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Monday, January 23, 2006


The PMC Quick Note is a weekly service provided to all area directors.  It is part of our mission to support the lives of band directors across the Midwest.  The weekly Quick Note will contain helpful tips and suggestions from area directors, spotlights on area college and university band programs, calendars of upcoming events, advocacy articles promoting music education, links to helpful web resources, and much more.  Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.

Ten Ways To Recruit Middle School Students Into High School Band by Steve Hayes

Fourteen years ago, the Roanoke-Benson High School Band in Illinois had just twenty-four members. The low enrollment was understandable considering that the high school had 195 students and I was the school's fourth director in four years. Since that time, however, through an assertive effort to promote the entire district band program to both students and community members, the Roanoke-Benson band program has seen substantial growth. Today, even with a smaller school population (178), the high school band has ninety-two students. These students currently represent 52 percent of the entire student body.


Of course, directors should never judge their success or their band's success solely by the number or students enrolled. But if you need some help recruiting, here are some time-tested tips that may help you increase the size of your ensemble.


10. Get to know the students you're recruiting.
Make an effort to learn about the students you'd like to recruit for your band. Obviously, in a large school district, you may not be able to know every student you're recruiting, but you should try. Communicate with the middle school band director to learn which students would be particularly successful in high school band. Attend the elementary and middle school band concerts. Afterward, don't forget to personally congratulate as many of the students as you can. Middle school students need to see you on their turf. Make arrangements to visit the middle school often. Be an active and supportive participant while visiting the middle school band. Conducting or playing along with the students will demonstrate that you're interested in them. Simply calling students by their first names will make a big impression on them. Time spent at games, theater productions, and other events is well worth the investment. Make an attempt to talk to parents and students at these events. Your presence will have a positive effect on your recruiting. This investment of your time will benefit you in networking with parents and students later.


9. Allow potential recruits to get to know you.

Although the students may have heard of you, they need to become familiar with you. Students often find it easy to drop band when switching schools or changing directors. If they know you well, joining high school band will seem more important to them. Write each student a letter inviting him or her to participate in the high school band. Eighth-grade students desperately want to be high school students, and a link to the high school band will encourage this. Demonstrate to them that you have a sense of humor and that you're fun to be around. If the middle school band has a special event (such as bowling or a field trip), ask to go along.


8. Communicate with your high school guidance department.

Ask your guidance department when students will begin enrolling in high school classes. Find out the course requirements for freshmen and what classes are only offered during the same period as band. If serious conflicts exist, discuss these with the guidance counselors and administrators to seek their input on possible ways to lessen the degree to which this scheduling affects the band program. A good working relationship with your administration and guidance department is essential for building a successful program.


7. Plan special recruiting events.

Special recruiting events can heighten the excitement about enrolling in high school band. Make arrangements with your administration, the middle school administration, and the middle school band director for special recruiting events during the two weeks before enrollment. Here are some ideas:

6. Don't hide the fact that you want them.
Who doesn't like to feel needed? Make sure students know that you are not only recruiting the top players. If they are hesitant about enrolling in high school band, see if they will try it for one year (or for one semester); then, reassure them that they can drop out if they don't like it. Above all, remain honest in your evaluation of a student's ability. If students ask whether they will be able to play in high school band, give an honest opinion, or suggest a private teacher for the summer. You might also give a specific recommendation of what the student needs to do, such as improve his or her sight-reading. Even though you should not hide the fact that you want them, think twice about standing in front of all the students and asking for a show of hands of who is joining high school band. You may end up facing a popular eighth grader with a negative attitude who will want to convince his or her peers not to sign up. You're best off asking who is joining in front of small groups of students or getting the information directly from the high school guidance office.

5. Accept with grace that you may not get every recruit you want.
You may not get everyone you go after. Let those who don't sign up know that you respect their decision. Tell them that they can always change their minds and that you would always be happy to see them in high school band. When you see them in high school, ask how they are and how their classes are, and then remind them that you would always love to see them back in band. You should never tell students to drop a course or an activity to be in band. Such behavior is extremely unprofessional. All faculty members need to work together to support each other.

4. Create a "high school" performance opportunity for potential recruits.
By simply inviting the eighth-grade students to play with the high school pep band, you'll give the students an opportunity to consider themselves part of the high school band. Arrange for the middle school band to perform at the same concert as the high school band. It's very important for the middle school band members to hear the high school band.

3. Start recruiting before eighth grade.
Visit the younger bands in your district, especially the feeder schools for your middle school and high school. Not only will your presence help with your future recruiting, but it will also help with retention.

2. Listen to others, then adjust and update your program.
If your music program has been run the same way for the past twenty years and your recruiting hasn't been very successful, ask yourself why you haven't changed something. Start observing other program, listening to your students, and making appropriate adjustments. A program that worked in the 1980s may not be successful today. Perhaps you can benefit from what has proven effective elsewhere. You can't let others run the program, but you need to update it from time to time, and many good ideas can come from students, parents, other band directors, and your administrators. Today's students are involved in huge numbers of activities. Scheduling conflicts (or even the presumption of them) can keep students from enrolling in high school band. Ask your district's athletic director for the athletic schedules. When possible, try to avoid conflicts when you schedule dress rehearsals and concerts. If a conflict is unavoidable, try to work out a solution with the high school principal and the athletic director before the event. Don't force the student alone to decide which event to attend and then risk being penalized by either you or the coach for being absent. Some sacrifices by both sides may be necessary. If your recruiting efforts are not succeeding, ask your middle school band director to investigate. Find out what middle school students are saying and why they're not signing up for high school band.

1. Make recruiting an ongoing part of your job.
Directors who view recruiting as a once-a-year event in the spring will often fall short of their recruiting goals. Successful directors will approach both recruitment and retention as continuous and important.

Your band program, no matter how successful or attractive, needs nurturing. Effective recruiting can go a long way toward helping it thrive through changing times and budgets. NO matter how good your ensembles are, they can always be better, and having a large pool of band students will help you reach more young people through your music program.

From Teaching Music , December 2005.  Copyright (c) 2005 by MENC: The National Association for Music Education. Used with permission. Not for further use without written permission from MENC.

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