Every band program depends upon recruiting new members to continue the pride and tradition established by the current band members. Recruiting can be one of the hardest jobs a band director faces, and for some, the most unpleasant, while others love to meet potential students and â€œsellâ€ their program to the eager young students. In the end, after all the recruiting is over, you actually get to teach them what you love: music!
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2008 edition of the Iowa Bandmaster Magazine and was written by Patti Bekkerus, a well established and respected music educator currently teaching in the Dennison, Iowa school district.
Some directors walk into an existing program that numbers many students and their job is to maintain and continue the tradition. Others walk into programs with barely any members and not much interest in joining a program that is not thriving. For those programs, the director must be the best salesman ever! The important thing is to remember you are "selling" them a chance to participate in and learn something you absolutely love: MUSIC!
Before starting the actual recruiting process, I highly recommend "testing" the class on pitch matching and rhythm. There are several tests or surveys out there. I've used both the Selmer Music Survey and the UMI Recruiting Program for Band. I am also lucky enough to have the elementary general music teacher administer the test for me at my current school. She is a great advocate for our program and teaches them instrument families and names as well as giving the music test as well.
I am a firm believer in using the current band program and students to recruit beginners! I've also taken videos to show the kids and to publicize the program but I've found the band students themselves and a concert are much more effective. We invite the current recruiting class to a concert. We hold the concert in our high school Fine Arts Center (concert environment) and feature the High School Concert Band and the 7th Grade Concert Band. Each band performs two to three numbers for the students with the concert lasting a total of 30-40 minutes. I try to have the 7th grade band play something that is familiar to the students or a novelty piece. Our high school band director spends some time during the concert introducing a high school player from each instrument family. He strategically asks very well known students (even to the younger kids) ranging from our all-state musicians to the starting quarterback on our football team. Those kids all know those older students who are active in activities and they are true role models for them! The people he introduces play a short tune for the students to show off their instrument. It's amazing what hearing a familiar tune or an instrument just played well does for a beginner who is trying to decide which instrument he/she would like to play. He also has a way of really "selling" an instrument that we feel will be a real need to our program in the future years. (i.e. low brass, clarinets, etc.)
Following the concert, we take a week to test the students on the instruments. Although it is a very short time and one may wonder what, if anything, you might accomplish in that five minutes, it is often enough to convince a student who thinks they can play something (or that it would be too hard) that they CAN get a sound on an instrument! It also serves the purpose of helping them make up their mind as to WHICH instrument to play. I've had several students change their mind about what instrument they should play just because something was "easy to play" or "sounded cool".
This year, we tried an assembly line procedure to test. There are only two band directors in our district and I tested all woodwind instruments and percussion and the high school band director tested the brass players. we liked that approach as we were in our comfort zone and felt we had a good grasp on all three sections as we tested. We also have the luxury of helping each other when we got stuck and couldn't get a student to produce a sound. After they've played all the instruments, we ask them what their first and second choices would be to play in band. From this list, we form our ideal band instrumentation keeping in mind we usually start at least 50-60% of the class.
Approximately a week before our instrument display night, I take a few middle school students to visit the various classes and answer their questions about band and often just general questions about middle school! Again, the most effective way to promote your program is to showcase those who already love it!