This gem from our archives originally appeared in the April 1990 issue of The Instrumentalist.
As the end of the school year approaches, most directors turn their attention to special activities to ensure their ensemble’s growth as well as their own. On these pages several successful band and orchestra directors share their ideas for different year-end activities.
What creative ideas can you offer for recruiting junior high musicians into your high school program?
John Bradley, Lincoln County High School (Augusta, Georgia)
We have the outstanding instrumentalists from the high school visit the junior high to give younger students a complete picture of our band program. My students lead discussions on topics such as band requirements, tests, travel information, performances, uniforms, rehearsals, classes, grading procedures, and anything else the junior high musicians want to ask.
The band performs a concert at the junior high school each year, which allows students to demonstrate their talents on instruments not normally seen at football games or other performances. We schedule all of these concerts with the support of the principal and the guidance counselor.
I offer prizes to students who bring the most new members to band. These new students must remain in band throughout the year. Ten new members qualify a student for such prizes as albums, CDs, or other musical items.
James Warrick, New Trier High School (Winnetka, Illinois)
Each year we sponsor a jazz festival for 15 area high school jazz ensembles. We hire a clinician to work with our feeder junior high school jazz ensembles and do not charge the junior high groups a participation fee. We also provide reduced-price tickets to the evening concert featuring our high school ensemble with a guest artist. The junior high clinician selects the most outstanding junior high musicians, to whom we present Jamie Aebersold albums.
When I taught at Lakewood (Ohio) High School I had the three junior high jazz ensembles perform on the same concert as the high school jazz ensemble each year. Guest artists were heard by all. This concert alone almost ensured that junior high jazz students would give the ninth grade band a try.
I ask students who are wavering in their decision about playing in a high school group to make only a one-concert commitment. That way they make a short-term commitment they can handle, and by the first concert I have given them my best effort to encourage them to continue indefinitely.
Earl Benson, Jefferson High School (Bloomington,Minnesota)
Our recruiting efforts begin long before junior high school with concerts performed by the high school and junior high school bands at the elementary schools. These concerts feature several soloists and brief instrumental demonstrations. Students are invited to conduct the band on marches. I also feature the most popular coach, the school cook, or the custodian as conductors.
The junior high school bands perform at our district band festival with the community, high school, and all-city elementary band. This union of bands (a tradition for 20 years) is called the Bloomington Band Festival, and gives parents and community an opportunity to see all levels of band participation in one enjoyable evening.
The high school marching band program has become popular with junior high school students. Close cooperation between directors has made the transition from junior to senior high school smooth. As the assistant conductors of the marching band, our junior high school directors are integral parts of the entire instrumental music team. Students see this closeness and cooperation, which helps immeasurably when it is time for them to decide on high school music.
Our junior high directors provide lists of band parents, to whom we send a brochure describing the high school band and the responsibilities of membership. This material helps students decide to include band as a high school subject. The key is communication.
Gary Wolfman, Appleton Public High Schools (Wisconsin)
We form a city-wide junior symphony of all eighth and ninth grade strings and the best ninth grade winds. They rehearse with me and then perform at the all-city string festival, where they and their parents hear the high school orchestra.
Kim Trytten, North College Hill High School (Cincinnati, Ohio)
I select eighth grade band members to sit in with the high school students in rehearsals. Different ensembles – concert, marching, jazz, or pep bands can be used. I prefer random selection to simply choosing the best players because often it is players at the bottom of the sections who quit between eighth and ninth grade. The weak players need the same chance as the better players. Participants from the high school solo and ensemble contest perform at the junior high school.
We include our eighth grade or junior high band in the annual homecoming halftime show or a band night. You can bet every parent is there, and the young players are thrilled to be part of the spectacle.
Even though it is not necessary for fitting purposes, I organize a preliminary uniform fitting night in the spring for the incoming band class. Once the eighth graders put on one of our uniforms, many are hooked and can’t wait for next year, when they will be issued their own uniform.
Bill Scott, Spartanburg High School (South Carolina)
In Spartanburg the high school orchestra program is a continuation of the junior high and elementary strings program. Recruitment at the high school is more a matter of retention. One factor that contributes to successful retention is vertical teaching. String instructors teach the same students from elementary to the junior high level and then continue to work with them in high school sectional rehearsals.
I also try to emphasize role models. When we recruit students for fifth grade strings, they have the opportunity to hear a demonstration by a string quintet from the high school. If the quintet happens to contain members of the varsity football team or cheerleading squad and they happen to wear their jerseys or cheerleading outfits – all the better. It is important for youngsters to see older students who are talented in several areas and have an interest and love for music.
An organized plan for extracurricular fun activities helps keep students interested. Our sixth grade string students have a skating party, junior high students take a trip to an amusement park, and high school students have the opportunity for travel to conventions and a European concert tour.
How do you encourage students to attend a summer camp?
