March is Music In Our Schools Month®! Our friends at the National Association for Music Education are back to celebrate the 36th year of MIOSM®. It's the perfect opportunity to celebrate the very best of what's happening in music classrooms across America. The team at NAfME has worked hard to make sure everyone can get involved in celebrating music education, including pandemic-safe ways to be involved from the comfort of your own home.
For this year, the theme of MIOSM® is “Music. The Sound of My Heart.” Step one? Start here to learn more about Music In Our Schools Month® and all the ways you can participate.
Are you a student? Join the World’s Largest Children’s Choir!
Still stumped? There are lots of ideas here!
And of course, everyone can participate safely on social media! NAfME is encouraging teachers and music education advocates to share on social media how their schools are celebrating music education, using the hashtags #MusicTheSoundOfMyHeart and #MIOSM and tagging “@NAfME.” Change your profile picture on social media to let everyone know where your heart lies this month. Download their graphics, and find sample posts to get you started.
And what would Music In Our Schools Month® be without performances? On March 4 starting at 7:00 p.m. EST, the more than 550 students of the National Association for Music Education 2020 All-National Honor Ensembles will perform in six virtual concerts, one for each honor ensemble: Concert Band, Mixed Choir, Symphony Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble, Guitar Ensemble, and Modern Band. Free registration is available. And on March 29 at 7:00 p.m. EDT, the Young Composers Concert will take place online, featuring the Akropolis Reed Quintet performing the work of winning student composers from the NAfME 2020 competition. Free registration is now available.
However you choose to get involved, music education in our schools is worth celebrating more than ever this year. Even though a pandemic has kept us apart, music and the arts are one of the few things that has pulled us together and kept our spirits up. Quality music education in every school is worth fighting for. Thank the music educators in your life. And thanks to our friends at NAfME for rallying us around Music In Our Schools Month® the entire month of March. Together or apart, wouldn’t you agree that Music is the Sound of my Heart?
Like so much of our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, arts education has been rudely interrupted.
School boards are meeting now to determine funding for next school year, and it’s going to be rough. Due to unforeseen pandemic expenditures, many districts will be in the unenviable spot of having to make budget cuts, and unfortunately, too many districts see music and the arts as low-hanging fruit when it comes to balancing their budget.
In this video from our friends at Arts Ed NJ, including Bob Morrison, founder of the Music for All Foundation, you can learn how to get involved NOW to ensure that music and arts education stays well-funded.
Fortunately, there is plenty of data to suggest that the arts are uniquely positioned to help students rebound after enduring the effects of the pandemic. The arts help students manage their mental health challenges, and provide built-in opportunities for social-emotional learning.
Here are three quick takeaways from the video:
With the promise of a vaccine and with a little extra attention from you to help ensure that your school board makes good choices, your students can look forward to getting back to music as usual next school year.
Looking for more? Download this School Budget Process Guide!
David Starnes is Director of Orchestras at Kennesaw Mountain H.S. in Kennesaw, GA, and an Educational Consultant for Music for All. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread in 2020, David worked with Music for All and co-moderator Susan Smith to develop Mind the Gap, a webinar/podcast series for young and future music educators.
With a wide and varied 32-year career as an educator, we asked David to share his thoughts on the Mind the Gap series, the topics they cover, and why he shares his time and expertise with fellow and future music educators.
What is Mind the Gap? Who is it for and what is it aiming to do?
Mind the Gap was initially created as a supplement for collegiate students who were in the midst of their student teaching during the spring of 2020 when COVID-19 interrupted their college education. With support from the Music for All Education team, Susan Smith and I recognized the “gap” and instantly went to work. Our mission was to create a program to supplement, inspire, and educate our future music educators while offering them timely information that was missed due to a shortened student teaching experience. Since the initial concept, we have broadened the offering and audience for teachers serving in their first five years of the profession. Additionally, collegiate professors are including these episodes as supplemental material to their secondary instrumental methods courses.
What is your role with Mind the Gap?
I primarily serve as a moderator for each episode while selecting our guest panelists and creating the content for each discussion. On occasion, I have served as a panelist, sharing ideas and my teaching experience on any given topic. [Co-moderator] Susan Smith and I carefully discuss and select the topics for each episode. With only a one-hour time slot, we inevitably tackle topics that could span several hours! Pinpointing the goal and desired outcome of each episode when featuring world-class names in music education presents a real challenge. It is our hope each attendee would experience a sampling of the topic at hand, which would further inspire them to seek additional knowledge of how the information can affect their situation. Programming each episode really becomes a task of satisfying the specific needs of many while offering unexpected revelations for each audience member…moderators included!
What are some of your favorite topics and guests you’ve had so far, and why?
Our goal was to provide a variety of topics to address the most pertinent issues a teacher could face in their first years of teaching. Due to the stipulations and guidelines COVID-19 created for teachers, I believe the episodes addressing technology and teaching in a virtual environment have been the most valuable. As a 32-year veteran teacher, I found myself re-tooling my own toolbox that had become tried and true. I quickly realized no blueprint to this teaching model had ever existed and while frustrating, the teaching profession was making history as we reinvented our craft. Personally, it has been a challenge as well as a reward to be able to share ideas with young teachers while actually experiencing their roadblocks on a daily basis. Having been a mentor to young teachers for several years, I am reminded daily of the importance of passing the torch as well as providing inspiration and motivation for them. While it is easy to complain about the pandemic hand we’ve been dealt, I chose to believe we can grow and rebrand music education in a way that will challenge the next generation of teachers AND students.
Why is Mind the Gap and the information it provides important?
