Monday, March 5, 2018
Recruiting your beginners for the school ensembles traditionally began in the early spring with getting the kids signed up for the ensembles and then in the fall with testing the students for what instruments they would be playing. Times have changed and school counselors are now requiring information earlier and earlier about which students will be in the band or orchestra program. This has led to several new 'battles' that directors must face.
- How do I keep my beginners excited and from changing their minds about being in my ensemble?
- How do I reach out to the students who missed testing?
- How do I steer parents toward quality brands and options to keep them from losing money on inferior equipment?
How do I keep my beginners excited and from changing their minds about being in my ensemble?
Many directors are now being forced to recruit and test their students for the upcoming beginning instrumental classes in February and even January. These students then go through several months without even seeing the ensemble director in some cases, much less getting to interact with them. Think about recruiting for the entire school year...it is a process. Not just one day. Testing is a great foundation, but the directors need to stay positive and share the excitement with the students throughout the year.
If it works with your schedule, offer to be a substitute in music classes at the elementary or trade places with your elementary music teacher for a class period or two. Take a day to teach an elementary music class about instruments to get to know the students and promote excitement about playing an instrument. You could send each student a Candy gram or some sort of note personalized from the director that says "I am excited that you will be playing the flute in band". This would be a great activity in March (Music in Our Schools Month) and on March 4th (the unofficial marching band holiday!) Have a beginning band parade where the HS band marches through the halls of the elementary with the new recruits marching with them in their sections.
You could have mini concerts and recitals at lunch that would feature soloists, small ensembles, jazz band, or pep band. (This is great as it also gives those solos and small ensembles more performance opportunities as they are preparing for their festivals.) Invite section leaders or seniors (top players) to meet with the kids to show instruments and answer questions in a class setting prior to class enrollment. Another great idea is to have your current beginners talk to your incoming recruits because they know these students! The last thing is to also allow the students to play what they want to play. If a student is dying to play the viola and they don't test well on it, think very carefully before you switch them to an instrument that was not on their choice list. They will say it's fine when you ask them because they want to make you happy, but retaining them could be difficult.
How do I reach out to the students who missed testing?
You will never get every student to your scheduled testing. It does not matter if you test during the school day or in the evenings, someone will miss. How do you reach out to these students? Start by reaching out to your elementary music teacher and getting names of those students who are interested in band or orchestra but did not get a chance to try out the instruments. Next, communicate directly with the parents on how you can go about getting them tested. Perhaps they could bring the student to your rehearsal room for a private one-on-one session. Or you could arrange a time for your educational representative to test the student. If there is more than one student from the same elementary, maybe a makeup could be scheduled during lunch or recess. The options are truly endless for this, but communication is the key!
How do I steer parents toward quality brands and options to keep them from losing money on inferior equipment?
With the rise in popularity of online shopping, it has become harder and harder to dissuade parents from buying an off-brand instrument. The more time parents have to "shop around" the more likely they will purchase one of these instruments or a used instrument that will require expensive repairs to get it into good playing condition. If your beginning instrumental classes are homogeneous, then of course you are going to let your incoming students and their parents know what instrument they will be playing. The informational letter might say something like "Your child has been selected to play the clarinet for the upcoming school year. There is nothing that you need to do now or over the summer to prepare for this." Your educational representative can help you with this communication to parents by customizing your letter and your flyer for your instrument night to your specifications. If you will be teaching all of your beginners in one class, I strongly recommend testing for which instrument they will play in the fall. In the spring you could send a letter home that says, "Susie showed great interest and natural aptitude on violin, viola, and trumpet during our quick testing this spring. In the fall we will be testing more thoroughly to determine which instrument will be the best match for Susie. Thank you for signing up for instrumental music. We can't wait to have Susie in class!"
Remember that you are also the expert in music education at your school. It is your job to not only educate the students, but to also educate the parents. Parents want their students to succeed and to participate and many do not understand that an instrument found on a shopping website is not going to be the same as an instrument found on a music store's website. I have heard directors compare instruments to tablets. "You can buy a tablet that looks just like an iPad for significantly less money, but it will not perform, function, or hold up like an iPad. Instruments are the same way. The difference is that a student will know that he or she does not have an iPad. They may not know that they don't have a quality instrument and when they struggle they will blame themselves. This leads to frustration, disengagement, falling behind, and in the long run they will quit and think that they were no good, when in reality it was the instrument."
Here are some ideas to aid you in your recruiting! Good luck and have a great second semester!
- Set a date early.
- The spring semester is the perfect time to start recruiting next year's beginners. Check the master calendar and collaborate with school counselors and feeder schools to see what dates would be best to schedule testing during the school day. Be mindful of standardized testing in the spring.
- If you can plan a concert the day or week before testing, it will help the students become more excited about enrolling in instrumental music.
- Testing works best when you...
- Schedule in one day. Your feeder schools will appreciate less time out of class.
- Have students try every instrument. Many students arrive at testing certain that they want to play a particular instrument. Once they try it they often change their mind and find one that is more suitable for them to play.
- Schedule during the day; Many parents will not attend an evening meeting, especially parents of students that were not planning to enroll in band. If testing is done during the day, the numbers of students that are recruited will significantly rise.
- Test EVERY student - not just those interested in band or orchestra. There are many students who will change their minds about being in an instrumental music class after trying the instruments!
- Develop a system of organization. Prepare a testing document. Many directors use a system of letters with a secret scoring system so that students don't know how they scored on each instrument. This prevents kids from getting discouraged. (one example: instead of using 1-5, use letters.)
- Communicate with parents. Let parents know that you will be testing ahead of time. After testing is complete, send a letter home with the students indicating the instrument recommendation and requesting parent permission. Remind parents of the instrument rental night so that they do not wind up with non-recommended brands or poor quality "closet" instruments.
- Remember, your educational representatives LOVE to help test beginners; please take advantage and ask us to help!
|Bridgett Randolph received her B.M.E. from Central Methodist University and her M.Ed. from William Woods University. She has taught instrumental music for the last 18 years with the latter 10 years in the Columbia Public Schools. Bridgett also taught high school and middle school at Orrick R-IX, Mid-Buchanan R-V, and Southern Boone R-I school districts. Bridgett is a member of MMEA, NAfME, MNEA, MBA, and Phi Beta Mu. Bridgett has performed with the Columbia Community Band, Columbia Civic Orchestra, Memories Dance Band, Capitol Kicks Dance Band, Ray Auburn Big Band, and Kerry Strayer Big Band. She is active as a clinician and adjudicator and enjoys playing in big bands and community ensembles so give her a call if you need a trombone player! Bridgett currently resides just outside of Columbia, MO with her husband Mark, and their two wonderful children Olivia and Logan.|