January 14, 2020
Natalie Levy

Royna McNamara has been a Director of Music in secondary schools for over 30 years and has travelled with music students overseas since 1998. Here she shares her top tips for organising a study tour and outlines the benefits it can provide to those students passionate about music.


Why should we take music students on tour?

We travel with our students because we understand that distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. As music teachers our ultimate goal is to unleash creativity in our students.

How long have you been travelling with music students overseas?

My first tour was to England and Austria in 1998. It was an orchestral tour and I travelled with 45 students, 4 staff, 4 timpani, 3 double basses, drum kit, keyboard and a load of percussion instruments. I was very fortunate to have wonderful coach drivers and a van which made transporting this large quantity of musical equipment that much easier.  My second tour was a choir tour to Italy. I must admit travelling without all the equipment certainly made for a much easier tour. Subsequent tours included both choral and instrumental repertoire. The benefit of having every student sing whilst on tour cannot be underestimated.

How does an overseas tour help a student in their understanding and study of music?

I have seen the power of music in action whilst travelling on music tours. Students are transformed both musically and personally. Performing in professional environments, communicating with socially diverse audiences, mixing with like-minded musicians from diverse cultural backgrounds and working as a unified music ensemble for an intense period of time cannot be replicated within the confines of the classroom. A music tour is in fact the ultimate classroom without walls.

If you need evidence as to how a study tour can impact the musical development of a student, then I suggest you record your ensemble prior to departure and again on arrival. You will be amazed at the exponential growth of both the individual and the ensemble as a whole. The focus, sense of belonging and excitement for music-making experienced on an international tour will have an amazing impact on your students. You will find that your students will return with a renewed passion for music-making, a deeper musical and cultural understanding and a greater self–confidence and belief as a musician.

What are your preferred international locations or activities for music students?

To cater for the needs of all students I believe it is important to create a tour which includes a variety and balance of activities. Successful music tours should include the correct number of performances, workshops/masterclasses, musical exchanges with other schools, community events, cultural activities and, of course, time at leisure to meet the needs of your group. Every school has a different goal for their ensemble and each tour needs to reflect this. However, all music tours must have one common goal and that is to inspire young musicians and foster a life-long love of music.

I find it very difficult to say where my favourite locations are for music tours as this varies depending on the time of year. However, I would like more schools to think about travelling to places like Estonia (which has a wonderful choral tradition), Finland, Budapest, Bratislava and Slovenia. Of course you cannot ignore Prague, Vienna and Salzburg for the wealth of musical expertise. I also enjoy touring Italy and Spain.

What are your top tips for teachers organising their Music Tour?

The first step in the process of organising a music tour is to allow the maximum lead-in time in order to secure the very best performance venues.

Decide very early in the process if you are going to target a particular music ensemble or if you are opening the tour to all music students. This is a crucial step as it determines which venues, repertoire and countries would be more suitable. For example, if you are taking an orchestra or a concert band, you will require venues which have the floor space to accommodate large ensembles.

Think very carefully about repertoire choice. Be flexible and try to include a mix of sacred, secular and a cappella works when touring with choirs. Consider both solo and chamber music when touring with larger instrumental ensembles. You are representing Australia and therefore it is important to include some Australian repertoire as well as from the country you are visiting. Remember on some occasions you may only have 2-3 minutes to capture the attention of the tourist passing by and it is therefore vital that you consider audience appeal when creating your concert programs.


Royna McNamara works with Academy Travel as the specialist on Music study tours. She combines her passion for both education and music to develop customised programs for schools and teacher professional development tours. If you would like to discuss organising your music study tour with Academy Travel, contact Royna in our office on (02) 9235 0134 or via email royna@academytravel.com.au.