Bill Scott: We have music camp activities to suit the needs of every age group. All elementary string students are invited to attend the “Stringer Music Camp,” which is administered by a faculty member. At the junior high level, students are encouraged to attend a day music camp sponsored by the school district. After students have had the fun of participating in one of these two local activities, it is quite natural that their parents will want to send them to a more advanced music camp that may last up to eight weeks. Many of our older students have been fortunate in securing scholarships for summer study.
James Warrick: We have a concert each year specifically to raise money for summer music camp scholarships. Funds in the camp scholarship fund are there for the asking. We do, however, expect students who request those funds to be the students who sell the most’ tickets to that scholarship concert and the other concerts throughout the year.
The best encouragement to attend summer camps is for students to be aware of the others from our school who have attended camps in the past. For example, in the fall concert program I place an asterisk beside the names of students who attended a camp the previous summer. This is a strong message to ambitious young players who can see that most of the students in the advanced ensemble have an asterisk beside their name.
We are selective about the camps we recommend. While students are welcome to attend any camp they wish, we also make them aware of the programs that have been the most beneficial for past students. We also devote space to the topic of summer music camps in our spring band and jazz newsletters. We also photocopy and distribute the “Guide to Summer Music Camps” printed every spring in The Instrumentalist.
How do you have students evaluate your music program?
Kim Trytten: I ask the seniors to complete the following questionnaire.
Trojan Band Senior Exam
This is your senior exam. If you answer the questions thoughtfully and thoroughly, you will receive an A. If you answer the questions without thought and without thoroughness, you will receive a grade commensurate with your effort. Please take a moment and sign the yearbook that is on my desk. One person at a time in my office, please.
Question 1: Consider for a moment the possibility that I have resigned as director of bands at this school and have moved with my family, two cats, and nine fish to a remote island in the North Atlantic to garden, write music, and meditate on the meaning of life. For some inexplicable reason the school board placed you in charge of the band for next year. What changes would you make, which things would you continue to assure the success of this organization? Detail any change you would make to the discipline policy of this class.
Question 2 (in three parts): Relate the most memorable musical experience during the school year, the most memorable non-musical band-related experience, and explain why you make music.
James Warrick: During the last week of school, I seat the seniors in a circle and open up the floor for discussions about the instrumental department, and the changes they would have appreciated. My primary role is to keep quiet and listen. Many times students who have said nothing for four years offer the best insights.
In each of the bands I distribute a sheet of paper divided into two sections. Section one lists all of the band’s activities for that year, and section two lists all of the music studied or performed by that ensemble for the year. The students are asked to rank the items in each list from most favorable to least favorable.
At the end of each grading period I distribute an evaluation form asking students to give me a grade. This is only fair, as I have just graded them.
My favorite questionnaire is one that gives band members an opportunity to complete sentences about me and the band. I have found that the questions that follow inspire the most revealing answers.
In band, the director always ________ The director never _______________
I wish the director would __________
The best part of band is ___________
The thing I dislike most about band is ______.
I wish the music we play were more _____.
I wish the music were less _________.
Playing in band makes me _________.
The most fun I had in band this year was when ______.
It takes self-confidence to ask the students to evaluate the director and the band program. Not everyone will take these sentences seriously, but this exercise has never failed to bring something to my attention that I had never before considered.
Another productive evaluation exercise is to divide the band into groups of five or so and then give each group a topic to discuss for an entire class period. Good topics include band discipline, music selection, rehearsal productivity, the band’s work ethic, the performance calendar, and the band’s image in school. Each group should select a spokesperson who will make a brief presentation the next day to the entire band on the points their group discussed.
This critical thinking exercise can be stimulating if students in the ensemble are mature enough to deal with such matters fairly. Regardless, everyone will get to know each other better, particularly if this exercise is undertaken during the first week of school and repeated the last week.
Gary Wolfman: I distribute a blank index card. On one side students write, “What I like about orchestra,” and on the other side they write, “What I don’t like about orchestra.” With this informal structure, loads of information comes back to me.
John Bradley: I ask the students first to evaluate me as a director by writing a short narrative on their likes and dislikes. The areas that I ask for include my methodology, organizational skills, management, personality, and anything else that they may deem important. No signature is required on the paper.
The students then receive a questionnaire, which they answer with either a statement or a yes/no.
1. Do you feel that we have a comprehensive band program?
2. Do you find an esprit de corps in the band program?
3. Are you able to express your ideas and opinions in band?
4. Do you feel that the band director works with the administration and other departments of the school?
5. Do you feel that we have a sound band program?
6. Do we participate in too many or not enough school and community functions?
7. How does our band program measure up to other schools our size?
8. How does our band program measure up to schools larger in classification?
9. Are our students highly recruited by colleges and universities?
10. What is the success rate of our students who continue in band on a college or university level?
11. Are you permitted to audition for district, state, or other ensembles?
12. Are you encouraged to participate in various ensembles?
13. Do you and other students have the opportunity to progress from the beginning level through advanced performance levels?
14. Does the program provide literature that will challenge all students?