Reply To: What do you think?
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tellyerr makes good points. I work at a small private school, too. While I do lose some kids to choir, I do retain a lot. The way I see it, some kids feel happy on instruments and prefer to stay. And they also do not feel comfortable singing. Or even if they do, they would rather play than sing. Some kids are band kids; some kids are not.
At the same time, I work hard to use music that the kids will enjoy playing. I always program a wide variety of styles, and never repeat the same style in one year. So we play a rock/pop piece, a jazz piece, a classical piece, a folk piece, and a Broadway/TV/film piece. Sometimes we’ll do a novelty piece, too. Every year we play different titles–we never repeat anything. And I make sure they’re quality arrangements. (Last year we did Korean Folk Rhapsody and Deep River. The kids loved them, saying they were “awesome!”–which they did not say about the rock and pop pieces.)
I also make the band room a welcoming place with lots of colorful posters. I bought a supply of comfortable fabric chairs to replace the metal folding chairs they had to sit on. I let them come up with creative names for their cubbies where they keep their horns, and make colorful, creative name tags to apply. I found a second-hand sousaphone and tuba for cheap and keep them on display in the back of the band room, so that they are the first things you see when you walk into the room. This gives the place a playful look.
Mostly, I do my best to let the students know they are valuable and that the group depends upon every single kid to sound good. I don’t let anyone slip through without paying their parts correctly. Everyone is required to play a certain number of scales as solos in front of the group. When I first started this, I thought kids would balk and be afraid. Turns out it’s become a friendly competition amongst them and a great self-esteem builder.
Lastly, the most common word you’ll hear in my band room is “Bravo.” I give credit where credit is due.
So I think it’d be good to look in your own backyard and see if there might be things that you haven’t thought of that are keeping kids from staying in band. Or at least things you could start doing to make the band a more attractive place to be.