In normal circumstances, young teachers are usually left to fend for themselves, relying only on the skills and strategies they were taught as an undergraduate student. Knowing our current teaching environment is unprecedented, young teachers need an outlet for discovery, idea-sharing, and networking within the professional teaching community. Each episode of “Mind the Gap” features leaders from the worlds of music education and the music industry. Our audience has “VIP access” and a front-row ticket to the most innovative professionals in the world. From the beginning, it was our intent to provide an experience to not only educate young teachers but connect them in the most realistic way to their profession. In doing so, we had the potential to motivate and inspire through actual association with individuals who once were only iconic names to them. “Mind the Gap” is a first-hand, relevant experience pertinent to the success of every young music educator.
Is mentorship between music educators important?
It has long been my belief that students who enter the teaching profession do so as a reaction to the inspiration they once received from a teacher in their past. Teaching is a profession that “pays it forward” on a daily basis. Naturally, teachers are mentors as it is the sheer definition of our job title and what we are charged to provide for each of our students. As music educators, our curriculum becomes an even greater inspiration. Dedicating our lives to education is only the entry point of why we chose this profession. For many of us, MUSIC allows us to share our mind and spirit with students and professionals. The intangibility of our artform connects us through emotional responses that not only trigger creativity but also provide a lifetime of memories for all who are so fortunate to experience its magic. Teaching, learning, and mentoring are all “active” forms of what we do as well as the electricity behind our passion. It’s just too powerful and special not to share it with the world. Some of my fondest mentor/mentee memories involve feeling or seeing the musical lightbulb illuminate. Whether in a student or a peer, that spark allowed someone else an experience that led us to music education.
You are an Educational Consultant for Music for All. Why have you given of your time and experience to create the Mind the Gap series, as well as to provide guidance to Music for All for all of its programs?
Speaking of a topic that could “span for several hours…” Where shall I dare begin? Music for All has been a constant motivation of excellence for me, my students, parents, and community for over 30 years. Having taught at the elementary, middle, high school, and collegiate levels in band and orchestra, I am absolutely aware of the experience students receive through their affiliation with this incredible organization. Music for All’s mission to “create, provide, and expand positively life-changing experiences through music for all” is why I have dedicated so many years as a teacher and consultant to this organization. In my opinion, Music for All is where the professional and student worlds intersect. I have been privileged to offer students associated with Music for All the opportunity to work with world-class performers, conductors, and in once-in-a-lifetime performance experiences. There is nothing more satisfying than living vicariously through a student participant at a Music for All event. To me, it’s really about living and giving through an art form that defines how music can shape the heart and soul of an individual. “Life-changing” would be a rather bold acclamation of purpose if it were not true. I am affiliated with Music for All not only because I know it can change lives, but I am living proof that it does.
Do you have any favorite or most-memorable moments from your experiences with Music for All as an educator?
Prior to my role as an Educational Consultant, I was a participating high school band director at Music for All events. As the founding director at Kennesaw Mountain High School, I witnessed the motivation and inspiration Music for All played in our program for the 11 years I served as director. This organization taught my students what was possible on a national level as a high school music education student. Through my students’ involvement, Music for All inspired teamwork, individual challenge while fostering leadership, example, and the importance of managing life skills through both success and disappointment. I believe my “favorite moment” lies under the umbrella of every Kennesaw Mountain High School or Western Carolina University band member who experienced the magic of a Bands of America Regional or Grand National Championships. Whether a competitive or exhibition performance, the goal was exactly the same. EXCEED your individual best because you knew you were performing WITH the best. Music for All continually inspires excellence and celebrates achievement, unlike any other scholastic musical organization. A Music for All “stage” invites everyone, regardless of experience or ability. Through peer support, everyone wins. Character is established. Expectations are defined. Communities unite. Barriers are removed.
Through my involvement with this organization, my students and parents quickly learned how music education was the common denominator among our love for this activity and organization. In these ever-challenging times in our world, Music for All continues to provide positive inspiration to directors, students, and parents. In a nutshell, we are teaching life skills through perseverance, resilience, and hope. Is it any coincidence that Music for All’s mission echoes these sentiments and more? Simply stated the world needs music education and music education needs Music for All!
With the added stressors in our lives right now, you might not be rushing to add something more to your calendar or to-do list. However, in an era dominated by video calls, it’s easier than ever to try out something new with relatively low commitment or involvement. If you never have before, try taking this opportunity to get involved with your student’s music booster club and school board meetings!
There are two organizations that have a strong influence on your child's music education: your booster group, and your school board. It helps to keep a finger on the pulse of these groups as they make decisions that affect your student. An easy way to get started is to take the time to listen to their meetings. This is easier than ever during the pandemic, as most have moved their meetings online.
Find the meeting time and date, plus login information, and put it on your calendar. This information should be available via their email or website. Remember to create a notification to remind you a few moments before the meeting begins; it’s easy to miss a meeting when life gets in the way. If you’re just there to watch and learn, you can join via audio-only, so you don't have to be camera-ready.
Be aware of your school board’s workflow. You should be able to learn the basics by checking the school board meeting schedule on your district’s website. For instance, at a “workshop” meeting, they have discussions, ask questions, make decisions, and generally do the work of the board. Then later (it might be an hour, a day, or a couple of weeks) they’ll have the formal legislative meeting where they vote to approve their decisions (often without any public discussion at all, because that was done at the workshop meeting). Perhaps a district will do the bulk of their work in committee meetings, and then bring results to a full board meeting. Most of the meetings should be open to the public, except for closed sessions where personnel and staffing issues are discussed.
