Meet Educational Destinations Tour Director John “The Big Smoothie” Hilmer

Meet Educational Destinations Tour Director John “The Big Smoothie” Hilmer

John Hilmer is not only a committed Educational Destinations Tour Director and student educator, but he has brought much more to Educational Destinations. John’s former students, Andrew Moran and of course, his son, Ben Hilmer are all part of the Educational Destinations family. John’s relationship with Educational Destinations started when John was an educator himself. Mark Harting took his band and orchestra to Italy.

“We’ve had John guide us on two major trips (BOA National Championships and WGI World Championships). He was an integral part of our success at both events. Our relationship has developed a strong level of trust and we have a strong rapport from our time together. He works behind the scenes and is always one step, maybe even two or three steps, ahead of us in details and logistics. Flexibility, calm demeanor, and years of experience are essential keys to his success. His ability to find extra rehearsal space, facilitate time changes, negotiate meal options, and communicate with our staff, students, and service providers are just some of his skill set that demonstrates he truly is a smooth operator. In fact, that sounds like a great nickname for him – John “The Big Smoothie” Hilmer. I look forward to continuing our relationship long into the future.”

Jeff Wilson
Valley Christian Schools, San Jose, CA

John Hilmer’s career teaching band stretched from 1978 until retirement in June, 2015.

John studied music at Quincy College in Quincy, Illinois, and received his BS degree from Western Illinois University in Macomb. John then studied music and art at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State, studied music at the University of Texas at Austin, and received his MS from Texas A&I University in Kingsville.

As a music teacher, John’s career began at Webster City High School in Iowa, and then moved on to his studies at Chautauqua Institute.  John then directed at many places throughout his career, including Alice High School (Texas), Warren Central High School (Indiana), MSD Warren Township Schools (Indiana) and the Indianapolis Municipal Band.  John also served as Adjunct Professor at Butler University’s Jordan College of Fine Arts. In 2015, John joined the Educational Destinations family and we are grateful for his presence.

John Hilmer allowed Educational Destinations to squeeze him for a few answers in an interview. Enjoy!

One of John Hilmer’s favorite hobbies is visiting lighthouses throughout the world.
One of John Hilmer’s favorite hobbies is visiting lighthouses throughout the world.

How long have you been a Tour Director for Educational Destinations?
John: I have been a tour director for Educational Destinations since 2015.

How long have you been a music director and do you remember your first band trip?.
John: I was a band director for 37 years in Iowa, Texas, and Indiana. My first band trip was when I was Drum Major of my high school band and we performed in the Blue Bonnet Bowl in the Astro Dome in 1974.

How did you get started tour directing?
John: My relationship started when Educational Destinations’ Mark Harting took the Warren Central Band & Orchestra to Italy. David Mobley was my Assist. Band Director at Warren Central. Todd and Andrew were my former Warren Central Band Students. That led to hiring Ben Hilmer (son), Todd Overbeck, Andrew Moran, Maria Ramirez, Linda Hilmer (my wife) and I. That gives me a special connection to Educational Destinations. Plus, I’ve known Jef Furr and Gary Wishmeyer for 25+ years.

John Hilmer and wife Linda Hilmer enjoying time with their granddaughter, Annie Hilmer.
John Hilmer and wife Linda Hilmer enjoying time with their granddaughter, Annie Hilmer.

What is the hardest part of being a successful Educational Destinations Tour Director?
John: The hardest part of tour directing is anticipating problems that might occur before they happen, and of course, problems that are beyond our control.

What is the largest group you have tour directed?
John: Bringing over 200 travelers to Bands of America Grand Nationals for the Round Rock Marching Band is probably my largest group for 2017. It is awesome that Round Rock is now directed by my former assistant, David Mobley. In 2016, I tour directed for Ronald Reagan High School Marching Band and they had a total of around 300 travelers.

Is there something you wish travelers knew before a trip departs?
John: Group travel requires people to be flexible because no matter how much prep and planning goes on, you can always expect changes. That is why it is crucial to have a Tour Director on each trip to run interference and deal with situations that arise. This allows the group’s director to focus solely on performance and his/her students rather than logistics.

What’s your proudest moment or a time when you being there made a difference/impact?
John: I have a pretty good skill set after teaching band for 37 years and after teaching music ed courses at Butler University. I like being able to offer professional assistance to young directors. This frequently comes in the form of advice, repairing instruments, fixing musical flaws/wrong notes and even helping tune the band. I enjoy sharing helpful information that makes a trip more successful.

What is your favorite place to travel/visit with and without groups?
John: Europe, specifically Italy and Hawaii. Personally, I have been to Europe 6 or 7 times, Canada, Mexico and 47 states. My bands have performed at the Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl, Toronto MusicFest, Colorado, Florida/Disney, Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio/WGI, WGI/San Diego, Nebraska, Kansas, Wisconsin, Winnipeg/Red River Exhibition, Indy 500 Festival Parade, IMEA State Convention, Six Flags Over Texas, UIL Texas, MBA National/Whitewater, BOA Regional, & Hawaii.

John Hilmer’s 1980 Triumph Spitfire.
John Hilmer’s 1980 Triumph Spitfire.

What does it take to be a successful Educational Destinations Tour Director?
John: It takes an understanding of young people. It takes patience and tolerance.

What are the benefits of having an Educational Destinations Tour Director at your side?
John: Leaving the logistics to your Tour Director reduces stress allowing teachers to focus on their students and the musical performance. Having an Educational Destinations Tour Director along gives the music directors an experienced ally or advocate for your group

Any advice to share with groups considering performance travel?
John: Music education and travel offers unique opportunities for students to benefit and grow musically and as young adults. Travel cultivates a better understanding, a broader perspective of the world while creating positive, even life-changing memories

Do you think you have what it takes to wear the cape and be an Educational Destinations Tour Director like John “The Big Smoothie” Hilmer?

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