Traveling internationally helps band students grow socially and musically.
Imagine traveling to another country to see ancient sites, visit diverse landscapes, and learn about a new culture … all while bringing a musical tradition of your own to share with an international community.
While traveling for performances and competitions is a reality for many music programs, Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minnesota, makes international travel an integral aspect of students’ academic music experience.
Irondale band director Bill Sucha says the band travels every two years, alternating between national and international destinations. In 2018, the band visited Greece.
“The trips have always been a combination of being a tourist … and being a performer,” Sucha says.
Students often begin saving for the trips three or four years in advance, starting the financial preparation process in middle school. The program travels with a company called GrandTours.
The band performed at community centers in Nafplio and Itea and at a school in Athens. “The audiences were great at all of our venues,” Sucha says, “Our tour guides told us we should introduce the instruments because some of these people may have never seen them. … This group [of students], especially, was really cued in that they were bringing music to places that haven’t seen anything like us before.”
Between performances, the students visited historical destinations such as Delphi, the Parthenon in Athens, and Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games. The band members ended the trip with a one-day cruise to three different islands.
Sucha emphasizes that students gain social skills and cultural awareness through the trips. “My favorite part is watching the students discover that the world is bigger than themselves, and it happens every day,” he says. “You see students who are completely blown away, you see that sense of global perspective that materializes for the very first time.”
Traveling in a group, he says, helps students learn musically and socially. “You continue to improve musically as the tour goes on, and I think that’s because of the bond and sense of community that a traveling group has,” he says.
The trips will continue to be part of Irondale’s music curriculum, Sucha says. “It has just been part of what we do,” he says. “[The] kids get so much maturity and grow so much out of doing that and seeing more of the world. They come back as very different people, in a good way.”
Photo credit: © 2018. Ron Rasmussen/Ellen Sorenson. All rights reserved.