A Guide to Recruiting and Sustaining Enrollment for High School Music Programs
by Philip Dolan, Instrumental Director, Amity High School, Woodbridge, CT
Are you trying to increase enrollment in your music program? How about retaining the enrollment that you have already? Sandene (1994) states that effective recruiting is the first step in creating and maintaining a school music program. The second step which, is often forgotten, is improving student retention (Sandene, 1994). Here are a few steps I follow that will help you recruit and retain students in your music program.
- Reach out to your department chair, principal, middle school principal(s) and middle school music directors. Explain that you would like to have an annual recruiting day where your students perform for the 8th grade class.
- Suggest a date that falls near course selection. At Amity, January and the beginning of February is when students begin selecting courses. This way, students will have seen and heard your students perform and that will be fresh in their minds, especially for those already enrolled in band, choir and orchestra.
Example: The Amity Jazz Band, Chamber Singers, and Strings Ensemble are allotted one hour at each school. We each perform 15-20 minutes of music with time for Q and A at the end.
- Once you get everyone on board with your plan, decide on fun and entertaining music for the ensemble you plan to bring. Remember, you are trying to “hook” them so they will want to sign up for your classes.
**I remember being in 8th grade and watching the high school band and drum line perform. I said to myself, “I want to do THAT when I get into high school.” That’s the idea you are trying to create for students thinking about joining your music program.**
- Plan to have one junior or senior and one freshman talk about your program. It’s best to have students promote your program and let the incoming 8th graders know how much they enjoy playing music.
- Make yourself visible. Travel to the middle school(s) and sit in on a few rehearsals. The more the students see you, the more likely they will sign up for your classes.
- Travel arrangements should be made as soon as you get approval. Call the local bus company and get a price quote. If you already have a budget, GREAT! If not, be sure to ask your department chairperson and/or administration for help.
- Teaching practice-Darling (2014) talked with music educator Bob Philips regarding retention of music students. Philips describes retention as being a year-long process. In order to retain music students once you have recruited them, high quality instruction will help facilitate retention (Darling, 2014). Evaluate yourself and ask if you are giving students your very best. Keeping your teaching practice varied will keep your students performing music.
- Support-Another component of retention is getting parent support. Have a parent meeting at the start of the year and present to parents everything they need to know; rehearsal schedule, performances, fundraisers and the like. Once you include parents in your process, more often than not, students will remain in your program for the remainder of their tenure.
- Performance-Create a performance or production that is different than the usual winter and spring concerts. Give your students an opportunity to do something really fun and cool. At Amity I created a stage performance with marching and movement called Music In Motion. The show is designed based on a theme and students get a chance to march, move and play fun music. I have found that students really take pride in the show. Since it’s inception in 2009, the band enrollment has doubled from 60 and continues to grow.
- Adjudication-For all the hard work that your music students put in then entire year, reward them with a spring trip. This can range from a one-day trip or a weekend trip to a local park that has a music festival. Since starting a spring adjudication, students have stayed in the program and look forward to the adjudication. We travel every other year and give students time to fundraise for their trip.
- Promote your program–Once you have established a parent group, ask for volunteers to help you promote your program. Parents are more than happy to post flyers and signage around town to peek the community’s interest. Call your local newspapers and ask them if they are willing to post a description for your performances. Use social media to your advantage. Twitter and Facebook are great tools to get people talking about what students are doing in your program.
What Amity students are saying:
“Band has been very rewarding for me, and probably the only class that taught me knowledge that I enjoy using every day of my life.” -12th Grade Alto Saxophonist
“I joined band, because I anticipated it being a great way to express emotions through music.” -10th Grade Trumpet
“Playing music let’s me be myself.” -8th Grade Cellist
Darling, C. (2014), Recruiting and retention in the strings classroom. Teaching Music, 21(6), 59-60.
Sandene, B. A. (1994). Going beyond recruiting fighting attrition. Music Educators Journal, 81(1), 32.
About the Author:
Philip Dolan has been teaching since 2001 and is the Director of Instrumental Music at Amity Regional Senior High School in Woodbridge, CT. Philip currently teaches Electronic Music, Studio Recording, Guitar in American Music, Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, and Concert Band. Extracurricular ensembles include Jazz Band and Pit Orchestra for the spring musicals. The Pit Orchestra had been nominated for a Connecticut High School Music Theater award every year since entering competition in 2010 winning two times with “Les Miserables” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”.
Philip Dolan: www.philipdolanmusic.com
Twitter 1: @Dolandrummer
Amity Music Department: www.amityband.org
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.
Kristen Rencher, Social Media Coordinator. March 30, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)