By Mary Wagner, NAfME Orchestra Council Chair
Welcome to the new school year! If you are like me, you are thinking about recruiting demos for young students or making plans for the older ones. While we usually do our big recruitment for new students within the first few days of school, actual recruiting is ongoing all year long!
Let’s talk about new student recruitment first as there are several ways to do this. You can do large group assemblies or you can recruit in individual classes. Talk with your music colleagues and administrator to see how this will work best in your school. Talk with the band teacher in your school to discuss doing a combined assembly. My school district starts strings in fourth grade and band in fifth. I usually do a short recruitment with the band director for the fifth and sixth graders. I go first and play only a few short tunes – one on each instrument and then I end with the electric violin. The students are being introduced to band for the first time so I make it short but as glamorous as possible. I also send personal upbeat notes to all of the previous years students encouraging them to continue.
For beginning students you can do recruitment by individual classes or in one large assembly. I prefer to do individual classes so I can interact with the students. I have a huge Jeopardy board and we play the game answering questions about the string family. I play a couple songs on each instrument as part of the game so they can decide which one they might like to play. Once the game ends, I pass several violins and violas around and play “Pop Goes the Weasel” while they pluck the ” pop!” This puts an instrument in everyone’s hands at least once! When the classroom teacher brings them to my room, I tell them to take a 30 minute break- this usually is a big hit during the first week! I also put an enrollment form in each child’s hand before they leave the room. Since the game is so much fun, I don’t have to listen to kids say “I”m waiting for band next year!”
Choosing music to play for recruiting demos is always a lot of fun. I like to use a variety of music, usually a couple of movie pieces, one classical, one patriotic, a Broadway tune, a fiddle tune and a blues scale. I throw in one rock melody and “Hail to the Redskins.” Throughout the demos, I stress the versatility of the string family.
As I mentioned earlier – recruiting is an ongoing activity. This means you and your program are always on display! Try to make your program as visible as possible. Some activities that I like to do: a “Spooky Strings” concert the week of Halloween, caroling in the hallways in December, playing some Irish fiddle music for St.Patricks day and tunes for any other holiday your students celebrate. Be sure the students sound their best before performing!
Offer to do a hallway bulletin board one month so you can feature your program. When students do well in festivals, auditions or whatever- make sure to congratulate them on the announcements. Put those same announcements in the PTA newsletter or on your orchestra website. Promote your program whenever it is possible. Remember – you are always a great ambassador for your program!