Now in my thirteenth year of teaching, I have officially hosted 12 high school band shows, 4 all county band festivals, 10 jazz festivals, and by the end of this week will have hosted my second PMEA District 5 Band Festival. I made a decision long ago that one area in which I would make an effort to improve the quality of my band program would be to host music festivals of different sorts so that my students could see up close the quality of other bands and musicians. This does require an amazing amount of patience, tenacity, vision, and a great deal of planning. I want the festivals to be a positive statement for music education, an opportunity for musical and social growth for the musicians, and an educational self-evaluation for my own teaching, the ensembles, and the students.
I am fortunate to have a school administration and board of directors that are supportive of these endeavors. It would not happen without them, and that is the truth. They ultimately have the power to say “yes you can host this” or “no you cannot”. Part of the equation is they see the value, but that comes because I take time and show them why it is important that we host these kind of events. The other part of the equation is that these kind of events are very good for public relations, which may not sound like a legitimate reason to host. The truth is it is great to bring the public to us on our terms. It isn’t selling out by a long shot – we are selling one of the many positive benefits and outgrowths of studying music.
My parent group has also been very supportive of these endeavors through the years. Our Band Festival has generated a lot of financial stability for our group. That is a bottom line that cannot be ignored, but yet when they talk to me after the band show all they can remark is how good their child looked on the field, and how proud they were of the group. It has taken time to educate them about the value of these festivals – musical, social, morale – but it has been worth the effort (As I have said before on this blog, at 3:15 class is just beginning….and Jim, if you are out there – THIS POST IS NOT FOR YOU.)
With just days remaining, and a free hour on Sunday evening, I have put together a crash course in hosting a music festival. Some considerations for directors – practical, and simple. I am certainly not going to reinvent the wheel on this post, but I am going to make sure I check the fluids, put in some gas, and check the tire pressure as I need to be rolling tomorrow morning like Optimus Prime taking on Bonecrusher.
1) Lock up the festival date early! (I put in to host 4 years ago because of the student potential I saw). You would be surprised to see what kind of message it sends to all those who are involved – it shows it as a big commitment. Set deadlines for yourself leading up to the festival, and stay focused on meeting them.
2) Speaking of locking up – guest band? Guest Conductor? If the date works, college and university groups love to come out for festivals (generally speaking the result is a lot of “musical muscle flexing” that really inspires HS students). Their conductors are not far behind as they know they will be received eagerly, and it is a great recruitment tool. But they too have schedules, and the sooner they get requests the sooner they can plan and hopefully commit.
3) Communication! If you are bad at returning calls or emails – DO NOT HOST A FESTIVAL OF ANY SORT. Sorry to be blunt, but it requires a steady stream of instruction from your office – hopefully given by you! And what exactly are you going to be communicating? Well….
4) Festival plans! When again? Where again? What time? How many students? How much performance time per group? How long will the festival last? Does it require overnight housing? How much parking do buses need? Security? Chaperones? Food Service required? Music distribution to guest musicians? What about inclement weather? Do you have enough seating? The right equipment…..I could go on, but I am giving myself an anxiety attack. The larger point here is to plan early and continually evaluate and revise. Assemble a team around you that can offer sound advice and share your vision for the festival (ex: My assistant Michelle does a fantastic job identifying small details for a festival).
Having been on the other side, I try my best to comply with the deadlines and needs of other host directors when I take my students elsewhere. Hosting a festival will teach you a great deal of professional courtesy for your colleagues. It will also set you a part and alter the way they view you (both positively and negatively). It also provides a carry over effect to your students, as they view as a director who will (hopefully) exorcise the “golden rule” and will put in the extra work for their benefit.
There is also a great professional growth spin-off that can occur. As educators we have the opportunity to discuss issues we are having with schedules, with students, and with music. It removes us(oft times) from our secluded kingdom in our own school, and gets us talking about issues in our daily life as educators. Sometime we vent and “let off steam”, and yet other times we pick up great tips (i.e. how to get your ensembles to breathe together and correctly, what piece of music is great for a young ensemble).
My final thoughts about hosting revolves more around the “why”. I always consider these questions as I make a decision about hosting a festival (even the marching band exhibition that I host each year) :
- Is hosting this festival consistent with my goals and philosophy of the program?
- Will my students benefit from this exposure in a positive way?
- Will the outside groups or students benefit from attending and performing?
- Will this demonstrate to educational authorities (both at my school and others) the value of music education?
- How will hosting this festival benefit our program and my teaching over time?
For those of you who have hosted festivals, I would love to hear from you about your experience and what you have learned. For those of you who have never, don’t rule it out. A group of my colleagues collaborated resources, equipment and facilities and did a highly successful co-host of our District event 2 years ago (You would never see opposing athletic teams working together that way…ah athletics, a rant for another day). Many of us have already made music our life. So why not invite others who love it in to your home away from home?