What should you listen for? In his book Music Advocacy: Moving from Survival to Vision, John Benham writes, “No decision should ever be made without someone asking, ‘What will the short- and long-term impacts of this decision be on the students?’” If you can’t answer it for yourself, consider reaching out to an administrator or school board member privately, or level up and ask that question publicly at the school board meeting.
With each agenda item, ask that question. Pay special attention to agenda items that make changes that will affect the music department budget, staffing, and facilities. John Benham cuts to the chase when he writes: “Remember: A cut is any decision made that will negatively impact the ability of any student to participate in making music.”
In the meantime, between meetings, consider beginning or strengthening relationships with board members, administrators, or other stakeholders. It doesn’t even need to be a substantive interaction. When they get to know your friendly face, hopefully they’ll be more willing to work with you on strengthening music education in your district.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of school board meetings in your district, you’re ready to level up. At most school board meetings, you have to be a resident or taxpayer to speak. Learn when during the meeting the board will accept public comments. For instance, comments related to agenda items may be accepted at the beginning of the meeting, while other comments may be reserved until the end of the meeting. You may be asked to introduce yourself and list your address. If your meeting will be broadcast live, and you’re not comfortable sharing that information publicly, reach out to the board secretary or other designated contact to request to speak and give them your address privately ahead of time. Make sure to give them enough time to process it; they may not see your email if it arrives 30 minutes before the meeting begins.
A great way to open communications with your school board and other stakeholders would be to thank them for their support of music education in your district thus far. Even if a given school board member is not a particularly strong supporter at this point, they have allowed your district music program to grow enough that your child was motivated to join. So express gratitude for that! So many kids in your district have had the opportunities they did because there was music in your schools. There will be plenty of opportunities in the future where you can press them to increase their support.
If you’ve read this far, then you’re a music education advocate already! Author John Benham defines it this way: “Music advocacy is based on the belief that making music is essential to learning, the enjoyment of life, and the preservation of culture.” If your child is participating in music, then you already believe this.
Experts suggest that future school district funding will be drastically negatively impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to start advocating now for our music programs; they’re always among the first to be cut.
As a music education advocate, you have one job: Ask for what you and other music education advocates want (more music, improved scheduling, better funding, etc.). Work with your music coalition and music educators to determine those goals for your district. As a parent, or as a taxpayer, it might be tempting to empathize with the sticky financial situation the school district is facing. Don’t let that interfere with what you’re there to do. John Benham explains it this way:
Rule #1: No cuts or compromises should be suggested by any member of the community, including the music coalition, music educators, or the music supervisor!
As an advocate, it’s your job to ask for the moon, and let others decide how to pull it off. Increasing access to and the quality of music education in your district benefits everyone long-term, even if it will take a few more late-night budget meetings to make it happen.
To multiply your advocacy efforts, bring friends! We humans are social creatures and are susceptible to peer pressure. Even if your companions don’t speak, but join you wearing your music parent merch, board members will understand exactly why they’re there. Those who can’t attend in person should send letters. A well-timed “show of force” by your booster group or music coalition may convince your district’s budget committee to look elsewhere for easy budget cuts.
This sure sounds like a lot of work, but not all of it needs to be done right away. You can build up to it. You can recruit a fellow music parent to join you, and you’ve doubled your efforts. Any attempt is better than none at all. Perhaps this year, you send or hand-deliver thank-you notes, or thank the administration and school board in person at their next meeting. Next year, you can work on pulling together the data for the Best Communities for Music Education Survey. But remember, any positive exchange with the decision-makers in your community will reap positive benefits, so look for opportunities! Invite them to a performance, or on a trip. Or even just take a moment to drop them an email, thanking them for their service to the district and for their support of music education. You’ll be glad you did.
Take small steps! When you’re comfortable, level up.
You know how important music education is, but unfortunately, not everyone does. Whatever your role may be, it’s hard to advocate for your school music program when it feels like you’re the only one speaking. Now throw in the consequences of a global pandemic, and it’s harder still. Directors may not be able to meet in person with prospective students, and annual instrument petting zoos aren’t possible. Established recruitment strategies are out of the question.
How can you grow your program—or even maintain it—under these conditions?
Challenge students, past and present, to step up. Ask those who know the benefits of your program to share their positive experiences with the world by giving testimonials!
These testimonials will serve as evergreen pieces of content that you can point to for years to come. Share them with incoming students, parents, and other stakeholders—anyone who could be invested in the success of your program. Testimonials can function as social proof, showing that your program produces responsible citizens. Prospective students and their parents will look to them for a peek into their own futures. For current students, testimonials can reinforce the good choices they made when they joined your program and may help you retain them even longer. They’ll remind alumni and other community members of the value of your program and will inspire them to advocate for music education in your district.
Plus, they’re a dynamic activity that can be executed in any learning environment—in-person or remote, individually or as a team—and submitted digitally. It’s also repeatable: each year brings a new incoming class, plus a new class of alumni, and each passing year creates new experiences. Consider doing this project annually as a sort of “exit interview” for your students before they leave for summer break. Then, watch your library of testimonials—and your entire music program—grow.
Testimonials, as well as other advocacy initiatives, can be made even more effective with the incorporation of Social Emotional Learning (SEL)! Dr. Scott N. Edgar has provided information about SEL, as well as, SEL-related advocacy prompts to incorporate into your testimonials project. Check these out later in this article!
Follow these steps to implement testimonials into YOUR advocacy strategy:
Once your testimonials have been shared widely, share them again.
