a Russian marching band after the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Despite the language barrier between the two groups, their members managed to become friends.

“[As] they played, our flag girls got up and danced to their music,” Bellis recalls. “Our All State band dresses a little cowboyish, being from Wyoming, and at the end, one of our kids gave the Russian director—who was in full, traditional Russian garb—one of the white cowboy hats we all wear. He put his arm around the girl and said, ‘Friend.’ That was pretty special.”

About the Author

Janel Healy is an editorial intern for Halftime Magazine. She is a senior, majoring in communication and minoring in American studies, at the University of Southern California. She sings alto in her a cappella group, SoCal VoCals, and often jams with her musical family in Northern California. She also played trumpet and piano in junior high.

About author

Janel Healy

Janel Healy currently works as a professional vocalist for Holland America Line. She graduated from the University of Southern California in 2008 with a degree in communication and a minor in American studies. While at USC, she sang alto in her a cappella group, the SoCal VoCals, which won first place in the 2008 International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. She played trumpet and piano in junior high.

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