More Than a Vacation: Arts Refects on Budget Cuts and the Future: Cantata Tour

Why do we choose to attend PA? Why not save $30,000 a year and go to public high school? We choose Andover because of the opportunities to excel, to come across unique experiences, to pursue dreams and goals. We make a conscious decision to undergo the stress and turmoil of the academics at this school under the pretense that if we work hard enough, we will reach heights that are impossible to attain at other schools. For instance, we can be interns in our nation’s capital. We can travel to the country of Germany for a term. We can live off the land in Maine during the fall. We can go on concert tours and gain valuable performance skills. Or can we? Due to aggressive investment and a stock market crash, our school has lost a substantial amount of money. They plan to recover financially by suspending off campus programs for three years. That means no more Washington Intern Program, no more Mountain School, no more South Carolina community service trip, no Scotland show, no Salamanca…and most personally devastating to me, no more Cantata tour while I am at this school. In an annual tradition, the school has sent the Cantata choir and orchestra on a concert tour, entrusting them as ambassadors to other schools, and sometimes other countries. Led by William Thomas, past tour destinations have included Turkey, Italy, and major U.S. cities. I have had the opportunity and privilege to participate in two tours thus far in my PA career: to China in the summer of ’01 and to Burlington, Vermont and Montreal last spring break. On arriving at PA, I found to my surprise and delight that singing came naturally to me. Having always been told that I was a tone-deaf singer when I was in elementary school, I never expected to participate in music beyond being a mediocre saxophonist. But junior year, a new friend from orientation convinced me to accompany him to an audition for Cantata. Thus began my immersion in the Phillips Academy music program. At our first rehearsal, I was as stunned as anyone else to learn that Cantata was planning a trip to China. My first thought was that a Cantata tour was a good excuse to travel over vacation. But as the year progressed, I realized that singing and touring were things to be taken seriously. Cantata was a high time commitment, since those of us in Cantata must also be in chorus, orchestra, or band. And the tour was not going to be a three-week tourist trip; on the contrary, our schedule included visits to local high schools, long rehearsals, and eight concerts. Furthermore, the music selected for the tour was, to say the least, difficult. The choir undertook Haydn’s riveting but challenging Lord Nelson Mass, and the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. On Thursday, June 7th, 2001, I was one of 176 tentative yet excited Andover students and faculty that boarded planes set for China, not really knowing what to expect on arrival. Former President Bush ’42 had written a letter to officials in China, paving the way for our trip. Still, I was astounded at the warm reception we received from Chinese adults and students alike. Seemingly everywhere we went, people went out of their way to make us feel welcome and accepted. I remember one night, when we were exhausted after a concert, the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and our other sponsoring groups organized a reception for us and our Chinese peers gave us individual gifts. The tour also gave us solid concert experience. We were American musicians in a foreign country; we learned how to behave on and off of the stage and gained an invaluable lesson in professionalism along the way. Following an arduous schedule, we performed for a diverse range of audiences, including high-school students (who sang with us at some points) and members of nearby communities. Though we did climb the Great Wall, spend evenings in the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong, and visit several places that can only be defined as ‘touristy,’ the trip was first and foremost a forum for cultural exchange and a concert tour. No denying it; the school does, indeed, have a financial problem. But the route it has chosen to take in fixing the situation limits the potential of students across our diversely talented campus. Students need the chance to experience something outside of our hectic campus, to pursue interests that cannot be fulfilled in the town of Andover, to be given every opportunity that was promised in the Andover pamphlets. Off-campus programs should not be cut, even suspended, for any length of time, for they are an integral part of what makes Andover so special. Now, these programs are not free for the school or the students. Besides the fact that some people receive financial aid, the school in any case loses money when sending students to off-campus programs. However, Phillips Academy does not support the programs on its own. Many parents scrape together the money to send their children to Spain for the summer or to Washington for the spring. For the future of the program most personal to me, Cantata tour, I have several thoughts. Cantata tour could be made smaller and more affordable if the groups were made smaller and more selective, as they were when the tours first began years ago. Though having a large group is enjoyable and more inclusive, it is also a heavy financial burden. Also, though China was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, Cantata tour does not have to reach halfway across the world in order to be a rewarding experience. Last year, we stayed closer to home, traveling to Burlington, Vermont, and Montreal. Though less exotic and less of a culture shock, the tour still provided all of us with lasting memories and great musical experience. If there is any means by which to save off-campus programs, then that is the route our school should take. Such programs are an invaluable source of experience in the world outside of our contained community. Only so much learning can be gleaned from a book, a classroom, or a choir room. To current and past students, the opportunities beyond campus compliment the challenging Andover environment. Any suspension of off-campus programs would greatly reduce the Andover experience.