You get only one chance per year to recruit new band and orchestra members. For the next six to seven years your district’s ensembles will be a product of your efforts today.
Each year, music teachers all around our nation have an opportunity to grow a powerful music program, and beginning band and orchestra students are the lifeblood of that potential. Effective recruiting, as much as anything a director can do, determines the future success of their program. Whether building a program from scratch, or losing a large number of students to graduation, recruitment is the most important job a director has.
Expecting students to sign up for music on their own or relying on a simple announcement or a note to parents simply doesn’t work anymore— directors must do more to attract students. Students don’t know enough about musical ensembles to decide whether or not they want to join. They have to be shown every aspect of the band and orchestra, told about its activities and benefits, and convinced they should be participating.
Here are a few ways to successfully recruit for your band or orchestra program:
Change the mindset of all who surround you
Fellow administrators, teachers, students and parents all have a different belief system about the role of instrumental music in school curricula. The fact is, all students would be better served if they learned an instrument as part of their school life, and some schools don’t provide enough opportunity for students to realize a passion and desire to play an instrument throughout their K-12 education. Parents and teachers may believe that there is a large percentage of students who aren’t “musically talented” or don’t have the desire to play, but it is within the director’s power to change minds in this regard. Communities also need to understand the benefits of instrumental music: an emphasis on right-brain thinking, improved test scores, potential college scholarship, and a one-of-a-kind social network among other benefits. We musicians must consistently communicate to everyone that learning to be creative is not an extra-curricular or a “special” activity — it’s something all of our students should be doing.
Increase your visibility
Reach out to your department chair, principal, middle school principal(s) and other school music directors. Explain that you would like to have an annual recruiting day where local professionals, instrument dealers, and other students perform for each other and demonstrate the instruments. Recruiting requires getting out to all schools as often as possible. Make sure you are visible to the students at all times, even if that means visiting their classes for a short demo or recruiting them in the cafeteria. Can your supervisor help by scheduling your prep time so that you can spend more time off-site with your colleagues who teach younger students? Maybe you want to create opportunities that involve younger students in one of the high school marching band or orchestra shows. Physical materials such as flyers, posters, letters and videos help tremendously. Music & Arts has superior recruiting materials that directors should take full advantage of. If there is a band booster organization, parents should contact other parents through email or phone, and create some recruiting events to attract families into the program. Whatever you decide, make sure the students see you and get to know you and your program — after all, they will want to be in these ensembles because of you.
Engage older student “ambassadors”
One of the best ways to “hook” young students into your program is by them seeing their older counterparts having fun engaging in music making. I remember being in 4th grade and watching the middle school jazz band perform — I clearly remember wanting to do that same thing from that point on. That’s exactly what you as a director are trying to create for students thinking about joining your music program! Plan to have a few older students follow you to classrooms to talk about your program. It’s best to have students promote your program and let the incoming students know how much the older students enjoy playing music. These ambassadors can become peer mentors to the young ones who start playing — they may even be able to get community service credit for helping you and the younger students out.
Introduce the instruments masterfully
If you’re not incredibly proficient at your secondary instruments, you may want to think twice about demonstrating the instruments to potential students. Students are attracted to masterful musicianship and tend to gravitate to the sound they are most attracted to — as long is it is performed beautifully. If we want our students’ standards to be high, then excellence needs to permeate everything around them. For the other instruments you don’t play, bring in guests, play recordings, or point your students to great local concerts. The more masterful the musician is that demonstrates the instrument, the better the chance is that students will gravitate towards it.
Build a culture around musical instrument instruction
It takes some time, but over the course of a few successful recruiting (and retention) years, you will build a reputation for success and excellence. Students and parents want to be part of something that works and is rewarding. They want to engage in passion, play and have a strong purpose — and band and orchestra is the best vehicle for this during the school day. This musical culture permeates the community that it serves and feeds upon itself, making recruiting more fluid each and every year. As far as a recruitment “rate”, it is important to have a goal of 100% of students involved in order to maximize your reach. Elementary school music programs normally will serve over 80% of the population in the grade where instrumental music instruction begins; it is more challenging to recruit into middle and high school programs. The truth is that music teachers are the only instructor whose employment depends on their recruiting and retention skills; it is crucial that directors understand this in order to grow and preserve their program and their position.
All said and done, it’s up to you to create amazing ensembles where every student is valued; an encouraging atmosphere and a challenging musical experience on a daily basis — all of which will keep students engaged and excited about being musicians. When recruiting, continue to ask your students what they love most about your program, and put yourself in your students’ shoes and ask, “Why would I want to be a part of this ensemble?” Students will feel the great energy you have created and want to be a part of it for their entire school lives.
Want more Educator Resources? Check out 3 Ways to Score Continuing Education Credits and The Best Ways to Raise Funds for an Important Ensemble Trip.