Posted: 19 January 2015
This week, our lovely Head of Concert Lucy Szymonski celebrates 18 years at Club Europe and 25 years in the school music tour industry. We took the opportunity to ask her about her career and what it is about her job that keeps her as passionate today about music touring as she was when she started.
After a short stint working for an outdoor pursuits tour operator, I fell into the world of music tour operating and have never wanted to leave it since. Combining travel and music fits my background really well; I studied music at University, have always played in loads of different ensembles throughout my life and also have a massive passion for travel and languages. I can’t think of any other job that would suit me any better.
I think a big part of it is that I just love the product we create here. Everyone who has taken students abroad on tour will know just what a hugely positive impact the experience has in so many ways. When I am able to go out and see groups on tour I just grin from ear to ear from start to finish, apart from when I tear when I hear the children perform! I just can’t help but be terribly proud of the fact that our company has created such an opportunity for these kids to perform to a bunch of strangers, and of how well these kids rise to the occasion every time.
I also love the ever-changing nature of the industry. We learn all the time! Even after all this time, I don’t feel stale. I’m constantly bombarded by details of new accommodation centres to send our groups to and emerging geographical areas to investigate. At the same time it’s so exciting to see school travel becoming ever-more accessible as the world becomes ‘smaller’ allowing so many more groups, whatever their budget, to go on tour.
There have been so many highlights. If I were to choose one, I will never forget going on an investigation trip to New York and attending a service at one of the churches in Harlem. I wasn’t really looking forward to it but had been told it would be amazing for our groups to experience. I was not prepared for the unbelievable musicianship under that roof, from the organist who looked like he was having the time of his life to the choir who just broke free from their copies and improvised so passionately and uninhibitedly. Once again, I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing! Now this is on the must-do list for our New York groups.
Another highlight has to be when one of my longest-standing clients from a school in Lancashire invited me to adjudicate their annual music competition. Understandably nervous, not wanting to upset anyone and put them off music for life, I found myself absolutely loving the experience, mainly because child after child entered the hall bursting with such excitement and desire to perform in front of me and their wonderful, encouraging Head of Music. Their clear love of music-making ensured I could always find positives in their performances and, in many cases, I was bowled over by their talent. A wonderful day!
Ask any group that tours regularly and they will tell you that the impact these trips have on the kids is enormous. Children grow before your eyes on tour! The teamwork and friendships these trips develop help the ensemble grow as a whole; everyone relies on everyone else and no one wants to let the team down. Back home, the standard of the group has moved onto another level and as a result, more people want to join. We’ve seen music departments grow significantly as a result of the annual or biennial music tours.
Plan ahead! There are so many wonderful opportunities now for students to travel on trips of all kinds and in order to make sure your music trip gets the numbers and personnel you want, you need to make sure you get everything prepared in good time to put it in the list of trips or school diary. Make sure your Head is on side first of all and decide on the best time in your school year for the trip. It’s also a great idea to chat to one or two other Heads of Music to ask about their experiences of setting up their trips. Everyone has their own way but information gathering at this point is really valuable. Then it’s over to the tour operator to get everything in place for you. Ask them loads of questions. They’ll never tire of trying to help you.
Long, but definitely fun and incredibly varied. I’ve got to know Europe so well over the years and feel so lucky about that as travel is so important to me. I think this industry also attracts really interesting people and I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to work with some wonderful colleagues, from whom I’ve learned some of their language, culture, customs and idiosyncrasies. I’ve also been to so many concerts, both home and abroad, given by our groups and heard such talent and witnessed such commitment and enthusiasm. I can honestly say there is no other industry that I would wish to work in. I’m very lucky.
Everyone at Club Europe loves working with Lucy. She is a truly inspiring leader! Here’s to the next 18!
Anthony Chew, Head of Music, Darwen Aldridge Community Academy, Lancashire.
Jane Werry, Head of Music, Hayes School, Kent.
James Williams, Llandovery College, Carmarthenshire.