Building a HS Instrumental Program from Scratch

So here you are, a brand new director of bands. It’s now your job to build a music program from the ground up. What do you do? Where do you start?

“Whether you are a new teacher, veteran teacher in a new school, or someone trying to build and maintain a school instrumental music program, there are two challenges you will face,” says Ron Kearns, MENC Jazz Mentor* for March 2009. “They are recruiting students and retaining students from semester to semester and year to year. How you face these challenges will impact on the long-term success of your program.”

Recruiting New Students

When building programs through recruiting new students, Kearns targeted two groups:

· Students who had prior music in middle school but had not signed up for band or orchestra
· Students who had taken music in my new school prior to my arrival but had opted to
“wait and see” how the new guy worked out

He spent hours combing through the incoming class’ personal records to see if any of them had prior instrumental experience. Then he contacted each of these students via mail or phone to ask them to join his program. His relationship with the guidance staff was crucial. “I let the counselors know how important it was for me to identify these students and enlisted their assistance in getting them scheduled,” Kearns says. “I even got my principal to approve scheduling honors classes in such a way that the kids didn’t have to decide between my class and an honors class. One of my friends who has a very successful program actually sits down with the assistant principal in charge of scheduling to make sure she gets and keeps her kids.”

“This may seem like a lot of work, but the long-term success of your program depends on you getting these students and them buying into you. If you don’t possess good interpersonal skills, work on them. At this point, there is no separation between you and your program. Both are unknown commodities,” continues Kearns. “The personal contact makes the kids feel wanted and serves to give them at least one person they feel they know. Remember, coming into high school is a challenge for the kids and their parents, and both want to know that someone understands what they’re going through. Band and orchestra offer a ready-made group that these kids have something in common with so that their adjustment to high school is calmed somewhat.”

When he ran summer marching band and jazz band camps, Kearns’ kids got to learn their way around the school and make friends with the upperclassmen, the importance of which, he says, cannot be overstated. “Everyone wants to act as if hazing doesn’t go on in schools, but it does. Kids who are in band or orchestra are generally the only ones who take classes with the upperclassmen, and upperclassmen tend to look out for their underclassmen friends who are in an activity with 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 this month 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, March 18, 2009, © National Association for Music Education