With our senses turned outward we learn that this is what life is; seeing what is there, discovering what is beautiful.
The Beginning of Curiosity
The most common response my students articulate when describing a performance tour is that “it changed them”. It is an audacious claim, and I would be bashful about it if didn’t know it to be true. I think it is worth sharing what that change looks like from the perspective of a seasoned educational traveler.
In the era of big testing, we are conditioned to accept assessments that demonstrate what students don’t know. We search for holes. We determine deficiencies after the learning is done. In the touring culture, experience is translated to knowledge in real time. Uncertainty becomes practical know-how. Assessment and learning are woven together in such a way that they are indistinguishable.
Turn and face the strange
Our attitudes and opinions are formed using information that we may know, but do not necessarily understand. In the touring situation, understanding occurs after every challenge. Experienced travelers expect to feel anxious and confused from time to time. We feel incapable when we are anxious and confused at home, and we worry that our young artists may be unable to deal with these feelings when they are far away. It is empowering to observe that the students’ strengths are equal to their vulnerabilities. On tour, the challenging moments are the gateway to tremendous personal achievements. Students who struggle with getting their act together in school are often the first to demonstrate their bravery on tour, and students who can take care of themselves in all situations delight in taking care of others. Their confidence is everyone’s confidence.
The power of performance
The students may have imperfect vocabularies to express themselves in foreign countries. This is where the true weight and value of art is realized. The performance tour will be the first time most of these young musicians perform on a stage that is not part of their community. The tour is where music transforms from something they do for school to something they do for life. Music is utilized as a conduit for understanding, with the accompanying benefits of beauty, empathy, and joy. The best thing is that there is no return to normal; music can’t reverse its impact on the students. The students will never again be ambivalent about music and art.
When we travel to countries less fortunate than our own, much of what we take for granted snaps into focus. Seeing hardship is essential for knowing the human condition, and humanity becomes our nation. Teenagers who are in the midst of finding their own identities do so in relation to the cultural norms and expectations around them. When traveling, they realize that those norms are fluid, and are closely related to how one experiences the bounties of life, wherever and whatever they are. Viewing the world in this way changes a student’s perspective and challenges his or her certainties. They learn that etiquette is nothing more than respect, and that respect efficiently compensates for the inadequacies of language. Intolerance caused by ignorance becomes intolerance for ignorance; an invaluable transformation for our future leaders.
The beginning of curiosity
Most importantly, the students learn that this is what life can be. A performance tour is not a vacation; it is hard work. But it is an opportunity to give a rest to our urgency. It is so tiring to always focus on ourselves. With our senses turned outward we learn that this is what life is; seeing what is there, discovering what is beautiful. What is the soundtrack of another person’s life? What are the soundtracks of our own lives? When we consider these questions, we learn what harmony is.
The best thing is that there is no return to normal; music can’t reverse its impact on the students.
Michael Kerschner is a choral educator who has organized and conducted tours to 8 different countries.