Host with the most

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 termsIt 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?

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  1. Travis,

    This is a great article and worthy of additional honing for submittal to PMEA, Bandworld, or the like.

    The only thing that I would like to add or talk about is the importance of being ready to assist the guest conductor and accomodate and direct them. I’ve been a guest conductor at many a honors band over the years and I can tell within 5 minutes of setting foot in the school, whether or not I’m going to have a host director that is competent or one that is a “chicken with their head cutoff” (In the latter case, there usually is a lot of fore-warning by the lack of communication you mentioned in your article). In my experience, there is no in between, you get one or the other.

    Some hosts just seem to disappear, and let you deal with a number of administrational tasks, that, as the conductor, you just shouldn’t be dealing with…. I don’t think any guest conductor expects to be waited on “hand and glove”, but they do need to be provided with enough “support” that they can fully concentrate on what they are there to do, create great music with the students.

    One of the worst guest conducting experiences, I ever had was at an-all county band where the director basically “dropped out of sight” the moment she introduced me to the ensemble. I had no packet, that told me the times of what was what, etc… it was awful… In the end the band still sounded good though! but I had a few choice words for what was happening to me, the ensemble and the poor other directors that kept apologizing for her and scambling to find out what was what!

    From the host side of things, I can attest to the fact that you hit the nail squarely on the head a number of times…directly, square, on the head. If you’re new to wanting to host something, I suggest trying to co-host it, or being heavily involved with someone who is hosting one first.

    You last items:

    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?

    I also think it’s important for the directors bringing their students to these events to talk about these types of things to their students as well. I think it’s extremely important for music educators to share their philsophy of music education with their students and colleagues every chang they get to open more discourse about what we do and why we do it.

    Cheers to the great post!

    J. Pisano

  2. Joe,

    Thanks for stopping by! It is great to get the guest conductor’s perspective. It is disappointing when a guest conductor is brought in to work with an ensemble, yet none of the directors who bring students take time to observe the rehearsal. This can be some pretty valuable time. You cannot take the attitude with any guest conductor that “he is good enough to teach my students but not good enough to teach me.” We are never too good, or old, or experienced to learn and at the very least have our memories refreshed!

    As a host, there are any number of things that can happen during the course of a rehearsal so you have to be in touch with the conductor. The conductor is the teacher and motivator for the festival, and the host takes care of all the non-musical problems. It is hardly a day off, and a host worth their salt can ill-afford to just disappear because someone else is watching their students. Let the guest conductor make the music happen, and be the support system that he/she needs to make all the small things happen! Thanks for stopping by and sharing in the conversation!

  3. The festival is now over, I am extremely tired, but it still was a learning experience for me. Dr. Greig did a fantastic job. His program – which included Tull’s “Introit”, Grainger “The Immovable Do”, Mark Camphouse’s “Pacific Commermoration”, CT Smith’s “God of Our Fathers”, Barber’s “Sure On This Shining Night”, and Grundman’s “March:Winds” – provided a diverse, educational, and entertaining program to the audience. Dr. Greig did an amazing job with the students. There were so many wonderful moments of rehearsal to enjoy, but also a number of great moments where he was able to talk to the students about the music, about the privilege of making music, and their future plans as it relates to schooling. My thanks to both Westminster College’s Faculty Woodwind and Jazz Quintets for providing some excellent Act 48 sessions for the PMEA District 5 Directors. There are so many people to thank for their support of this wonderful event.

    One of the other positive outcomes of the festival was the opportunity to interact with my colleagues and their students. Having the chance to just sit down and “talk shop” is very valuable – it allows you to know who is experiencing similar difficulties. But it is also through those discussions that can sometimes lead the both of you to potential solution you had not discovered. The students were well-behaved young ladies and gentlemen that happened to be incredible musicians. I really only gave them one rule for the length of the festival: Respect the privilege to make music, respect each other, and respect the facilities. It was nice talking to many of them on breaks about their future plans, humorous incidents of the day (see also the industrial strength gong stand and PMEA District 5 Gong Choir), and their impressions of the festival and auditions.

    I would be remiss if I did not tip my hand and promote the Doug Butchy Big Band. Doug’s group performed for the students on Thursday night of the festival, and it was a great performance. Although some of the group members were music teachers, it did convey a great message to the students: Yes I have a real job (some in music education), but I still make time for a meaningful connection with music in my own life. Helping students find a meaningful and purposeful connection with music outside their school career should be a goal of every public school music educator.

    Hosting is a wonderful experience. But keep in mind that it is nothing about you. It is about a large group of students that do not all belong to you and giving them a meaningful experience with music. It is about a guest conductor who can bring them to a new and unique connection with music. It is about extending the golden rule as it relates to courtesy with your colleagues. It is getting to open the big curtain on a big stage, but never desiring to take the final bow.

  4. Hey Travis,

    Thanks for the nice comments about the band. Thanks again for asking us to play…we had a great time, and I’d love to come back and play again any time.

    Also, great job hosting the festival! It was definitely one of the most enjoyable District Band Festivals I have been to for quite some time. Thanks again for hosting, and here’s hoping you’ll be ready to do it again in 7 or 8 years! HA!


  5. Hey Travis! Remember me? DU Summers Only? I used to be at Butler, have been at NA for about a year. I was checking out the 100 ME bloggers article and saw your name. I look forward to reading your blog!

  6. Hey Linda!
    Couldn’t forget – in fact I just found some of the notes I took during our class with Dr. Grunow last spring as I was getting my portfolio ready – amazing I actually passed that class….
    It is good to hear from you. Drop by often and comment when you can. This process has been great for me personally to clarify my own thoughts on a number of items. I hope you are having a good school year, and I look forward to seeing you again soon!

  7. Great info! I wish I had this info a few years ago when I was “forced” into hosting a WinterGuard/Percussion event during my first year of teaching. Fortunately, there were some very helpful and experienced people nearby to advise me. My overly general advice would be not to do it unless you’re really serious about it, prepared to commit to it, and invest the time (which is pretty much what you said, too!)


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