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  • Sarah Donkin

Choir Tour: Why do Musicians Travel?

The last four years have been full of new experiences. I joined a choir with 50+ people in it. I learned how to write in a variety of styles, copy edit, and use InDesign. I took up weightlifting. I played piano badly for a semester. I performed classical songs at school, and my own music and covers outside of school. As I wrap up my time as an undergraduate student, I have also been preparing for another new experience.


Every spring, I have gone on choir tours within the United States with Mount Union’s Concert Choir. We have visited New York, Chicago, Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, among other states. This year, we will be traveling internationally to Scotland. We will be seeing some incredible historic sites and singing in some incredible cathedrals and churches.


Here’s the thing about traveling as a musician: it’s tough. We all know that traveling can be rough on anybody, and a lot of people get sick when they travel. When you are traveling to perform music, and especially when your body is your instrument, this can be a real issue. Not to mention, it can be expensive (especially if you aren’t going through a college or another group that helps with the cost). So why do we do it?


I think it’s because there’s something special about live music.


Recordings are fantastic. They let us listen to the same songs over and over again, until we know them by heart. They let us take music with us everywhere, in cars and dorm rooms and kitchens. They let musicians take the time to make sure that every note, every word, is exactly the way they want it to be.


But live music is different. The energy at a concert, whether classical, jazz, pop, or rock, brings the music to life. Maybe this is also why some people like listening to live recordings instead of studio recordings. The little mistakes or variations in performances make the human connection to the music feel even stronger.


I have never toured as a solo musician (obviously), but I have driven up to a two-hour round trip to perform at different venues. I do this because I enjoy performing for a live audience. Performing live lets me see the way people react to specific lines, how they respond to a rhythm or melody, and how invested they are throughout the performance. It’s a way to directly share the songs that I write and the covers that I learn.


Sometimes while I play, I can hear or see people talking to each other in the audience. In restaurants, I hear plates, glasses, and utensils clinking on the tables and against each other. At outdoor summer events, I hear people’s footsteps on the sidewalk and see kids run past or stop and stare at me for a good two minutes while I sing. There was one indoor performance I had where, halfway through a song, a train went by down the street outside, blaring its horn. But these things just remind me that I am playing for real people, in real places. They put my music into a context outside of writing and playing in my bedroom, or recording in a studio.


In choir concerts, even though most of them are inside in churches or cathedrals, we still hear people coughing, whispering, shuffling their feet around on the floor. We also hear them finally exhale when the choir cuts off at the end of a long piece. We see the looks on their faces at the peaks of each score. We hear the applause at the end of every concert.


And live audiences see and hear a lot too. They catch the emotion on the performers’ faces. They hear the little mistakes that are bound to happen in a live performance, and the quick recovery. They see the physical energy that performing requires.


So even though there are inconveniences that come with live music, there are also parts of the music that you don’t get from recordings. The context is different. And sometimes, hearing or playing music in a different context lets you appreciate it in a different way.


And so, we travel. We pack our equipment into the trunk of a car and drive two-hour round trips to perform. Or we pack everything we need to live for a week or two into suitcases and get on planes and buses for different cities, states, and countries. And as we travel, we look forward to the next venue, the next performance, the next audience. We look forward to sharing our music, and to accepting the time and attention that the audiences share with us.

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