Not right away, of course, but these are valuable pieces of content that deserve to be seen over and over again. Share different testimonials to different platforms at different times. Depending on how many you get from students, you can share one on your social media channels every few days or every few weeks. Take a look at a calendar and make sure you share them widely just before important decisions are made, like school scheduling or school board budget meetings.
SEL represents a widely-accepted construct that administrators and policymakers at all levels value. Music teachers need to have a plan to capitalize on Musical SEL. While SEL is inherently possible in music classrooms, intentional, embedded, and sustained implementation is necessary to:
(a) maximize social and emotional benefits for students, and
(b) effectively advocate to policymakers and administrators for the value of music education utilizing SEL.
To effectively make an argument, all elements of SEL are needed. Realizing the personal/collective value of music education (self-awareness/identity), understanding how this value will be perceived by decision-makers (social-awareness/belonging), and promoting music education through advocacy (responsible decision-making/agency) culminate in a cohesive SEL process and thoughtful argument. Engaging students in this process not only lends relevance to music education’s value, but also models/teaches students these important skills while forwarding the cause for music education.
Compelling arguments for music education utilizing SEL are:
SEL will be front and center for administrators and SEL can provide one solution to help our students cope, heal, and move forward through music. For more information on SEL in music education, see the Music for All Social Emotional Learning website education.musicforall.org/SEL. For more information on advocating for music education utilizing SEL, see this article by Scott Edgar and Bob Morrison in Teaching Music.
Testimonials are powerful tools to recruit new students and to help state the value of your program. Below are some prompts to help students and alumni get started writing or recording testimonials of their own! Happy advocating!
As a music educator, your focus is all about preparing your students for a performance. But imagine using those performances to strengthen ties with all of your stakeholders: students, parents, administrators, the school board, and your community. With a little preparation—a lot of which could be outsourced to parents and other volunteers—your performances could be the super glue that holds your program together.
As Dr. John Gallagher of the New York State School Music Association suggests,
“Perform, perform, perform. It's what we do.
“The process over the product, though—however, the product being the performance, the concert, the special event—the process is what matters.
“Watching students rehearse, watching the young ones first pick up an instrument. Watch them try to understand this new foreign language, which literally it is. Music notes are just like letters, and you put different letters together, you have a word. You put different notes together, you have a measure. You put different measures together, you've got a whole piece of music—which is really a story.
“So what they're doing is learning this foreign language. They have their kinesthetic movements now where they're learning their fingerings, they're learning bowing techniques. The physicality of it. They're learning how to breathe, they're learning what their trachea does. They're learning how good posture promotes good breathing. So I think the best thing that we can do is perform.”
There are people at every level whose decisions affect the success of your program: prospective students, parents, administrators, and school board members. Consider adding local media contacts to that list; they can magnify your message to those who aren’t able to attend in person. Imagine being able to give all of them a positive interaction with your program—at the same time and in the same place!
Your concerts and performances give all of them an opportunity to see the product of your classroom. It’s so much easier to support something you understand. Help them help you. Make sure that your stakeholders understand what you’re teaching and more importantly, WHY you’re teaching it. Check out this inspiration from conductor and composer Jack Stamp.
Your performances are a force for good in your community. Music brings people together, regardless of their differences in other areas. Giving your administrators and school board members access to that opportunity benefits not only your program, but the administrators and school board members, as well as your community. Find small things you can ask them for; it will pave the way for successful bigger asks down the road. Ask these administrators to write a letter of welcome for your program book. Invite them to attend, and perhaps your school board members, to speak from the stage in support of your program. Psychologically, it will cement in their minds, as well as the minds of your audience, the importance of music education in your community. If they’ve just told your audience how important music education is at your concert, it’ll be much more difficult to make the decision to defund music education at the next school board meeting.
With a bit of promotion, you can fill your auditorium with community members who are likely to vote the next time there's a funding referendum for the school district. If they see your ensembles out in the community performing and delighting audiences, they'll feel like their tax dollars are well spent, even if they don't have a child in school. And don’t you think your elected school board members would love to have access to their voters, while supporting students at a heartwarming musical experience right in their own community?
Don’t just invite them to one performance, either; invite them to every performance at each level of your program! It’ll be easy for your stakeholders to see student progression if they attend elementary, middle school, AND high school performances: it’s practically like time-traveling!
Share programming choices and program notes with your audience. Explain what you expect students to learn from each piece. Let them know it’s not JUST about playing pretty music. You’ll earn bonus points for having your students write these blurbs and present them to your audience.
You know that parents will drop off students early for warm-ups. While they wait in the auditorium, give them something to do and something to consider while they wait.
In your program book, add advocacy materials rather than leaving parts of pages blank. Underneath the repertoire list, fill that space with The Three Brain Benefits of Musical Training, for example. We’ve collected a large selection from reputable sources here.
Deliver that same information another way! If your auditorium is equipped with a projector, show slides that demonstrate the power of music education If you feel like the messaging might be a bit too heavy-hitting, intersperse these slides with candid photos of your students. Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa will be so busy watching for their students’ faces, they’ll hardly notice that they’ve learned something.
In addition, surrounded by the families of other music students, they’ll have social proof that they made a good decision when they encouraged their child to enroll in music. That auditorium may be the very room where families decide that perhaps it would be good if that student continued on to middle school and high school music. That decision may be made even easier if you have older students attend and participate in the performance. Make it easy to identify them by having them wear a tee shirt or jacket with the name of their ensemble.
Your performances are going to happen anyway. Don’t let another one slip by without juicing it for all its worth. Find ways you can slip in messages about the importance of music education to the decision-makers in your audience. As author Dan Pink writes, “To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.” You’ll agree that selling your audience on music education leaves everyone better off in the end!
