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Orchestra Tours - what are they really like?

Michelle Jones

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Published: January 18, 2015 at 9:07 AM [UTC]

I have now completed four tours in China with the Mantovani Orchestra since 2007. The first three, I was Assistant Principal Violin, and I was promoted to Principal Violin for the most recent tour. Each tour was between 16 and 24 days, with few days off between shows.

I understand that organizing such a tour is a monumental task that requires so much more than asking musicians to travel and play. They have to consider overall costs of such things as: salaries for musicians, rehearsals and rehearsal space, airfares (including within country), hotels, meals, checked instruments vs. carry-on instruments, luggage costs, instrument rental, work visas, transportation within country (to and from the venue/airport/hotel), illness and emergencies, communication/translators, and a whole host of other items involved with touring in a foreign country. One 42-piece orchestra with about a dozen concerts is a million dollar gamble for a promoter. I say gamble as there is no guarantee that they will sell tickets to cover those expenses. I know that those promoters rely on local sponsors and the venue to help with the promotion and marketing of the concerts. We had the pleasure of meeting several of these local sponsors at each city, and had the opportunity to thank them personally for bringing us to China.

Yes, we played some of the most beautiful and acoustically sound halls in the entire country. Yes, we have had the best audiences who were extremely receptive and friendly. But no, we were not treated to the accommodations, meals or even cleanliness standards to which we are accustomed in the Americas. I understand that there are cultural differences, and have seen these differences vary in the past 8 years of touring. In previous tours, we stayed in internationally known brand hotels (Howard Johnson, SwissHotel, Marriott, Hilton, etc.) This most recent tour, they seemed to cut their budgets as we stayed in "business hotels" where not a single person who worked there spoke English (including the front desk), and we witnessed businessmen check in the hotels in the afternoon and were visited shortly after by attractive females, and both would check out usually an hour or so later. Other details and photos of the tour may be found at my blog:

This is an example of where the details of the tour should be clearly spelled out to the musicians in advance of their signing a contract. This is the importance of a rider, and the promoter and contractor should make sure that such details are not left to chance or last-minute availability. Lack of proper nutrition (by our standards, not the Chinese) and clean accommodations are essential to ensuring healthy musicians performing perfect shows night after night. Yes, we understood that the schedule would be grueling with little time for sleep between flights and shows. However, it is even more important that we have proper rest and food (fuel) to perform our best under the rigorous conditions.

As for compensation, that really is between you and the contractor. If you want to do the tour, then discuss the details with the contractor. Don't just sign on the dotted line - ask questions! I should have asked more questions before this last tour, but I didn't. I weighed the amount of compensation with the time I was gone and determined that I wanted to do the tour, even though I would have made more money at home. For me, it was not about the money. It was the opportunity to play music I love with friends who share the same passion with me. It was the opportunity to visit friends who live in China full-time, and reconnect with some business contacts. Plus, it was the opportunity for me to visit a country that I would likely not visit as a tourist.

Overall, the tours are the opportunity to visit places we may never have the opportunity to visit again and be paid to perform there. We get to perform in the best concert halls in the world, and meet some of the most amazing people! We get to touch lives and hearts through our music, and the audiences give us back the appreciation and positive energy to make it all worthwhile. Just make sure to clarify the details before you sign a contract.

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