Getting to know you: a chat with Russell Marcason, Tour Director

Mar 22, 2018

Travel Notes

In a recent post, we gave you the full scoop on our “cast of characters,” the incredible team members that make travel magic happen for students each and every day. Today, we’ll be diving a bit deeper into one of those roles – the Tour Director – by sharing an interview with Russell Marcason. His career in education and passion for music, coupled with a background in travel sales brought him to BRT in 2011 and he’s been leading performance tours with us ever since.

Tell me about your education and the beginning of your career?

I headed to college thinking I was going to be a music teacher, but when I got there, I realized that I enjoyed playing the music – bass clarinet – more than learning how music worked. So I switched majors from Music Education to Elementary Education. After graduation, I got married and my wife and I moved to Schaumburg, Illinois where I taught every level of elementary school for 34 years.

How was music woven into your career?

I never actually taught music, but music played a big role in both my teaching and my personal life. I worked with our school’s music teacher and we organized a “no-cut” Nutcracker every other year for any student that wanted to participate. We would rent out a 500-seat theater for all the parents and kids and put on the show for three nights in a row. There were a lot of “Snowflakes” in the cast because everyone who auditioned got a spot. It was a great success. During that time, I also joined an adult choir and performed in concerts throughout the year – I did that for about 10 years or so and really enjoyed it.

Where does travel fit into your story?

In the 80’s and 90’s you needed a travel agent to book vacations – tickets and flights and such. I had a travel agent tell me that I’d do well in outside sales, so while teaching and singing, I started working part-time helping people book airline tickets and honeymoons and spring break. I wasn’t actually traveling myself, but organizing travel for other people. When I was offered the opportunity to retire from teaching, I decided to pursue a new career in travel management and enrolled in a program at the Institute for Tour Management. From there I started leading cross-country tours – 23 days in a coach with a microphone traveling from New York all the way to Los Angeles. Over the next several years, I worked with different tour companies until 2011 when I was connected to BRT.

Tell us about your work with BRT

I started directing a few tours here and there for BRT in Chicago. Student performance travel was new for me and I loved the connection of my passions – music and education. All of a sudden I was getting three, four, five and up to thirteen tours a year with BRT.  

What I’ve found is that BRT does an excellent job of utilizing people to their potential. They understand my background and put me on tours where they know I’ll flourish and enjoy the company of the director and his or her students. The BRT team asks my about my experience on tour, what worked, what didn’t and they trust me to make changes as needed on the ground.  I know who to call for itinerary timing, who to call when challenges arise. The team always has my back.

What do you enjoy about traveling with students?

There’s this moment when the students step up onto the risers and transform from the teenagers who care about their cell phones and their hair looking good into musicians. It’s remarkable. It’s that time in between student and musician that is most enjoyable to me because I see them all coming together. They all become adults and they take direction. And those teachers are absolutely gifted as far as I’m concerned – they know how to bring the best out of their students. When I get to hear the results of their hard work, I’m just a fan. Whether, those kids are performing in Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, I’m just flabbergasted that I have the opportunity to help this director put on the performance.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Russell! For more behind the scenes glimpses into our people and process, make sure you follow our blog by signing up here. Don’t miss our next post that highlights all the reasons that Russell and our team love Chicago!

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