Start a Band and Orchestra Museum for Your School

Mike Lawson • • October 4, 2017

What better way to showcase the illustrious heritage of your school band and orchestra than with a museum?

It doesn’t have to be the Louvre – a simple display case will do.

The “museum” will be a fun and educational point of interest and discussion for student musicians, school staff, and visitors to the school including attendees of the latest concert. It will create a sense of pride for present band and orchestra members as well as the school staff, and also be a welcome source of nostalgia for band and orchestra alumni who visit the school.

Of course, you want to make your school music museum as fascinating as possible. There are various items of interest you could display:

• programs of concerts over the years

• old marching band uniforms

(including gloves, hats and shoes)

• banners

• flags

• conductor batons

• musical instruments of interest

• souvenirs, mementos or paraphernalia related to the band or orchestra

• roll calls (name lists) of band and orchestra members over the years

• programs of special events at which the band or orchestra played

• trophies, medals, ribbons, citations and any other honors received

• mentions or write-ups of special achievements of the school band or orchestra

• covers of scores of compositions performed at concerts

• copies of recordings the band or orchestra may have made

• any publications of the band or orchestra such as a newsletter

• newspaper articles about the school band or orchestra

• information on band and orchestra alumni including special honors they received, especially those who have gone on to music careers 

• photographs and film clips

Where to place the “museum” is an important consideration. The museum should be in a public or accessible area if possible.

Ideally, a designated room would the place for such a museum, but with space at a premium in most schools, having a special room set aside for a band and orchestra museum would be unlikely. So where else could a band and orchestra museum be located? If there is an auditorium where the band or orchestra performs concerts, it would make sense to have some type of display case in that area as concert-goers could browse the museum before the programs commence. When it is not at all feasible to have a special museum room or display case, tables could be set up in front of the concert auditorium on which objects could rest that would have been displayed in a more formal set-up. If no space is available near the music area of the school, any space in the school should suffice.

If you start a band and orchestra museum, you will need to gather items to display. They may come in slowly but eventually you will have enough items to create an exhibit, and that should be exciting. Perhaps you could have a small ceremony to kick off your new school music museum! Eventually, you may acquire a plethora of objects wherein you will have to decide which to display and which to keep in storage. Generally, you want to exhibit items that highlight your school ensembles in special ways.

You will want to keep the museum up-to-date, constantly adding new items to it, even current ones of interest. Likewise, to make the museum alluring for repeat visitors, you will want to periodically change the display or add least add a few new items to the exhibit. You can appoint student curators with the charge of this task. Becoming intimately familiar with the contents of the museum will also make them qualified to act as museum “guides” for any special events or presentations of the museum. Needless to say, all items on display should be arranged in an accessible and pleasing manner so that browsers may see the items without straining or squinting and the whole exhibition should be inviting and appealing.

Once you start a museum, you will want to begin collecting any and all materials related to your band or orchestra from both the past and present. You can ask current students for ideas or to lend what items they may have of interest, and you can also reach out to band and orchestra alumni as well as your predecessors at the school for old music programs or any other kinds of souvenirs they may have.

All items in the collection should be logged in on a document – like how accession records are kept at a professional museum you could assign a number to each item in your collection and tag the item for easy identification. Moreover, the documentation of each item should have the name of the person who donated or lent it, that person’s complete contact information, and any history of the item if available.

A school band and orchestra museum is a good way to get publicity for your music group. You could get your school newspaper to run an article on it. You could send out a press release about the museum to local papers (perhaps including quotes from the conductor, students, the principal and alumni). You could email a write-up about the museum to families in your school district. You could post a description of it on your school web page. You could publicize the museum on social media. This last task could be assigned to a student, or it could be one of the responsibilities of the aforementioned student curators. Remember that inauguration ceremony for the kickoff of the museum? That would make a splendid article for any publication!

If your museum is at a high school or junior high or middle school you could invite students from elementary schools in the area to visit the museum. Students in your band or orchestra could act as “tour guides” for these young visitors. The band and orchestra museum may not only be inspiring to them but may also spark interest in learning to play a musical instrument or in taking pride in playing in the elementary school band or orchestra of which they are already a member.

Your school concert programs could include a brief description about your music museum. In subsequent concert programs, new additions to the museum could be written about.

As a corollary to your physical band and orchestra museum you could have an online museum, or, if there is not space in your school or it is not practical for any other reason to have a physical museum in your school you could settle on having an online museum. An online museum would basically be a visual tour through your collection.

Since space on an online site would not be a factor as it is in a physical museum, there are more items you could include in an online exhibit than a physical exhibit. For instance, you could include more photos in an online museum than you could have in a physical museum (all photos shown online should have captions underneath them). You could also include more information online such as stories about concerts or band trips, honors received by the band or orchestra, profiles of band and orchestra alumni, and so forth. Film clips of the band or orchestra performing could also be included.

To make future exhibits interesting, you could have students at the end of each academic year sign an autograph book. They could write brief notes about their experiences or favorite parts of being in the band or orchestra for exhibit. Once on display, the autograph book could be opened to different pages of interest at different times.

School conductors and musicians put much time and effort into their band or orchestra. Their music groups are special and their own unique culture. There is no reason why their hard work and pride shouldn’t be preserved. With a band and orchestra museum, students, school staff, local residents, and alumni can observe the illustrious heritage of these music programs and take pride in their school and community.

Harvey Rachlin is an award-winning author of thirteen books including The Songwriter’s Handbook and The Songwriter’s and Musician’s Guide to Making Great Demos. His Encyclopedia of the Music Business won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music journalism, was named Outstanding Music Reference Book of the Year by the American Library Association, and was recommended by Academy Award-winning composer Henry Mancini on the 1984 internationally-televised Grammy Awards. His books have been praised by such music luminaries as Elton John, Aaron Copland, Richard Rodgers, Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach, Marvin Hamlisch, Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne, Morton Gould, and Johnny Mathis. He runs the Music Business program at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.

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