Monday, December 14, 2015


International Travel | Pics from the Classroom

Palen Music Center to Open in NW Arkansas!

We are excited to announce that Palen Music Center will be opening a location in Springdale, Arkansas in early 2016! Chase Cavalier will be leading the team with assistance from Corey Young. Chase is an expert repair technician from Fayetteville with years of experience serving the area. Corey, an Arkansas native, will be moving down from our Springfield headquarters store. The location will provide expert instrumental repair services and will also offer band and orchestra instruments and accessories from major brands including Yamaha, Jupiter, and Conn-Selmer.

We've been serving the NW Arkansas area for years out of our existing Springfield, Joplin and Broken Arrow locations and now are excited to have a physical storefront in the area. We chose Springdale because it is centrally located to the area and gives us quick access to Rogers, Bentonville, Fayetteville, and surrounding communities. More information coming soon!


Taking Your Students on an International Trip
by Alex Claussen

When trying to decide whether or not to travel internationally, many directors are intimidated by the unknown. The thought of foreign countries, foreign languages, foreign currencies, and the need for passports are enough to make that trip to Branson sound a whole lot better! However, it can be nearly as easy as traveling across the country if you approach it wisely.

As a high school student, I had the opportunity to travel to seven European countries on a music tour with the United States Collegiate Wind Band and it literally changed my life. Though I grew up a band director's kid, before that trip I had never flown before, been out of the five-state area, seen the ocean, ridden a large boat or experienced any of the kinds of cultural exchanges I experienced on that tour. It was literally a huge influence on my decision to become a music teacher. At the time, I never dreamed of going back but thought it would be quite rewarding to provide opportunities for my own students to someday get invited on tours similar to the one I experienced. Little did I know at the time that someday I would be asked to join the staff for the Oklahoma Ambassadors of Music to tour every other year across the European continent and even Greece as well as have opportunities to take my own students on tours of Germany, Austria, Ireland and Italy!

When considering international travel, I recommend you choose a reputable tour company you can trust to help you navigate all the extra logistics involved with foreign travel. Having a company experienced in acquiring the necessary permits, licenses and permissions required is invaluable. Choosing a company that has contacts in the country you plan to tour and that is willing to send a tour manager with you is something I highly recommend as well. I did a tour once in which the tour company did not send anyone from their home office and it made it quite difficult to handle logistical situations that came up solely with my local European Tour Manager. Though they are not the only trustworthy tour company out there, I have had great success with Gateway Music Festivals and Tours out of Monticello, MN in taking our students from Hawaii to Europe and all over the continental United States. There are lots of companies out there who will offer you cheap rates but I would recommend that you go with a reputable company even if it is a little more. As directors, we take the responsibility of providing our students and their families with great experiences for as little cost as possible but I promise you will not want to sacrifice your students' experience for a cheaper cost. Keep in mind that several of your students will never get this experience again. I recommend you ask any companies you are interested in using to provide you with contact info for their previous clients. Call a handful of directors who have used them and ask about the planning experience, the tour experience and the follow up experience.

When considering international travel you have some very important things to consider before ever announcing the possibility to your students. Will your administration and school board support the idea? Will the community be able to help your group fundraise enough? When are you looking to travel? How many days out of school will it require and what other events are potential conflicts? You want to try to avoid conflicts such as prom, the PSAT test, and commencement. If you have several students involved in a particular sport or activity outside of your band or orchestra, I would recommend you visit with that sponsor, coach or director of that group to see how such a trip would impact their organization. When planning a trip to Hawaii at a previous school, I had my administration totally onboard and willing to support us but had one school board member who was concerned we wouldn't be able to raise the required funds. His concern was the financial liability would fall back on the school if we didn't fundraise enough so I provided the school board with copies of our planned fundraisers and monthly payment schedule. I also provided copies of our contract with the tour company to show we had a safety net built in to drop individuals who got behind, thus lessening our financial commitment to the tour company. Once the concerned board member could see I had a plan that seemed reasonable he gave us his consent and we went on to have an amazing experience marching in the Waikiki Holiday Parade and performing at Pearl Harbor.

When planning a large trip, I always try to take an administrator. It is very important the administration gets to see the "behind the scenes" involved in these trips. It also does nothing but good for your program when an administrator gets to witness firsthand your students being ambassadors for your school district and community. I normally never give them any kind of ongoing chaperoning responsibilities so they can have some freedom on the tour. I have assigned students who needed a little extra guidance to our administrator for short, controlled times when necessary.

I typically start talking with my administration (and school board if necessary) approximately 20-24 months before I intend to travel for international trips. This gives me plenty of time to answer any questions or concerns they may have before we announce it to our students. I try to announce these kinds of trips to our families at least 18 months in advance and ask for a commitment form to be signed and a nonrefundable deposit to be made. We are taking our students to Italy next year so we announced it last spring and asked for a deposit to be made by May and then 18 equally payments to be paid (or fundraised) from June 2015 through November 2016. We will travel late December 2016 through early January 2017.

When planning international trips, always factor in extra costs to be on the safe side. Airlines can be difficult to deal with in regards to extra baggage and oversize fees and you do not want your tuba players having to shell out an additional $200 or more at the airport. In addition to padding our trip cost with money to help cover airline fees, instrument rentals and other unexpected costs, we contact the airlines in advance and request they lock in our luggage fees in advance and consider cutting as a deal since we are a school music group. Good tour companies can assist you with this but in the end the airlines will respond much better to requests made by you, a music parent or administrator/school board member.

I feel it is quite important to hold at least a couple of pre-trip meetings to go over expectations and procedures. If a student may be sent home for a particular infraction it is important the parents are aware of this. I talk about the need to pace yourself on such long travel days (going there and coming home) and to remember that group travel is much different than family travel. I also try to encourage my students AND parents to embrace the cultural differences in a positive light. I always try to make it clear that WE are the foreigners in this instance! I try to learn and then teach a few words or phrases to ask very basic things such as where the restroom is.

Though it can make for an extra long day, I highly recommend you take the earliest flights out with connections that are scheduled several hours apart. This gives you the buffer time needed in case a flight is canceled or delayed. It is much worse to spend the first two days of your trip in a stateside airport because you missed a connecting flight than to spend seven hours hanging out for your next flight. It may be a long day but at least you are at your destination by the next day instead of sitting around in an airport stressing!

Lastly, if possible you should take an inspection trip well in advance of the tour. Many companies will roll the cost of your inspection trip into the total cost or will even comp your inspection trip if you commit to the trip with your group. I consider this to be a necessity if I am going to take my students halfway around the globe. I want to see how the event/parade works, to see possible concert venues and to inspect potential hotel properties, attractions and restaurants.

There are many more things I can recommend when considering international travel but for the sake of your attention span and editorial space I would suggest you contact any of us with experience for more in depth information. It takes a great deal of planning, forethought, and vision to travel internationally with your group but I highly recommend it if you can. You just may change your students' lives!

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Alex Claussen
Instrumental Music Supervisor for Bartlesville Schools
Bartlesville, OK
[email protected]

Alex has been teaching for 19 years and is currently the Director of Bands and Instrumental Music Supervisor for Bartlesville Schools in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Prior to teaching in Bartlesville, Alex taught at Sapulpa and Duncan Public Schools. He earned his degree from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a National Board Certified Teacher. Alex is currently the President of the Oklahoma Music Educators Association (OkMEA). He is married to Amitia Claussen and has two beautiful daughters, Abbie and Katie.