Each January, America prepares to receive the State of the Union address. Both houses of Congress attend, and the speech is broadcast widely. There is much pomp and circumstance.
Our Executive Branch may be onto something. They’re being proactive about spreading their message, not reactive. Think about that, and then consider how we might adapt that idea for music education.
Consider a “State of the Music Program” address. Once a year, a representative of your music or fine arts department prepares a written (and oral) report and reserves time to present the report to the school board.
There are so many good reasons to do this. First, you get to tell your story, your way, to decision-makers. That’s huge. Consider the alternative: someone else telling your story inaccurately and in a less-than-positive light.
The process of compiling the report will give you perspective on your achievements. You’ll get a birds-eye view of your program. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to plan for the future more efficiently.
You’ll develop relationships with the decision-makers in your community, and you never know how that may pay off. A school board member, remembering the warm fuzzies she felt when you welcomed her to a performance, may be more inclined to speak up on your behalf when budgeting.
You’ll be educating not only the school board but your own stakeholders and the community on the powerful benefits of music education. Again, you never know what that might do. Anyone who’s listening may become a music education advocate like you, and that could make big ripples for years to come.
Much like the president’s annual address, the report should touch on the past and future of the program, working together, and optimism. In the State of the Union address, “Presidents can advocate for policies already being considered by Congress, introduce innovative ideas, or threaten vetoes.”
While the music program is hardly in a position to threaten vetoes, it could (especially backed by their parent booster group) certainly push for policies that the school board is considering, introduce innovative ideas (new uniforms, different types of performances, or different performance venues), or provide a counter-argument to policies under consideration that would negatively impact the music department.
This can be determined between the invested parties. If it’s just the band program, perhaps the band director should present it. Maybe it’s the head of the music department, or the chair of the entire fine arts department. (We wholeheartedly support, by the way, banding together with the other arts disciplines in your district for advocacy. There is significant strength in numbers!)
For best results, the report should be presented by a parent booster, perhaps a member of your music coalition (you do HAVE one, right?) or music booster group. In front of the school board, a parent carries much more weight than a teacher might. A teacher is an employee of the district and serves at the school board’s will. A parent, however, is both the consumer of the school district’s product (education for their child) and perhaps more importantly, a voter, who has the power to vote school board members out of office.
School boards typically begin their budgeting process a full year before it takes effect at the beginning of a new school year. There are a lot of moving parts, so it can’t hurt to get on the school board’s calendar before the process starts. If you’re looking to affect the 2023-2024 budget, for example, I’d say you may want to present the report Spring 2021. The school year is drawing to a close at that point, so it’s a good time to both reflect on the year and plan ahead.
After you present the report in person, publish it on your website so the world can see the amazing work your program is doing. That might be a written report, a video, a slideshow, or some combination thereof.
And while you’re at it, kick it upstairs. There’s no reason why you couldn’t share the report with local media, and government officials at the local, state, and national levels! If you do, you’ll not only be advocating for your own program, but you’ll be helping music programs everywhere.
Obviously, you’ll probably only get the school board’s full attendance and attention at a school board meeting. While you could simply submit the written report (which may or may not get read), an oral presentation to the full school board is much harder to ignore.
In preparation for the big night, you may want to present some or all of the report at a springtime gathering, like an end-of-the-year concert or the unveiling of next fall’s halftime show. It’ll give the presenter a chance to practice while making sure that all stakeholders (parents, students, and educators) are aware of the music department’s message and impact. It will also help your stakeholders to be well-informed, relentlessly positive advocates for your program.
Where to begin
Every year the NAMM Foundation collects their Best Communities for Music Education Survey. It provides a comprehensive snapshot of a music program. If you pull together all the information you’ll need to submit the survey by their deadline at the end of January, you’ll be in great shape to use that information for your “State of the Music Program” address. (Plus, you’ll be all ready to submit to be named a Best Community for Music Education!) While the data itself will probably be a bit dry, you can share it in the written report, while presenting the most dynamic information orally (as well as in written form). Consider adding graphs to illustrate data points in your favor.
Knock ’Em Dead
You may want to consider creating presentation slides of some of the most impactful points you’ll be making. Be careful not to fill each slide with multiple bullet points and clip art, though! You may want to consider tips from Nancy Duarte’s work.
Give ’Em Living, Breathing Examples
Each year at the State of the Union, the First Lady sits with a few invited guests of the President. Often, those people are used as success stories during the course of the speech. You can do the same thing by selecting a few students, alumni, or even community members who have been positively affected by your program. Bonus points if they can attend in-person at the meeting.
Maybe one of your students is a truly gifted performer, or an alumnus has gone on to attend a prestigious college or achieve fame and fortune. Maybe you even want to feature a short performance.
But don’t forget to highlight the “little” things, too—like the student who only came out of his shell after joining marching band, or the kid who was at risk of dropping out but didn’t want to miss music class. Consider asking current students and alumni to provide testimonials about their experience with your program and how they benefitted from staying involved.
One of the best ways to get someone on your side is to be generous. You give them something, and they’ll feel (often subconsciously!) indebted to you, and they’ll actively look for ways to (more than!) even the score. Hook up your administration and school board with tee shirts or other swag, accompanied by a handwritten note thanking them for their support of your program. Even if you present it to a school board member who has been —ahem— LESS than supportive of your program, being publicly thanked for their support will hopefully make them feel (again, often subconsciously!) like they have to stick with that “music supporter” label.
