March 18, 2014     Ward Dilmore

Our “Prelude” to Overseas Performance Travel


St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna

This is an abridged version of Ward Dilmore’s article. To read the full article, click here.

As music directors, we are called upon to challenge and inspire our students.  We strive to lead them on a road full of rich and meaningful discoveries in two worlds: the globe they inhabit, and the world within themselves.


The inspiring aspect of our mission as Directors develops over time as we help our students experience the music of the world’s great composers; real people who chronicled life’s richness and sorrows, triumphs, and tragedies. We inspire our musicians to practice and perfect their technique and to understand the rich allegory of working in harmony with other musicians.


But the challenge of our mission as teachers requires us to provide dynamic experiences that will forever change the way our students see themselves and their world. Our mission is to not only guide them through the world of performance but to teach them to use their keys to open new doors to even greater destinations.

So, our greatest challenge as music teachers is this: how do we provide illuminating musical experiences that will allow our students to see themselves, and their world, in a new light? Can we use the language of music to reveal new portals, to new vistas?

Combine inspiration with challenge

I recently had the pleasure to join Encore Tours in a great learning adventure that helped to answer these questions. I was their invited guest on an amazing weekend of discovery in Vienna called Prelude. The journey was designed to teach Directors of choir tours to Europe, orchestra and band directors, and small ensemble leaders how to combine inspiration and challenge in order to strengthen their ensembles.

Most music teachers are aware that Encore has built their reputation by changing the lives of music teachers and students. By partnering with music teachers to expand students’ horizons, Encore helps create strong music programs by providing performance opportunities in stunning venues around the globe. They are dedicated to opening the doors to personal discovery by providing memories indelibly written in the key of life.

Encore’s Director, James Matthews, explained the purpose of our five-day adventure: “Encore is more than a mere travel company and the Prelude weekend was designed to provide the training and resources Music Directors need in order to build outstanding music programs by making the unfamiliar familiar.”

Our adventure begins

Our journey started with an overnight flight from Boston to Vienna. The Encore staff was waiting for us as we arrived, and we wasted no time in taking in the amazing sights.

First stop: Zentralfriedhopf, the final resting place of Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, and the Strauss family. They say you can’t take a step forward until you step back, and this truly was a remarkable moment as we paid homage at the graves of the great masters of music.

Our next stop was the Vienna Woods. We were greeted with a champagne toast by James and his colleagues and posed for pictures with the spectacular view of Vienna.

Our hotel check-in followed and we soon discovered how Encore personifies the word “exceptional.” Our hotel, Am Stephansplatz, was only a few feet from the famed St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the massive and spectacular church where Mozart was married, and where Beethoven and Haydn were regular attendees.

After a quick wake-up shower, I met my colleagues and our guide in the lobby for a walking tour that included Mozart’s House, the Minoritenkirche, and the column of the Black Plague. Encore is known for top notch, well informed, personable guides, capable of answering any questions.

Vienna is a clean and very quiet city that is great for large tour groups simply because there is so much space dedicated to walking. Our day was filled with the richness that this music capital provided.

Before dinner, we were taken for a spectacular mulled cider reception under the roof of St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Encore is known for its ability to gain exclusive access to venues not open to the public. After a walk outside on the roof of St. Stephan’s and a breathtaking view of the city, I had to remind myself I wasn’t dreaming. Then again, this was Encore, and the word “mundane” is not in their vocabulary. This is one of the reasons why Encore has earned the reputation as the top performance tour companies.

After our delightful reception, our evening was spent in a lively and casual restaurant, 12-Apostelkeller, one of the oldest Heurigen wine cellars that dated back to 1339. The food was delicious, and our excitement to be in Austria was matched by our joy at being together with colleagues of like mind.


I woke up very refreshed Saturday, and after a sumptuous breakfast in the hotel dining room, we visited Haydn’s house, and later, Schönbrunn Palace, where we were allowed private access to the Imperial Chapel of Maria Theresa of the Hapsburg family. One of our colleagues suggested we test the acoustics and we all joined in a chorus of America The Beautiful and Amazing Grace. It was truly a memorable experience and a wonderful venue for any choral director who is looking for an intimate concert room with unparalleled acoustics. We were treated to a guided tour of the entire Palace, and later that evening, we enjoyed a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano concerto in the Musikverein.

James’ delightful surprise

As with all of Encore Tour adventures, a Music Director can expect more than what is found on an already rich itinerary. James Mathews treated us to a marvelous surprise – an impromptu, private dinner for all of us at a fabulous Italian restaurant. During a dinner of delicious pasta, fresh salads, and exquisite wines from Italy, we relaxed as we relived the great moments of a memorable day.


Sunday we were up early to hear the Vienna Boys Choir in the Imperial Chapel, an opportunity very few people have access to. The Encore staff then took us to Augarten Palais, home of the Vienna Boys Choir, where we enjoyed a talk by their Artistic Director, Gerald Wirth.


After a reception, we had a training session. We shared:

– ideas and strategies on how to build our music programs
– how to organize for international travel
– great tips and performance destination ideas for directors.

Late afternoon was a great time to shop and sample delicious Vienna ice cream and coffee, and our final musical treat was a performance of Tosca at the Vienna State Opera. It was spectacular, with Bryn Terfel in the leading role. Dinner was served in a private dining room in the famous Hotel Sacher, and we all felt a twinge of melancholy that our wonderful weekend was coming to a close.

Questions? Answers!

I returned to Boston full of answers to the question: how do we provide illuminating experiences that inspire and challenge our students? Encore provided the answer with their stunning Prelude weekend. We all agreed that we could now better serve our students in the future by organizing a Vienna performance experience with them. And James was right: the unfamiliar was now familiar. We all agreed we were eager to go home and plan our next concert tour. And most of all, we stepped into the future as we stood in great concert venues and pictured our students performing, rising to new challenges, and seeing their new horizons stretching endlessly before them.

The greatest journey is the journey within. One weekend I found myself in Vienna. And I am forever changed by a journey measured in good friends, great music, a new dream, and a whole new consciousness.

Ward Dilmore

Click here to find out more about Prelude, Encore’s Complimentary Weekend Orientation for Performance Tour Directors.

The post Our “Prelude” to Overseas Performance Travel appeared first on Backstage at Encore Tours.

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