AWOL on Concert Night

What do you do about students who choose not to come to the concert? Those without a good reason or who just don’t care and don’t want to go. Here are some ideas from the MENC general music forum:

1) Motivate students to come.

  • Emphasize that every student’s contribution is important. Students need to be responsible and honor their obligations to the group. Like sports, not participating doesn’t just affect one student, it affects everyone in the group.
  • Tell students beforehand what is expected of them before, during, and after the concert. Try using a rubric.
  • Make participation in concerts part of students’ grades, and let them know at the beginning of the year.
  • Highlight the joys of performing, and talk about fears, nerves, etc.
  • Invite the principal, counselor, office staff, or custodian for a preview the week before the performance. The guest’s excitement will spread to your students.
  • Resolve issues such as lack of transportation or money for concert attire.
  • Have a special party, movie day, extra recess, or field trip for students who attended.
  • Give special rewards like an ice cream bar, doughnut holes, candy, or Jolly Ranchers (apparently very popular) for concert participants.

2) Give AWOL students an alternative assignment.

  • Assign a paper or project
    — A report on a composer
    — An essay that compares putting on a music performance to being part of a sports team, emphasizing how each member’s attendance, effort, behavior, and attitude affect the entire group in both cases.
  • Require a recording of the student singing or playing his or her parts that will be graded.

3) Communicate with parents.

  • Send a note with concert dates home at the beginning of the year explaining that attendance is mandatory and will affect students’ grades. (Make sure you have your administration’s support on this beforehand.) Make part of the note a contract for parents and students to sign.
  • Have students with a special part in the concert (solo, speaking part, instrument part, dancing) sign an attendance contract—and their parents, too.
  • Educate parents about the importance of a concert and their child’s participation. An ensemble is a team. When one person doesn’t show up, it affects the whole team effort.
  • Send a reminder one and two weeks before the concert and put one in the school newsletter.
  • Ask parents who’ve grounded their child or impeded his or her attendance in some other way to make an allowance for the concert.
  • Ask all parents to bring refreshments for an after-concert reception. Leftovers (if individually wrapped) can be sold at school the following day as a fund-raising event. (Make arrangements with your administrator and building staff beforehand.)

4) Simplify scheduling.

  • Work with school staff to avoid scheduling a marathon of events that strains families’ schedules.
  • Hold performances during the school day. Give parents plenty of notice, so they can take off work to attend.

As one forum participant writes to parents, “Please understand that students have worked extremely hard on these songs, and that they depend on each other for vocal and instrumental support. If your child just wants to stay home or is nervous, please try to encourage them to go through with it. The feeling that they will get on stage and as they leave the stage is worth every second.”

Linda Brown, December 14, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (