Last night, I had the good fortune of hosting 47 alumni of the Band Program at Mercer during our Homecoming Football Game. It was a great evening of music, friends, laughter, and memories that added to the festivities of the entire Mercer school community. One of my current students got to conduct his dad on a song, two of the current band front advisers performed alongside their friends from the past and current students, and new connections were made as the alumni ranged from the class of 1985 to 2012!
Events that involve alumni from a music ensemble like these can be extremely beneficial in the areas of public and personal relations. Alumni are taxpayers to a school district somewhere, and reconnecting them with the positive side of a high school experience can pay dividends on many levels. As education continues to be mired in an era that places premium on percentages and standardized testing, these events help a large group of people remember the very powerful part of the human element and joy of teaching and learning in the arts.
What follows are some guidelines that I have followed to help the event be successful. They are not necessarily “cookie-cutter” solutions that may work for the context of your program and teaching situation, but you may find some useful and practical information that will allow you to get such an event started at your school.
1) Clear it with your administration a year out – Put this on their radar so they understand it is a major event for your program! In the case of an alumni marching band or pep band event, I involved our athletic director in the discussion as well. While we budgeted to pay for the tickets for the alumni at the event, he graciously let them in for free.
2) Set an annual date that alumni can count on – In my situation, we have established that the Homecoming Football Game will be the day of our Alumni Marching Band. If it is a concert event, many times programs choose a particular day on a weekend for a performance. By establishing a consistent time frame, those who have to travel back can make arrangements with enough time.
3) “I played in band and all I got was this lousy t-shirt…” – That being said, we used an alumni band t-shirt complete with graduating year and instrument/front-line on the back. We did have to charge the alumni for the t-shirt and ticket, but this was very nominal. Other alumni events that I am familiar with have used hoodies, windbreakers (Grove City College), or even a coffee mug (given at a Holiday Concert event). The use of apparel helps the audience to identify the alumni, and gives the alumni a souvenir to remember the evening.
4) Don’t over extend your current group or the past one – We used music from our current show with the alumni, and repeated one song from our alumni performance last year. This enabled the band front advisers to keep the routine the same and the fronts were able to learn the routine with limited rehearsal time. Additionally, at our music rehearsal in the afternoon prior to the game the current band members were able to help alumni with music if they were a bit “rusty”.
5) Feed your group, feed it – Thanks to a couple of local establishments, we were able to feed our alumni prior to the game (pizza, subs, wings) and our Band Boosters provided homemade cookies and bottled water (The no-bakes were killer this year!). The pre-game picnic in the cafeteria was a great social gathering. I have heard of other groups involving their alumni parents and going for a full-blown tail-gate (complete with corn-hole!), and indoor concert events with alumni having a post-concert reception or a soup luncheon prior. This really adds a nice element to the event and allows for some great fellowship.
6) Prepare your current group for logistics – In the weeks leading up, you have to prepare your group to be flexible and roll with changes that may occur rapidly the day off in preparing the performance. I was really proud of my students for their patience and malleability as we took the alumni through an hour and 45 minute rehearsal. They were responsive, maintained a great attitude, and were very diligent.
7) Be patient as the event grows – The success of the event may take some time to pick up steam and catch on with the alumni. We were able to use Social Media to help spread the word and make connections with many of our alumni. The event may be better served on a bi-annual basis in your teaching context, but by setting up certain parameters of when the event will fall, you can focus time on recruitment and contacting alumni. If your program has seen turn-over at the director position, it may take time to build up the alumni response. Entrenched directors should have a relatively easy time getting former students out on the field – and they may feel a little older with a kid’s kid playing in the current group!
8) Get good equipment – For an instrumental event, you may need to borrow some instruments from colleagues. If you have a good working relationship with a college director in your area, they may be able to loan out on a Friday night to help with larger instruments. Additionally some alumni may have sold or donated their instrument along the way – be sure to find out if they need an instrument, and don’t forget flip folios and lyres if you are on the field!
Alumni group events can be very energizing. I am thankful the efforts of my Boosters, my student teacher, assistant director, band front advisers, and my dad (Ultimate Wheelman who picked up the alumni t-shirts!) who helped make the day and night a success. It is a great reminder of the shared humanity that exists in music education, and a powerful statement to our communities of the lasting impact that music can have on the lives of students past, present, and future.