Leave it to an orchestra director to compose a harmonious summer trip for her students.

A group of McKinney-area music students will enjoy the opportunity of a lifetime – performing at world-renowned music venues and soaking in art and culture throughout the British Isles this summer.

The trip is the vision of Dr. Deborah Perkins, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music Education and Director of Mustang Strings at Southern Methodist University. Perkins’ philosophy is that music connects us all. It’s the universal language, eliciting heartfelt, deep emotions and bridging the cultural divide.

Inspired by her love of stringed instruments and the piano, Perkins pursued a career in music education. She taught middle and high school orchestra students for several decades in Texas, Florida and South Carolina, where she often traveled with her groups and encouraged their appreciation of the art.

To offer similar music experiences to North Texas students, Perkins and a team of colleagues created the Texas Youth Orchestra – high school and college music students brought together to travel and perform on an international summer concert tour. Students from McKinney, Allen, Plano and Richardson are selected based on their music skills, availability to tour, strength of character, and desire to learn about other cultures.

“Having participated in an international tour myself when I was school-aged, I truly appreciate the rich experiences of my trips and understand someone provided a wonderful opportunity for me,” Perkins says. “Now I want to give back to other students, allowing them the same amazing opportunity.”

This summer, Perkins and her team will head to the British Isles, shuttling 49 students, parents and chaperones to London, Bath, Cardiff, Oxford, Stratford, Edinburgh, Sterling, Inverness and Glasgow. The trip, scheduled July 9-21, will give participants the opportunity to tour throughout Great Britain and perform at celebrated concert venues, conveying a shared love of music to their audiences. This year, choir students will join the orchestra students, blending their unique sounds into remarkable performances.

“I am so excited to go to the U.K. this summer,” says Jake Magargle, a McKinney Boyd High School senior who is one of 10 students from the McKinney school district making the trip. “It is a tremendous opportunity for aspiring musicians to hold concerts in foreign countries before we are out of high school. I am very proud to be one of only 40 students to be going on this great adventure. I expect it to be a lot of hard work, but also a lot of fun when we arrive.”

Perkins says her philosophy is that life is a journey and that by studying various musical centers in Europe, the students will gain insight into the musical art form.

The trip is the vision of Dr. Deborah Perkins, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music Education and Director of Mustang Strings at Southern Methodist University. Perkins’ philosophy is that music connects us all. It’s the universal language, eliciting heartfelt, deep emotions and bridging the cultural divide.

Riley Cronin, a junior at McKinney High School, agrees the trip offers the chance to learn more about music and culture – and have fun all the while.

“I'm really excited to go on the trip because I've been looking forward to this since I started playing viola in fourth grade,” Cronin says. “I’m expecting to grow a lot as a musician and make a lot of good friends and memories.”

Currently on its third international tour, the Texas Youth Orchestra began its journey in 2006 with a tour to Italy and Austria. In 2009, the second tour began with performances and sight-seeing in the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, and included stops in Prague, Vienna, Eisenstadt and Budapest. 

Sue Ewing, an orchestra director in the Plano school district, says she has been looking forward to this summer’s trip since she traveled along on the 2009 tour. The trips allow her to combine two of her passions, traveling and music.

A busload of students with diverse backgrounds and musical ties has “the unique opportunity of becoming a close-knit family, exploring the historical wonders of differing cultures,” Ewing says. “I am certain this well-planned and well-paced trip will be a treasured, life-changing experience this summer.”

Perkins said an international performance tour isn’t the type of event to hand over to just anyone. The tours are coordinated through Music Celebrations International, an event-planning organization with nearly 20 years of experience. As in past tours, MCI’s planning provides unique performance and educational opportunities for each orchestra member.

McKinney resident Jean Piechetta, a Texas Youth Orchestra parent whose daughter played clarinet on the last trip, says, “TYO offers students (and parents) an experience of a lifetime – not only touring Europe but performing in breathtaking, historic venues. I can't express how much I enjoyed being submersed in different cultures all tied together by the common melody of music.”

Prior to the tour, the students will meet for an intensive, four-day “Home Camp” the week before they leave, ensuring that the students are prepared for the concerts and the overall trip. “We actually won't see the kids for a collective period of time until the Home Camp, and we use this time to help students prepare and practice the music as well as teach them about the customs of each country, their currencies, and specific cultural differences,” Perkins says.

“This is a very fun week for us, but it is jammed-packed full of information and practice,” Perkins says. “And, then before you know it, we are on a plane destined for musical greatness.”

About the author: Carolyn Cameron is a local marketer and freelance writer. She enjoys spending time with her three young boys and family, reading and running.