Recruiting has always been a little bit stressful for me. Let’s face it, we need numbers for our programs to be stable! When I started at my current school 3 years ago, I had 63 total orchestra students in 3 grades. After recruiting, I was able to grow the program to 101 students the next year. This year, my program grew again to 155 students. Next year, I will have around 210.
I follow a recruiting agenda/program every time I go recruiting and it has been working pretty well for me. During my first year, I was about to take my 3rd year advanced orchestra to the elementary schools to recruit, but my beginners were sounding really good, and I realized that it would be better to bring students only 1 year older than the students I was recruiting. That way, many of the students at the elementary schools would recognize and know students that are in my orchestra.
Recruiting is really a year-long process. I really don’t think my program has grown over the last few years solely on my recruiting style. Word of mouth has been huge for me. If students know you as a fun and successful teacher, they tell friends. After concerts, parents tell other parents about your program. It is important that every performance/event that you do all year creates a little buzz. After my last concert, a few parents posted short clips of my concert on facebook and raved about the concert. Facebook is a great way to reach out and connect with people. I created a facebook page for my school orchestra where I can promote my class and post things that create good public relations with people in my area. I also make sure that any big event I have with my orchestra is in the newspaper, so we were featured in the newspaper (in print and online) twice this year. All of these things help with recruiting.
I begin preparing my recruiting program right after our Christmas Concert. This is when students can really start learning some fun music! It has worked really well for me to bring my beginners because once they go through that busy day for 4 performances and lunch together, they bond and become better friends - which makes them like orchestra even more. Plus, since I take beginners, I can focus on festival music in my more advanced classes.
As recruiting time draws near, we begin running the program over and over and make sure it lasts around 20 minutes. I also rehearse the set-up. Students have to be able load buses quickly, unload, set up chairs and stands, and set up instruments at 4 different schools. We have a tight schedule, so students need to be able to do all of the set up in 5 minutes. I took all 75 of my beginners this year, and I was really worried about them taking too long to set up, but we practiced setting up chairs and everything in class, and they were super quick! We were able to easily stay on schedule.
Our program for this year was as follows:
1. As 6th graders enter the gym, we are already set up and we perform ‘Appalachian Hymn’ by Soon Hee Newbold over and over until the elementary students are seated and ready.
2. I welcome students and tell them that they have an exciting opportunity. I say that at this same time last year, the students behind me were sitting right there in the audience, and at that time, they decided they wanted to be part of something big! In just one year, they have been to build talent and skill and now look what they can do!
3. I tell the audience that orchestra is fun because music is fun and that they already know a lot about music. I say, “I bet you can even recognize a whole bunch of different tunes” and I say I want to find who my music nerds are. We play little snippets from popular music on the radio, YouTube and movies. The audience raise their hands if they recognize and can name the piece. I give bumper stickers that I create for prizes, and funny nerd glasses for the ‘music nerds.’ (http://www.orientaltrading.com/spacey-eyeglasses-a2-83_5-11-0.fltr?xsaleSku=25/87400) For these movie snippets, I let my students volunteer to find some movie/popular music and play a short clip. This year, I had student soloists demonstrate short clips from Roar by Katy Perry, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Mario Bros. video game. Then the entire orchestra played ‘Jurassic Park’ arranged by John Higgins (very easy version) and ‘Pirates on the Caribbean’ arranged by Longfield (easy). I made the Pirates of the Caribbean more exciting by having one student play the drum part on my little cajon box drum.
4. I show students my electric violin and demonstrate some of the sound effects you can create with a string instrument (pizzicato, spicatto, slides, and whistles). I tell the audience that we can play many different types of music in orchestra, and I play part of a Lindsey Stirling song on my electric while students back me up by doing a percussion beat on their instruments.
5. I demo a tiny bit of ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ and then my orchestra plays ‘Fiddles on Fire’ by Mark Williams.
6. I tell the audience about the different instruments in the orchestra that they can choose from. I have students demonstrate each instrument with a short solo. Basses come to the front on the group. I have one bass student do a fun sounding rock-type solo, one bass student demonstrate a blues pizz., and another play jaws. As the Jaws music speeds up, all of my students scream on my signal and I have one student run around like crazy with this funny shark hat on his head. It’s pretty hilarious.
7. Orchestra performs ‘Dragonhunter’ by Richard Meyer
8. I explain the registration forms to the audience. I announce our last piece and invite students to come up after the performance to try any instrument they wish. (I prep my students to encourage students to try their instruments and to be very positive and encouraging…not ever correcting or criticizing)
9. We perform a quick little version of Viva la Vida with my cajon drum.
10. Audience experiments with instruments for 5 minutes until we clean up and head to our next school.
Here are the forms that I give to the 6th grade teachers to pass out to students after our performance:
Here's a link to a funny little video I used for recruiting this year for when students visited my school and were given a tour: