Student musicians raise concerns over Norway tour price

By Kailey Favaro and Emma Whitford

The St. Olaf Choir and the St. Olaf Orchestra are scheduled to tour in Norway and possibly Iceland over the summer of 2019. The 18-day trip comes with a maximum $5,600 price tag, and while many students are excited for the chance to visit Scandinavia, some are worried that the cost will be an impossible hurdle.

“When [the music administration] dropped the bomb, everyone screamed because we were so excited … and then they talked about money last and it just got really quiet and really tense,” Alina Villa ’20 said about the April 9 announcement. “They told us it would be  $5,600, which I am sure is like pocket money for some people at this school, but not for this gal.”

All international tours require out-of-pocket expenses for students, but the estimated expense of the Norway trip is significantly higher than past tours. $5,600 is the highest possible price for the trip and the final amount will be determined once the itinerary is finalized. 

“We provided students with a ‘maximum’ cost based on what we know now, and also shared that the price cannot be finalized until we have actually locked down the itinerary, hotels, exchange rate, performance halls and the number of meals we will contract to have included in the tour price,” Vice President for Enrollment and College Relations Michael Kyle ’85 wrote in an email. 

In a later interview, Kyle clarified that students’ payments go directly to their own travel costs to pay for plane tickets, lodging, transportation and other miscellaneous costs such as excursions. Overhead costs for the trip, such as shipping instruments or travel expenses for staff, are paid for by the College.

“Traveling is nice for those who can afford it. But it’s not a reality for people like me. Any money that I get, I will be extremely thankful for. I won’t be able to go on tour unless I get nearly all of it covered.” – Alina Villa ’20

Ensemble conductors and the Music Organizations team said that St. Olaf will work to provide financial aid to students who need it. 

“We remain committed to working personally with each and every student musician who comes to us with concerns about costs that we can address,” St. Olaf Choir Director Anton Armstrong ’78 and St. Olaf Orchestra Conductor Steve Amundson wrote in an email statement. 

For Villa, this potential aid is a necessity. 

“Travelling is nice for those who can afford it. But it’s not a reality for people like me. Any money that I get, I will be extremely thankful for. I won’t be able to go on tour unless I get nearly all of it covered,” she said. 

According to an anonymous poll sent to the choir and orchestra, many other students find themselves in Villa’s situation. Out of 37 respondents, seven will need at least partial expenses paid to attend the tour, and six will need all or nearly all expenses paid.

An orchestra member who wishes to remain anonymous believes that the $5,600 cost is a burden, but she has faith that any student who speaks up about financial concerns will be taken care of.

“I could tell our tour managers were being genuine when they told us to come to them individually about finding a way to make this work,” she said. “[Amundson] told us that our tenured spots are not in jeopardy if we cannot afford the tour or find a way to get on the tour.”

Some St. Olaf Choir members were worried that if they couldn’t afford the tour, they would be forced to give up their spot in the choir. To that, Kyle said it was “just not true.” 

He said that he was confident that students who come forward asking for scholarships will receive help.

“I will not accept a student statement that says ‘I can’t afford to go on this tour’ if you haven’t had a conversation with someone in the music organization to determine what your need is,” Kyle said. 

Financing and participating in the tour has the potential to disrupt students’ professional plans for the next two summers. Villa is studying vocal performance this summer in Italy and wishes she had known about the trip further in advance.

“If I had known ahead of time, I wouldn’t go abroad this summer. I would work all summer so I could save up money,” she said.

St. Olaf Choir member Bronwyn Redvers-Lee ’20 also expressed her concern about the tour’s timing. Her summer plans have been set since January.

“I think the people who planned this tour do not realize how early people start their summer planning [at St. Olaf],” Redvers-Lee said. “I know myself and a bunch of my other friends have had their jobs and internships figured out since January.” 

According to Kyle, scheduling conflicts are typical of all ensemble tours.

“I don’t think necessarily that the conflict is any different this year than it would have been for the orchestra going to Argentina in 2016 or the St. Olaf Choir going to Norway in 2013,” Kyle said. “There are always going to be some conflicts regardless of how long somebody knows in advance of when the tour’s going to be. Would we have had fewer conflicts if we said to everyone: ‘in 2020, the choir and the orchestra are going to be going to Norway?’ Possibly.” 

The Manitou Messenger spoke with 10 students about their financial concerns surrounding the trip, but only three were comfortable being named in this article. The others were worried that speaking up about the cost would jeopardize their chances for financial aid or they would be dismissed from their ensemble. 

“We will definitely be our students’ advocates and will do all we can to help make this trip reality for all members of these two ensembles.” – Anton Armstrong ’78 and Steven Amundson

Kellie Asher ’18 attributed this fear to an observed hierarchy within the St. Olaf Choir.

“It is really a hierarchy, like an intense hierarchy. First year members of St. Olaf Choir, in my experience, do not get a whole lot of say,” Asher said. “They’re looked on as if its not their place to be speaking up during rehearsals.”

A St. Olaf Choir member who wishes to remain anonymous is worried that students will underestimate their need because of the clout the choir carries.

“Everyone wants to go to Norway. Everyone wants to be in choir. But not with that price – that’s not even possible for some people to fathom,” she said.

Amundson and Armstrong maintain that they will do all they can to ensure all of their students can afford the trip.

“We believe this tour will be an incredible opportunity for the St. Olaf Choir and St. Olaf Orchestra, and we urge all our students to be patient as this process evolves,” wrote Amundson and Armstrong. “We will definitely be our students’ advocates and will do all we can to help make this trip a reality for all members of these two ensembles.”


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