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Friday, December 29, 2017

My Story - how to promote your string orchestra program

I began teaching at my current position in 2012.  My interview had gone very well and I was 99% sure I would be offered the position.  I remember the principal asking me if I could grow the orchestra program and I answered confidently in the affirmative.  I never thought to ask how many students were in the program and didn't find out until I was setting up my classroom right before school started.  There were 3 orchestra classes - beginning with 37 students, intermediate with 15 students, and advanced with 11 students.  Numbers were small - I had the smallest orchestra program in my district, but I decided to make my class the best it could ever be.  I wanted to offer my students the greatest possible orchestra experience.

2017 Beginning Orchestra at our Halloween Concert

My program began to grow every year.  I remember a chat I had with my principal.  I was asking him about how many orchestra classes I would be able to have in the future.  He told me that it would be impossible to be full time.  There was not another orchestra teacher in our district with enough students to be full time at one school.  He backed up his claim with statistics that said no more than 25% of the student population enrolls in a music class - and those numbers had to be split between the other music programs.  I didn't believe my program had achieved max student enrollment and continued to create a quality program and recruit more students. The next year I was full time with 250 students.  This year I had 315 students enrolled and had to cut 30 students because my classroom space can not accommodate more than 55 students in a class.  My program is now one of the largest in the state.

How did all of this happen?!  I believe a music program must be carefully marketed and promoted - just like a business.  There must be a quality product and we must create the demand.

Here are 10 key strategies that helped me grow my program.  Keep reading for a description of each strategy!

1.  Create a class motto.  

One thing I want for my students is to learn that anything is possible..that they can accomplish anything with dedication and effort.  The one phrase I want my students to remember after being in my program is to 'Be Amazing!'  Reaching ones full potential is a is a determination to achieve and work for greatness even when it's hard.  I want students to live with no regret - to choose to be amazing at anything they set out to accomplish.  This motto is hanging in my classroom, it is found on every orchestra shirt, and I remind them of this motto as we rehearse in class.

2.  Create a logo and use it on all shirts, programs, and other promotional items.

I love graphic design, but I'm not an artist.  Luckily I worked in a computer lab when I was a university student and was able to pick up the basics of a few design programs including Photoshop.  Every summer I scour and purchase images to use for my orchestra shirts.  I choose to design my own shirts every year and feature a specific theme for the year.  Here are a few shirts I've used over the years...

3.  Create quality promotional items.

I use logos and themes on shirts as well as bumper stickers and fridge magnets (perfect for students to use to decorate lockers).  One year I bought rubber wrist bracelets and I don't recommend one wears them.  Students enjoy magnets and bumper stickers.  I design mine at '' and ''  It is very satisfying to be driving on the freeway and see a car with one of my bumper stickers.  Stickers are also great for decorating instrument cases.  I purchase images from and design these items myself.  I promote program by visiting elementary string programs and handing out these items.  We also pass out stickers during recruiting assemblies.

Magnet samples:

4.  Use social media to promote your program.

Students and parents love to follow happenings on facebook, instagram, and twitter.  Keep your program in the spotlight by sharing pictures from every concert and anything else interesting.  Brag away on all social media!

5.  Make your concerts AMAZING.

I have a confession.  As an audience member I sometimes get bored at concerts.  With 5 children of my own, I've been to countless concerts and recitals.  I want to be entertained - and I don't think I'm alone in this wish.  Blame it on the short attention spans of today, but whatever the reason...audiences need to be entertained.  I want parents to enjoy my concerts and want to be there.  For the best possible audience reactions to your concerts, follow these tips:

  • Play a recognizable piece now and then.  Audiences love to hear music they recognize.
  • Keep concerts under one hour.  You don't want the audience to feel trapped.
  • Make sure your groups sound surprisingly great.  My favorite concert story is when I heard from a grandma who brought ear plugs in her purse to my first concert of the year.  She was astounded to find she did not need them at my concert and kept them in her purse.  :)
  • Involve the audience.  There are certain pieces that are great for incorporating audience participation.  Guest Soloist from Richard Meyer, The Adventures of Stringman by Richard Meyer, A Boomwhacker Christmas by Richard Meyer.  One year when the Christmas concert happened to be on my birthday, my advanced orchestra played 'A Minor Case of Birthday Blues' by Lauren Bernofsky.  Audience members with December birthdays were invited to the front to wear party hats and celebrate.
  • Just Simon Cowell used to say on American Idol  - song selection is everything.  Pick the right pieces for your group!  Make sure pieces are the right level so students can master the demands of the music.  
  • If you have to transition between different performing groups, make the switch as quickly and efficiently as possible.  You don't want to have too much audience down-time.  You could have small ensembles perform in front of the stage while switching ensembles on stage.  At some of my concerts, I have a game or other fun activity happening in the audience while students re-set the stage.

6.  Encourage students and parents to post about your concerts on social media.  

I created a hashtag for my group and print social media info on my programs where I encourage people to post on social media.  At my last concert I thanked the community and parents for all of their support.  A few days later a received a letter in the mail from our Congressman with a check for my orchestra program.  You never know what will happen when you promote your program!