This sure sounds like a lot of work, but not all of it needs to be done right away. You can build up to it. Any efforts are better than none at all. Perhaps this year, you send or hand-deliver thank-you notes, or thank the administration and school board in person at their next meeting. Next year, you can work on pulling together the data for the Best Communities for Music Education Survey. But remember, any positive exchange with the decision-makers in your community will reap positive benefits, so look for opportunities! Invite them to a performance, or on a trip. Or even just take a moment to drop them an email, thanking them for their service to the district and for their support of music education. You’ll be glad you did.
While your State of the Music Program address probably won’t be attended by members of Congress or the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it’s still a huge opportunity for you to recap each year and outline your vision. Maybe you’ll want to have members of your booster group regularly attend each school board meeting…just in case of emergency.) And no matter how it goes, at least you won’t have to endure a carefully crafted “opposition response!”
Originally posted on NAfME.org
Each year, your music program produces a new class of graduates. For four years, those students have dedicated their time, talents, and treasure to their music education. But their diploma doesn’t mean that their time — or their parents’ time — with your program has to end. By investing a bit of thought and effort into your alumni, you’ll reap the benefits of building a large, supportive community around your program. Don’t let these valuable relationships slip through your fingers!
One more responsibility to juggle, one more hat to wear. If you build it right, though, your alumni efforts can be self-sustaining — and mostly hands-off for you! The reason your alumni and their parents are so valuable to your program is because they GET IT. They know exactly what you do and why you do it, and why music education is so important. They’ve been through it.
After four years, they know, like, trust, and thoroughly understand the value of music education, specifically your music program.
After four years, they’ve stored a lot of knowledge about your program that often isn’t tapped efficiently — or at all.
After four years, they are already in the HABIT of contributing to your organization. Take advantage of that! Habits can be a strong ally in this situation.
After four years, they’ve developed a strong emotional connection to your program and the people in it. Don’t be afraid to tug on those heartstrings to get your alumni to help bolster your music program for years to come!
The first step is finding a volunteer or two to spearhead these efforts. Key skills include talking to other alumni (you want someone who can really work a room!), as well as handling administrative and communications tasks. Once you’ve found the right people for the job, here’s where to start.
As soon as possible, start collecting data. That may sound cold and clinical, but it’s the first step to maintaining a warm relationship with your alums. You can‘t have a relationship if you can’t find these people, so start to build systems to collect this information so you can keep in touch with them from here on out.
There are a lot of options available to you, including sophisticated donor management systems, but you can start with a plain old spreadsheet. Here are some of the fields you should include:
You may also want to make note of the following information:
Who’s your employer?
Many employers provide matching funds when an employee donates to a nonprofit. Or if your program solicits sponsorships, having someone with contacts “on the inside” can be invaluable to creating the perfect partnership.
How would you like to be contacted?
This is a great way to find out what channels your alumni prefer to use, so be sure to ask how they would like to be contacted by you, and how often they’d like to hear from you. Any unwanted communications are considered spam by the recipient, and you don’t want your information to fall into that category. Some may want only emails, while others may want to hear from you on Tumblr or check out YouTube videos, and yet another might want to receive a text message anytime your group performs nearby.
When you collect this information, make it easy on your alumni. If it’s difficult, or a pain to do, people won’t do it, even if they fully support what you do. For this year’s graduates, it might just mean exporting their existing data into your new spreadsheet. For others, it might mean having them handwrite their information onto a form at your next performance or event. It might be you calling the last phone number you have for them, and asking them for this information over the phone. Or perhaps it’s a link shared on social media to a web page where they can fill out the information online.
Based on the information you collect and the resources available to you, decide how you’ll continue to communicate with your alumni going forward. Email? Social media? Text message? Snail mail? Phone?
Whichever methods you choose, set up a plan to communicate regularly and consistently. Maybe a quarterly newsletter is sufficient. Or perhaps during marching season when so much is happening, your alumni would like monthly or even weekly updates!
Once you set up your communications plan, find ways to keep your alumni involved. Continue to ask them for their contributions on a regular basis. That might be as simple as asking them to post a photo for you to feature on #ThrowbackThursday, or to spend time training a new parent on the volunteer position that they used to hold.
If they’re local, have them actively advocate for your music program. The word of a tax-paying alum goes a long way in front of the school board. Alumni are close enough to your program to be credible sources, but not so close that people will assume that they will benefit directly from the program. This is what makes them perfect advocates. In fact, you should consider encouraging your alumni to run for school board!
Sometimes parents are so grateful for what music did for their own child that they’d continue to sacrifice financially so that another child can also benefit from your music program. They could sponsor a student individually, contribute toward expenses, or spearhead a scholarship program. Have your alumni contribute toward giving students the same great experience that they had in your program. In return, invite them to attend your performances, or drop in on a rehearsal.
Think of ways that you can utilize the loyalty of your alumni for the benefit of your music program. Consider challenging your crosstown rival.
We all know that there are often friendly section rivalries, so take advantage of those as well. Challenge the brass to take on the woodwinds, or high brass against low brass. See which section can raise the most money in exchange for bragging rights. Or if you know you need a new sousaphone, for example, you may want to target low brass alumni who would be more likely to contribute to that fundraising campaign.
Consider providing a menu of donation opportunities. It’s so much more satisfying to donate when donors know exactly what their dollars will buy. For example, a $10 donation buys an incoming freshman a band camp t-shirt. Fifty bucks buys five cans of spray paint for the props. Seventy-five dollars covers the cost of a tank of gas for the equipment truck. Or $1,000 pays for one school bus for a local competition.
