SBO Survey: Festivals

SBO Staff • Travel/Festivals • May 10, 2012

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In the microcosm of an instrumental music program, participation in a music festival is typically one of the primary highlights of the year.  When else do music students have the opportunity to show off the fruits of a year’s worth of labor to a peer audience, receive feedback from professional adjudicators, and bond with each other and members of other school ensembles?

This recent SBO educator survey uncorks the latest trends on these events – what directors are looking for when selecting a festival, tips on performance, another chapter in the old competitive versus non-competitive debate, and much more.

What are the most important criteria when selecting a band/orchestra festival to attend?


“When I plan a trip, the focus is musical. The trip is just an excuse to give the students a novel learning experience. However, the destination has to be appealing to the students.”

Salvatore Terrasi

Shorewood High School

Shorewood, Wis.


Do you prefer the festivals your groups attend to be:


“Both have value. I have attended excellent competitive and non-competitive events. It is the critique, clinicians, and concerts that make the event worthwhile.”

John Syverson

Fargo South High

Fargo, N.D.


“The best festivals get student musicians together to share. Competition is okay, but it would never be my reason for taking my band or individual students to a festival.  Note: That has not always been my position.  A decade ago my band was one of the most competition-oriented in my state. A series of extremely successful competitions led me to realize that the benefits to the students were transient compared to when they got together to share.”

Dean Lamp


Glidden, Iowa


What are the most important takeaways from the festivals your students attend?

“We are so busy in our own little musical world at school that we sometimes lose focus on the bigger picture – sharing our music with others.  It’s important to be able to hear other groups and get feedback from respected professionals, and to share what we’re doing in our program.”

Marianne Ball

La Salle High School

Union Gap, Wash.


“Band festivals tend to attract the best bands in our area. It’s great for our kids to hear these ensembles.”

David M. Miller

Valley Middle School

Apple Valley, Minn.


“I want my students to reflect on what the judges told us, accept the rating we received, and, most of all, watch the other groups and support their performances.”

Kurt Stalmann

Santana High School

Santee, Calif. 


What are the latest trends that you’ve noticed in the music festivals your groups attend? 


“I am certainly seeing more festivals add a clinic component. This has been a healthy development.”

Patrick J. Kearney

Johnston High School

Johnston, Iowa.


“I am noticing that there are more independent festivals being run at schools and universities rather than just having the state music educators groups sponsored festival.”

David Lesser

Clovis North Educational Center

Fresno, Calif.


“Festivals seem to be allowing more time for bands to mingle. A definite positive!”

John Stetler

Elida High School

Elida, Ohio


“Band (directors) are too concerned about the level of music they are performing, even if it does not fit their ensemble. Just because you’ve always performed ‘level 6’ in the past does not mean it will always fit your group.  Second to that is the value placed on trophies. The takeaways should be, ‘How did your students feel about the performance?’ And, ‘Did it move the listener?’”

Michael Walsh

Alpharetta High School

Alpharetta, Ga. 


In a festival setting, how do you balance challenging your students with demanding repertoire versus selecting music you know they can perform really well?


“This is a very fine balance. Over-programming is the vanity of high school directors. I challenge my students with music that should be achievable within their instrumentation and potential.”

James Quirion

Cypress High School

Cypress, Calif. 


“I think it is important to play music that your kids can play flawlessly at a contest. I push the kids with harder literature at their other concerts through out the year.”

Hugh Grubbs

Graham Junior High School

Graham, Texas


Do you have any special tricks or tips for preparing students for a festival performance?


“I try to get the dimensions of the stage, then set my band hall to match.”

Cynthia Mixon

Kelly Lane Middle School

Pflugerville, Texas


“‘Repetition is the mother of skill.’ We will spend a lot of time in sectionals, lessons and good old wood-shedding the pieces so as to address all the concerns and challenges of the pieces we select.”

D. Thomas Busch

Pulaski High School

Pulaski, Wis.


“The day before our ensembles participate in an away festival we schedule a two-hour rehearsal/clinic conducted by music staff of a university in the area of the festival. After the clinic, we tour the campus and eat real college food. For some of my students, it is their first time on a college campus. A university director telling my students the same things that I have been saying for months really gets them ready for the festival.”

John Mueller

Incline Middle School

Incline Village, Nev.


“I do a substantial amount of recording-playback so the students can acts as the Adjudicator as well as the Performer, with total objectivity as the goal.  In addition, I’ll often record an excerpt and play it back for the students, immediately followed by a second playback of the same excerpt as performed by a college or professional ensemble. I have also invented an objective self-and-peer evaluation program that I’ve used for the past decade; it allows students to use an easy-to-understand rubric to assess their own performance. In addition, I use a lot of ‘randomness’ techniques within the daily rehearsals (for example, I’ll say, ‘Now let’s hear the same passage but only the 2nd and 3rd chair players should perform; now only the Freshmen & Sophomore class; now only the females,’ and so on).”

Robin Linaberry

Maine-Endwell High School

Endwell, N.Y.

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