Building a HS Instrumental Program from Scratch III

When a director leaves, it often creates a continuity problem in the school’s music program. “The unfortunate fact is that even if students stay out for only one semester, chances are they will be lost,” says Ron Kearns, MENC Jazz Mentor* for March 2009. So, what can a new director do to limit the attrition rate among the previous director’s students?

Getting Back Those Who Left the Program

“It is very important that you identify these students immediately,” continues Kearns. “I contacted the students personally and invited them to a pizza party so they could get to know me. I also encouraged my current students to bring someone they knew who had been in band or orchestra to the party. We didn’t talk about why they weren’t in the program, but rather focused on what they’d be missing by not participating in the program.”

In talking to young directors, however, Kearns found that some were unwilling to go to such lengths. “They would sometimes act as if these actions were beneath them,” says Kearns. “They have something of value to offer and the kids should just know it without being told. In a perfect world that would be true, but anyone who’s spent a day in high school knows that high school is not a perfect world. High school is based on what’s cool and what’s not. My kids have traditionally identified themselves as ‘Band Nerds.’ I thought it was a negative but soon found out that was the way they created a niche for themselves.”

Bottom line, don’t be afraid to reach out and actively recruit students who’ve left the fold. They need to know there’s still a place for them.

Excerpted from “Building a High School Instrumental Program from Scratch” by Ron Kearns, originally published in Fall 2006 Maryland Music Educator

*Got a question about jazz or teaching jazz? Then march on over to the Jazz forum to post it, and take advantage of this exciting benefit made available exclusively to MENC members.

Ron Kearns is a composer, leader of his own group, the Ron Kearns Quintet, an adjudicator and clinician for Vandoren of Paris and Heritage Festivals. He also taught instrumental music and jazz in the Baltimore City and Montgomery County school systems for 30 years.

—Nick Webb, April 16, 2009, © National Association for Music Education (