It’s a Seller’s Market

Mike Lawson • Archives • March 27, 2009

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It is imperative that the music program be within the scheme of the school. The band and orchestra must exist in proper perspective to the school’s over-all curricular and extra-curricular programs. Over-emphasis on the band or orchestra, for its own sake or as a public relations tool, can result only in misunderstanding, friction, and in some cases jealousy among other departments. To avoid this, the director should check his operation periodically to be certain the instrumental program does not:

  • demand an excess amount of the students’ time and effort in rehearsals, performances, or outside activities that conflict with daily academic schedule;
  • require repeated requests for special favors to ensemble members by other faculty, such as absences from class or relief from assignments;
  • require other faculty to view the ensembles as more than another academic area.

Here are some positive steps the director should take:

  • Cooperate wherever and whenever possible with other academic departments to reduce to a minimum the conflict between ensemble schedules and the general school program.
  • Emphasize to ensemble members their duty to maintain good scholastic standing. Ensemble members should clearly understand their responsibility to the ensemble and to other academic areas.
  • Seek out additional and special ways the instrumental program may help other school disciplines. Ensembles, for instance, may help the drama club, other academic areas, or athletic teams in bringing to life a specific component or need of their discipline.
  • Share in other school functions by being alert to general educational problems of interest to other teachers; and take an active part in faculty life, both social and professional.

Directors clearly make these goals evident by placing them in their music handbook, policy manual, or course syllabus. These goals are the rules, not the exceptions.

School Administration
In today’s educational environment, band directors are strictly accountable to their administration for their performance. In essence the administration and school board desires a concrete measure of achievement by the ensemble and its director.

Many educators question what achievement is. Objectively put, a band director’s achievement is how he or she does with what he or she has. However, it’s unfortunate that materials and facilities are not always realistically considered by school boards when they judge the results of a music program. How then is a director to gain a board’s support and sympathetic understanding?

There is a basic public relations problem involved here that touches both internal and external contacts that is, the director can legitimately submit outside opinion on his work when he submits his case to the governing body of the school. Many educators firmly believe that these outside opinions have decisive influence on school boards. Most board members are not trained musicians, yet they are likely to give weight to community and outside judgment about the band’s program.

Music educators readily agree that there are three areas in which the music director must prove their abilities to the school board. These areas are:

  • the production of quality musical achievements;
  • the enforcement of firm, fair, and consistent discipline;
  • and the acceptance of parental support.

Once the governing body accepts that these qualities are being met, increases in the music department budget just might be justified.

Musical achievements cover such points as: the number of public performances each year; public responses to the school musical performances; the retention of ensemble members; and the consistency of ratings at music festivals or contests. In addition, musical achievements can be viewed as social successes. For example, the impact of the school band producing school spirit at athletic events is also a measure of the instrumental music educator’s public relations inside and outside the school.

Little needs to be said about discipline as an element of the music educator’s achievements; it is the heart of music making for groups or individuals. Methods of providing discipline at rehearsals, meetings, and performances largely depend on the personality of the director, the number and type of students in his or her charge, and the general spirit and atmosphere of the school. This is something the director must learn; there are no hard and fast rules.

Acceptance by the parents of the director’s students is key to the director’s success. A positive relationship with individual parents and with parent groups is an absolute necessity for music educators. When a director maintains his or her role with positive leadership and guidance, the results will be viewed as a success.

Parents and Parent Groups
Parental interest in the school instrumental program stems from several factors: interest in the students who are in the program; pride in the organization to which they are personally connected; pride in the school that fosters such a group; and community interest that embraces the school and all its activities.

Parents whose students attend the school but who are not in the music program can also be important members of the parents’ organization and should be given an opportunity to become involved. This might draw their children into the music program, as well.

The alert director realizes that working with a parent group must be a partnership in providing quality opportunities for the students. The needs of the program and the needs of the students must always be at the forefront of this partnership without this, focus conflicts will arise! Here are some suggestions for extending the collaborate relationship with parents’ organizations:

  • Use an executive committee to guide the group’s program. Allow the committee to meet as often as it wishes, but limit the full group to meeting only once or twice per year. This arrangement is important, because nothing is more conducive to frustration than attending meetings that accomplish nothing. Special full meetings can be called when necessary.
  • Appoint various other committees to handle special or continuing jobs.
  • As a director, be available to the executive committee for advice and consultation.
  • Lead the parents group, let them know your needs, frustrations, and joys, but do not be the president or the person in charge.
  • Give them something to do! The fact that a parent group is an official, organized group means nothing until this group has duties to perform. Therefore, the director’s first task in connection with such a group is to have clear objectives and goals that enable the organization to work beneficially for the ensembles it represents.

The primary functions of parents groups are twofold fundraising and mechanics of publicity and the director should keep it this way!

The Community
Whether this is recognized or not, the music director occupies a truly public position: in fact, often the smaller the community, the more public the position. Efforts to make the program well known and worthy of community support serve to keep him or her in the public eye. The director has contacts with many more community connections than do most of his or her colleagues on the school faculty.

The community expects music director to be active in areas and for causes that the classroom teacher almost never reaches. Despite the director’s full schedule, the community has a right to such expectations because most directors, parent organizations, and school music programs frequently solicit the community for support.

Generally, the community expects music educators to:

  • take an active role in civic life through membership in civic or business clubs;
  • cooperate in promoting charitable and civic programs consistent with over-all school policies;
  • aid in planning cooperative community events such as parades and celebrations, especially if the band will be present.

In many communities, especially smaller ones, the school band is taken for granted as part of social and civic life. This can be excellent, but also dangerous, because a complacent situation of this sort can lull the director and ensemble members into taking community support for granted; and when this occurs, all are in for stormy weather.

The director’s public relations efforts at the school level and his or her contacts with parents are aimed at the over-all goal: gaining community goodwill and support and establishing the school music program band as an asset to the community. However in working toward that goal, the director must clearly state that although the band serves the community, the primary function of the ensemble is the education of its student members.

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