One Music Teacher’s Story About How International Travel Grew Her Orchestra

Meet Laura Mulligan Thomas. She’s the driving force behind her award-winning Charlottesville High School orchestra. She’s also a big believer in international travel.

Laura Mulligan Thomas

Thirty years ago, Laura was proud to count eight students in her fledgling music program. Last year, she took 140 eager student musicians to Ireland for a concert tour.

She firmly believes the power of live performance in new environments builds excitement and new advocates for her program— both students and the community at large. And her orchestra’s reputation proves it. From local events to regional exposure and beyond, she cites performing travel as an unbeatable way to demonstrate the value of orchestra in building well-rounded students.

With five international concert tours under her belt, we sat down with Laura for a Q&A about what this sort of pinnacle experience can do for the students, the program, and your reputation:

WorldStrides: What do you think makes this kind of travel so special?

Laura: “Students are filled with wonder and awe. That’s the word: They’re wondrous. It’s so eye-opening for all of us. Playing for an audience that has never heard an American youth orchestra before. Architectural wonders, food, culture …discovering it all together.”

WorldStrides: What is it about the actual performance abroad that stands out most for you?

Laura: “Performing feels incredibly special. Playing in cathedrals gives a sense of connecting to a place that is infinitely beyond us. It connects you to the ages. We may be performing 100-year-old music, which is great in itself, but the cathedral was built 1,000 years ago!”

WorldStrides: What impact do you think international travel and performance has on your students?

Laura: “It certainly elevates everybody’s game. Their standard, their competency. My students are willing to take more risks after they’ve put themselves out there. They come home with a new sense of poise. And it stays with them. They have stature compared to their younger-student peers.”

WorldStrides: What advice would you give to directors who are considering international travel for the first time?

Laura: “Give yourself plenty of lead time. Communicate frequently with your parents and get a core group excited about the tour. Make sure you have a support organization behind you: let’s work together and bring the cost down for each individual family. It’ll consume a lot of your time for an extended period, but it’s worth it. IT’S ALWAYS WORTH IT!”

WorldStrides: Last question – what’s the real eye opener about international travel?

Laura: “It broadens their horizons, exposes them to different viewpoints, masterworks of art. They come home with a sense of awe about what they’re a part of, and their connection to the broader world.”

Learn more about our International Concert Tours and Music Festivals.

Article written by Andy Pillifant

Andy Pillifant
As a senior writer, Andy is one of the voices of WorldStrides. A linguistic chameleon, he writes about, well, everything, Favorite topics are culture, human nature, and soccer (which is about culture and human nature, don't you think?). He loves camping, hats, his wife and three sons.