So many involved alumni parents feel heartbroken when their child is leaving the program, and they may feel like they’ll have to give up volunteering for you. Let them know that they can (and should!) continue to contribute and volunteer.
Have former students come back and volunteer. You spent four long years showing them how it’s done, so let them pay it forward. They can be teaching assistants during band camp, or they can fill in volunteer spots at events while current parents watch their students perform.
(IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Please make sure not to allow alumni to crowd out current parents from volunteer opportunities. While it’s tempting to go with the long-time volunteer that’s tried, true and reliable, choosing an alumni parent to volunteer over current parents just teaches an entire generation of current parents that their help isn’t needed. To ensure the strength of your program now and for years to come, you need to engage as many current and alumni parents and volunteers as possible!)
“A global pandemic is not the way you’d want to force music education to modernize,” explains Philip Brown, choral director at Jefferson High School in Bloomington, Minn. “But the new tools we’re using may prove very engaging.”
COVID-19 has caused profound changes to school music programs, with technology taking on elevated importance. Tools like videoconferencing, interactive software and Wenger’s active acoustic technology are helping music educators survive and even thrive in dynamic circumstances.
Through these challenging times, the love of music and music-making keeps educators and students motivated. After the spring 2020 shutdown and summer vacation, a variety of learning models are in place this fall. More than 70 percent of music educators Wenger surveyed indicated rehearsals had resumed, with distancing modifications. However, nearly half the districts were undecided about the future of performances. Whatever the circumstances, affection for music – its creation and appreciation – is a common, unifying bond.
For example, the desire to perform just one minute of a Mozart string quartet inspired orchestra students at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minn., -- in a modified hybrid model this fall – to accomplish this remote feat using the free Acappella app. The four students layered their parts together, creating a basic sense of ensemble music-making that satisfied their longing while “really challenging them” and raising their level of personal accountability to each other, according to their director, Mark Gitch.
Altered expectations are also stretching music educators, while fostering their greater understanding and creativity in engaging students.
“Certainly I’ve learned a lot of things not to do,” says Matt Weidner, band director at Gunnison Valley High School in Gunnison, Utah. “I’ve become more empathetic to different types of family situations, realizing that not everyone’s in the same boat. Each person’s facing different kinds of stress with themselves, their homes and families.”
Choir director Michael Gutierrez at Firebaugh High School, Firebaugh, Calif., initially considered the pandemic as a threat to his program’s survival. “This fall I realized I needed to focus on the social and emotional learning of my students and individual music-making,” he says.
Gutierrez accepted that some students did not want to sing at home, or may not feel comfortable doing so. To keep students engaged, he surveyed them about musical skills they wanted to learn besides singing. After considering their input, he let them choose from four paths: 1) Digital music with Soundtrap online software; 2) Songwriting using Soundtrap and Google Docs; 3) Keyboard, using extra keyboards the school had; and 4) Voice, for students who wanted to focus on singing. He concludes, “I wanted my students to have useful experiences expressing themselves through their own music making, while keeping them emotionally connected to the program.”
As today’s educators modify their expectations, they’re also shifting lesson delivery. Teaching via videoconferencing is “far from optimal” according to Gitch. “We will cover less content with fewer performance opportunities, but what we can teach, we can teach pretty well.”
Varying internet speeds make creating an ensemble sound impossible. Rather, the focus is more on individual attention, which Gitch considers one benefit. “Last spring’s one-on-one lessons over Zoom exposed a lot of students -- for not understanding rhythm, for example,” he recalls.
“Recording yourself to self-assess is one thing, but it’s completely different to record yourself for a duet, knowing someone else is relying on your accuracy,” says Gitch. Students use apps like Acapella or GarageBand for these assignments. He believes that this realization -- “I’m not quite as good as I thought I was” – positively motivated all his students.
For Weidner’s highly motivated students, tools like SmartMusic and Essential Elements Interactive enabled them to greatly accelerate their own personal development during the shutdown. “Those who worked hard online last spring developed into really fine musicians,” he states, adding that some likely finished last school year stronger on their own, without peers holding them back.
To inspire students to practice, band director Natalia Albacete at West Lake Middle School in Humble, Texas, likes Tonara software, which is installed on each student’s computer or smart phone. Tonara listens to them practicing; students earn points based on how long they’re actually playing. A customizable leaderboard tracks students’ practice times; she awards prizes to high performers. “The system creates a nice community and lots of competition for my students; it’s pretty cool,” comments Albacete. Tonara compares simple student recordings to an uploaded teacher example and provides feedback about alignment with the metronome and tone accuracy.
A number of other tools – both new and updated – are helping music educators. Brown’s students each recently received a Music First account, which includes various software. “It’s helping us maintain four essential elements: vocal warmups, sight reading, music enrichment and also rehearsing a few songs,” he explains. Brown believes the website has great potential for tracking individual progress and engaging students, better enticing them to learn and stay focused.
Weidner is using Essential Elements Interactive for his middle school beginners, featuring professionals playing the parts in the students’ method books. There are 5-6 different background accompaniments – piano, pop, reggae, etc. – so students experience playing different music styles.
He also uses the same Canvas online learning platform from graduate school several years earlier. “We can easily set up recordings for the students to turn in on Canvas,” Weidner explains. “If the kids need to hear a recording of us playing, I can post a recording online so all the students can evaluate it.”
For these teachers, another tool is proving helpful: Wenger’s virtual acoustic technology. Installed in a rehearsal space or practice room, it can electronically simulate nine different performance environments, helping accelerate student learning and concert preparation.