7.  Seek out and go after contests, grants, or other special opportunities.

I have been very blessed to offer a number of special opportunities for my orchestra program.  A couple of years ago my group won the Give A Note/Radio Disney Music In Our Schools tour.  We won an Ardy, had a special concert from boy band 'Forever in your Mind,' and was able to have a Disney commercial filmed in my classroom.  In a week my Advanced orchestra will be performing with American Idol finalist JAX among other artists with professional lighting and audio.  This opportunity came from a local business who wanted to support my program.
There are marvelous opportunities out them out and try!

8.  Recognize your group on your school's announcements, webpage, and newsletters.

It seems like one more thing to do...but make sure students and parents are able to read and hear about all the happenings in your program.  It can be helpful to submit stories about your program to post on our school's website around recruiting time.

9.  Volunteer to perform in the community.

Recently the wrestling coach at my school asked to have some of my students perform the National Anthem at their wrestling match.  It's a great way to get your students visible and promote your program.  One year I had a call from a local grocery store who was looking for a group to perform Christmas music for a special event in their store.  They couldn't find a high school group who would be willing to come, so they reached out to my junior high orchestra.  We went and had a great time.  Even my beginners played a few pieces and were well received.  The store was so grateful they donated money to my program and each student went home with a free 2 liter soda.

10.  Give them something to talk about - make your class amazing.

Parents often tell me at parent teacher conferences that they have heard so much about me and my class.  Students love to tell their parents about our fun rehearsals, entertaining experiences, and occasional shenanigans.  When students are having fun they love to share the excitement with friends and family.  It's a good sign when people are hearing great things about you and your program.

I am passionate about making orchestra a BIG DEAL!  Music education is the best - let's promote this wonderful experience, create bulging programs, and inspire more students.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Percussion ensemble in orchestra - teaching subdivision

A couple months ago I was at a community event where various groups performed.  A local orchestra performed some fun movie music.  Since the stage was outside they were mic'd.  As they began to play a small crowd gathering to watch on some seats set up in front of the stage.  Right after the orchestra performed, a drum group from a local university performed and WOW - the crowd went wild!  The chairs in front of the stage filled up and people were moving and getting into the music.  The drum group involved little children and let them have a part in one of their pieces.  The difference in reaction between the two groups was huge...and as an orchestra lover, I was left with the desire to make orchestra more exciting!  What can I do to draw people in?  2 things come to mind- add a drum beat and involve the audience.  This post will focus on...Adding a DRUM BEAT!  Time to think outside the box and draw in our audience with an energetic, infectious performance.

One reason why people love the drum line is because percussion seems cool.  People like a beat - and a good solid beat makes people energized.  I teach string orchestra.  We don't have the benefit of a percussion section.  I learned about a Cajon box drum a few years ago and purchased one for my classroom.  My little drum gets used quite a bit!  Students love to try to create cool drum beats and I have allowed students to add cool beats to some of our concert music.  For example, my Advanced orchestra played 'Perpetuoso' by Brian Holmes...a really fun piece.  It doesn't have a part for percussion, but really lended itself to an added beat with the cajon.  Plus it helped our ensemble with rhythmic accuracy.

My cajon comes with me on every recruiting trip.  We use it to add drum parts to our recruiting music and it the audience love it.  It helps our easy versions of 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' 'Viva la Vida,' and even 'Dragonhunter' come alive.

I just created some sheet music to turn my orchestra into a giant percussion ensemble. Many string groups tap on their instruments to create a drum beat (Simply Three, Piano Guys, Time for Three, Rob Landes).   Here's an example from Simply Three:

This little exercise I wrote called 'Wipe-out' can be performed with stomps and claps away from instruments...but I think it would be more impressive if the percussion sounds were made on the instruments - as long as students are trained to be gentle and not hit instruments too hard.  Click here for an audio file to hear what the piece sounds like:  WIPE-OUT AUDIO

When I was creating a percussion exercise for my students, I realized that many of my students would have a hard time reading the eighth rests and finding the off-beats.  To make my piece accessible for many levels, I created parts that show the subdivisions in each measure.  Students are to perform ONLY the notes which are black and must be silent on the gray notes.  It teaches students how to sub-divide.  It takes tremendous focus and concentration for students to only make sound on the black notes.  Students quickly learn to follow the notes very carefully and a higher level of determination begins to encompass the entire class as they work to make the piece sound awesome.  The piece is called 'Wipe-out' because it takes tremendous effort to only perform the black notes and not accidentally fall into the trap of playing a grey note.

'Wipe-out' can be used as a teaching tool to teach eighth rests.  Have students re-write parts with eighth rests in place of the grey notes and see if they can still count it correctly.  Teach them places where they can combine two eighth rests to create one quarter rest.

I will be using this piece with my beginners and we will perform it when we go recruiting.  I want to electrify my audience of potential students and show them that orchestra can rock, too!

Download Wipe-Out for FREE at my TPT store HERE.

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