Every music program depends on its upcoming musicians, and the future success of a director’s music department is largely dependent on their ability to recruit well. Unfortunately, simply relying on an announcement or flyer just does not work. We’ve also seen time and time again that expecting students to sign up for band on their own it’s a winning formula.
Although it is a difficult endeavor, recruitment can be gratifying and enjoyable. It may seem daunting to think about how you’ll convince somebody to commit to the study of music, but it’s uniquely rewarding to see somebody people forge new skills (and relationships) that will last a lifetime.
At Encore, we’ve seen time and time again how embarking on a performance tour can benefit recruitment and fundraising efforts. They provide a shared goal for your ensemble and generate excitement within your community. Perhaps that’s why our typical repeat group is roughly 25% larger than first-time groups. However, there are many other useful tips that should help with your recruitment and retention efforts this fall.
Improve your exposure
Speak with the director of music at your school, the principal, and your department chair. Describe your desire to host an annual recruiting event featuring performances and instrument demonstrations by area musicians, instrument dealers, and other students.
Recruiting requires getting out there and talking to as many people as possible. Ensure that you are always in the students’ line of sight, even if that means dropping by their classes for a quick demonstration. You’ll also want to find opportunities to involve younger students and help nurture them along the way. That could involve collaborating with other directors to find openings in a high school marching band or orchestra show.
Physical materials help tremendously, but it’s even more imperative that you’re reaching students via social media. Don’t just discuss the benefits of participating in the band but show perspective members what they’re missing out on. If your ensemble travels, you’ll want to share highlights from the road and videos from past performances.
Use a personal touch
If you’re a middle school band director, you may want to meet with every interested 5th grader personally so they have the opportunity to try out instruments. That personal connection can mean a lot to them and their parents.
To bookend that experience, try having our 8th-graders write their letters to an incoming band student. Engaging your older students as “brand ambassadors” is a very powerful tool, and they’ll be able to communicate with younger students in a uniquely authentic manner. Have them write about why they selected their instrument, some of their favorite songs to play, or just a cherished memory from their time in band.
Other personal touches that might help with recruitment and retention include writing Christmas cards to all current and potential students, encouraging perspective band members to bring a friend, setting up time for one-on-one meetings, sharing some of your favorite songs and artists, and maintaining constant contact with music educators at feeder schools.
Engage the parents
One interesting strategy is to organize an event where parents of prospective band students are invited to join the marching band for an hour of practice. When the parents arrive, they are given a drill sheet and an instrument to carry (even if they are completely unable to play it).
The ultimate goal is for the parents to master a drill that has 32–64 counts, as they receive assistance from the students. This allows parents to learn how to read the drill set sheet, comprehend the directions, stand at attention, and march in a straight line. As they begin to understand the skills necessary to be in a marching band, they are more likely to truly see the value of what their children are learning, which leads to more engagement and encouragement.
Similarly, you may want to consider hosting any informational meetings immediately after a performance since the students parents will already be there. Obviously, the students will want to participate (and their excitement is critical), but they will typically require the time and financial support of their families.
Develop Relationships with Other Departments
One of the best ways to make sure that new students know about the benefits of band is through word of mouth, whether that’s from the older band ambassadors or from other teachers. We love the idea of educators helping each other and would strongly recommend supporting the drama club performances at your school.
You could volunteer yourself and your students to play in the pit orchestra for the musical or as background music for the other shows. Collaborate with another teacher to bring students on a trip that is educational as opposed to being performance-focused. This could be a collaboration with a history teacher on a trip to learn about Ireland’s history of rebellion as told through their music. You could join forces with a Spanish teacher and take your students to an opera like Il Postino or Maria de Buenos Aires. The opportunities are seemingly endless, and this tactic can create more visibility (and advocacy) for your program.
Keep in mind, you don’t even need to have a large ensemble to take your ensemble on a performance tour! If recruitment numbers are low, but you still have a core group that wants to travel, there are always options for your group whether it’s finding ringers, combining ensembles, or finding appropriate festival opportunities.
Do you have any recruitment tips you’d like to share with other directors? Send your most successful strategies to email@example.com and you’ll automatically be entered for the chance to win an Amazon gift card and travel scholarships as part of the 2022 Encore Recruitment Contest!