“This technology helps teach my students that every environment requires a different kind of performance,” says Jacquelyn Vondette, choir director at West Lake Middle School. Whether a vocal musician or instrumentalist, students hone their critical-listening skills while learning to balance and blend their sound with other musicians in the ensemble.
Under today’s hybrid’s learning models, having an acoustically supportive rehearsal space is especially valuable with fewer students in school. “In high school choirs, there’s power in numbers, says Kalle Akkerman, choir director at Austin High School, Austin, Minn. The fewer students he has in class, the more timid they are as singers.
By bolstering the sound, the Wenger active acoustic system provides more confidence to smaller groups that aren’t necessarily comfortable singing alone. “Now it’s like everyone is singing in their own personal shower,” he notes. System microphones pick up any sound in the room, modify it using digital signal processing technology and broadcast it through the array of speakers in the walls and ceiling – all in real time.
With digital record and playback capabilities, the Wenger active acoustic system also helps create a full ensemble sound that’s not physically possible due to the pandemic, scheduling conflicts, or any other reason.
“Now we can combine our beginner band classes without physically combining them,” explains Tami Goss, band director at Bridge City High School in Bridge City, Texas. “We record different instrument sections, like trumpets and clarinets together, and other sections play along later. This makes concert preparation much easier and I think our concerts turn out better too.”
Along with enabling larger-group “virtual rehearsals”, the integrated digital record/playback capability offers other important benefits such as enabling immediate feedback and self-critique.
“Self-assessment is one of the big analytical concepts we’re working on,” explains Vondette. “As teachers, our goal is for students eventually not to need us – to develop their own skills. Being able to listen to themselves through a high-quality system helps build that part of their brain and analytical ability.”
Her students love the instant gratification of hearing themselves perform and are able to tune and adjust as needed. “I can tell them all day and night: Your vowels need to be taller, Your breath support needs to be stronger, and other concepts,” Vondette adds. “But if they don’t hear the difference, they’re not going to adapt.”
Even before Wenger’s Virtual Acoustic Environment (VAE®) technology was adapted for large rehearsal or performance spaces, it was first developed for individual practice rooms. The patented technology can be incorporated in Wenger’s modular, reloctable Soundlok® Sound-Isolation Rooms or even retrofit into existing built-in practice rooms, called a Studio VAE® system.
Recordings of individual practice sessions or ensemble rehearsals can be easily downloaded for online distribution to students, to support their at-home practice. Finally, the technology’s key benefits also help satisfy the National Music Standards for K-12 education, related to students’ ability to create, perform and respond to music.
As everyone eagerly anticipates a “new normal” in music education and society overall, Akkerman is also looking ahead to the creativity these unusual times will likely inspire.
“Technology has helped us be together, and also to make and share music, but what kind of music is being created now?” he wonders. “All music is a reflection of a time and place. In ten years, I will be excited to look back at what’s come out of the pandemic; I’m sure people will still be writing music about this time.”
Our new Music for All Impact series will introduce you to some of the incredible advocates of Music for All as they share their stories of Music for All’s impact on them and why there were compelled to pay it forward to ensure that others feel that impact as well. In today’s spotlight, we are thrilled to introduce you to Bill Galvin.
How did you become involved with Music for All?
My first exposure to Music for All, then Bands of America, was in the mid-1980s when I took the band from New Brighton High School to a regional marching band competition in Pittsburgh. In retrospect, we weren’t very good and we didn’t do all that well but the students were excited about their participation and I was challenged to improve my teaching and improve the band.
What attracted you to the cause?
Early on I was simply looking for a new experience, hence our participation in that initial regional. I had been teaching over ten years I was looking to grow as a teacher and to provide growth opportunities for my students. I found that in Bands of America.
What is your favorite Music for All memory?
Wow. The memories come flooding back. As a teacher, there are too many to enumerate but I have always had a soft spot for young people achieving, accomplishing, and being successful. Those moments kept me fresh and challenged throughout my career. As a parent, the opportunity to experience events, and subsequent successes, with my son and daughter during their high school years are lasting and valued impressions.
What impact has music education had on your life?
I can’t imagine doing anything different with my life, music was oxygen for me, and sharing quality music with my students – educating – provided daily goals and expectations.
What does Music for All's mission mean to you?
The Music for All mission statement of “providing positively life-changing experiences” sets an expectation for everyone, staff, volunteers, participants – it is inescapable. It holds me, us, accountable for all we do relative to our participation. Today, more than ever, we need accountability across society and the lessons learned through Music for All provide the perfect example for all of us, and most importantly, our young people.
What compelled you to be a donor?
Being a donor is a small opportunity to give back to an organization that has provided so many lasting memories and positive growth lessons for me, my children, and my students. It pleases me to know that in some small manner I am making a difference. My continued involvement in Music for All events post-retirement enables me to witness first-hand the positive influences being created for students and teachers alike.
In your opinion, what is the most important work that Music for All does?
First and foremost, Music for All advocates for music education, the growth of the company over the years in that regard has been exceptional. Additionally, they continue to raise the standard for excellence in teaching and to espouse ideals for professionalism within the teaching profession.
What do you wish people knew about Music for All?
Every decision by the staff and advisors is made after thoughtful consideration relative to the mission statement, the best interest of the students, teachers and parents is always paramount in every decision. The Music for All staff is incredibly dedicated, they work tirelessly to ensure every program, event and experience is presented at a very high level.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating?
Do it! It will make you feel good and you will be nurturing young people in the process. My years of involvement with Music for All have illustrated the need for donations. The programs offered simply cannot exist on “user fees” alone, your donation makes a positive difference.