Music for All has determined we will be unable to hold an in-person Summer Symposium in 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Please watch the full statement above, or read the transcript below.
FEB. 25 2021 – INDIANAPOLIS, IN – On behalf of our Music for All staff and board of directors, I hope that you and your family are well.
We know that this continues to be a difficult time for families, students, and teachers. However, this virus will not change student ability to grow and learn. Music for All is committed to providing experiences that help build resiliency and joy.
While this pandemic crisis presents challenges, it has also reminded us of the precious gifts of family, the boundless promise of children, and provided us with the opportunity to find new ways to serve students and teachers.
Music for All places the safety and well-being of our camp community and everyone associated with our programs and events as the highest priority.
Music for All has decided not to hold our Music for All Summer Symposium in 2021. We arrived at our decision in cooperation with our camp directors and coordinators, considering, including:
We did not make this decision quickly. It is based on input from health experts, program leaders, and Music for All’s decades of experience managing a successful camp.
There is hope! The data trends, and information related to the vaccination and mitigation efforts are encouraging. At Music for All, we are busy preparing for an exciting Bands of America Championship season this fall with 24 Regionals, Super Regionals, and the Grand National Championships.
We are also working on virtual summer learning experiences that will offer engaging and meaningful earning offerings. Stay tuned for those details in the coming weeks. You can sign up for updates at camp.musicforall.org.
On behalf of all of us at Music for All, I hope you have a safe and successful finish to this school year. We hope to see you at Bands of America this fall, and at our summer offerings in a few months!
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!
New Performing Arts Center Benefits Entire Community
Before becoming the renowned performing arts and STEM school that it is today, I.M. Terrell High School was a secondary school located in Fort Worth, Texas. The school opened in 1882 as the city's first public school for black students, during the era of formal segregation in the United States. The school was renamed I.M Terrell High School in 1921, in honor of the former principal. Under the legacy of G. A. Baxter, the music program in the mid-20th century produced many of the prominent jazz and rhythm and blues musicians of that era.
Since then, the school has been through extensive remodeling and expansions and is now the home of the I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and Visual and Performing Arts).
The campus combines the original historic school building with a new 65,000-square-foot performing arts center (PAC), connected by a unifying courtyard. It sits atop a hill with beautiful downtown views and is a beacon for the District and the community.
The PAC, featuring a 900-seat theatre, was a focal point, built to serve the many students focused on theatre, music, and other fine arts within the school, but to also serve the surrounding community.
The PAC expansion team included the school’s administration, Corgan Architects, WJHW Theatre Consultants, Batts Audio, Video and Lighting, Turner Construction and Wenger Corporation.
It was important to preserve the historical nature of the century-old school everywhere except the new performing arts center. The new center would house the latest technology and top-notch equipment to best serve the needs of the variety of performances held there.
“We have other performance venues in Fort Worth, but this would be the perfect size not only for the school but for the district and the community. We have various arts organizations that are always looking for affordable space,” said Christina Walk, Head of Visual and Performing Arts at I.M. Terrell. “We worked with community partners who all agreed that the acoustics were important to make every type of performance sound great.”
“We met with all of the different groups who would be using the space,” explained Jason Mellard, Architect with Corgan. “We talked with every teacher, fine arts directors, music directors and anyone to make sure we met their needs.”
WJHW recommended installing a Wenger Diva® Acoustical Shell with a maple veneer finish. The shell has ten towers and three rows of ceilings.
“We coordinated and communicated frequently with the theatre consultants and structural and mechanical engineers,” Mellard said. “We needed to make sure we supported the weight properly, provided power where it needed to be, and coordinated with the contractor to ensure conditions were correct before installing the shell. There’s always that nitty-gritty detail of the specific dimensions to ensure everything lines up perfectly.”
“The shell can be set up in any configuration very quickly and very safely,” said Glenn Bennett, Director of Dance and Theatre with the Fort Worth Independent School District. He loves having a new space with the latest technology to use at the school and share with the community. “To be able to tuck those large units up into the fly loft when not in use is pretty amazing.”
As the shell was being designed, Mark Batts, CEO of Batts Audio, Video and Lighting (AVL) suggested the move away from incandescent lighting. He recommended multi-colored lighting in and around the stage area.
“Being able to bring them multi-colored LEDs made an impact, Batts said. “One of the first performances they hosted in that space was the United States Air Force Band. The combination of the color and some moving heads that we installed provided an extra bit of flare.”
Batts says they also installed accent strips that provide another unique element.
“I love having the opportunity to bring those fun things into spaces,” he said. “You want your client to say, ‘Wow, I’ve only seen this on Broadway.’ That’s your highest compliment.”
Batts also managed the theatre’s rigging, choosing J.R. Clancy products across the board. They installed three Titan® Hoists, 28 PowerLift® Hoists, a fire curtain line shaft hoist, and a SceneControl™ 15 with a remote operating pendant.
“We really appreciated that Wenger was very deliberate in making sure we knew how things worked,” said Tim Brendler, Head of the Visual and Performing Arts Department. “Our entire team appreciated that they walked us through every element and possible configuration. The flexibility that it affords us is wonderful.”
The stage includes a custom-designed STRATA® Orchestra Pit Filler, which can be quickly installed with only a small crew. It provides strong support above and open space below with an innovative column-beam design. The acoustically dampened decks fit snugly against the stage to create an extremely quiet, integrated surface.
A Black Box Theatre provides a separate, smaller performance space where Wenger’s StageTek® Seated Risers and Staging equipment can be configured in a variety of ways. There is also a portable sound system with different places to plug in the speakers and LED lighting with a dimmer rack to set the mood for any given performance.
“We can host a larger audience by placing seated risers around the entire room and then performing in the round,” Brendler said. They have hosted robotics competitions and small theatre productions, too. Similar to the shell in the theatre, he says the flexibility of the risers is key.
“It’s great to have so many different levels,” he said. “When hosting show choir competitions, it is great to be able to quickly and easily manipulate the configuration.”
The new wing also included band, orchestra, and choral rooms.
The band room houses Wenger Nota® chairs and Roughneck™ music stands, AcoustiCabinets® that line the walls for instrument storage, and four Soundlok® Sound Isolation Rooms with VAE® technology for individuals and small groups to practice.
The rooms are 25 percent quieter than others and have the correct amount of absorption and diffusion so the musician can clearly hear the best possible sound. Virtual acoustics allow students to hear themselves play in different performance spaces and get immediate feedback with record/playback during the practice session.
“When the students are in school, those rooms are used all day every day,” explained Brendler. “They give the students a safe space where they can practice in private. The record, playback, and other capabilities are fun and give them extra incentive to get their practice time in.”
There are already plans to add instrument repair and piano tuning classes which could be held in the ensemble rooms.
The nearby choral room includes a whiteboard for teacher notes, Nota chairs, StageTek risers, Rack ‘N Roll® Garment Racks, four more Soundlok Sound Isolation Rooms, and eight music library units.
Sound and video systems in the choral and band rooms have integrated processors connecting them with each other as well as the auditorium. If they host a large program or competition, the performers waiting in the band room can hear and see what’s happening in the auditorium to gauge when it’s their turn to perform.
“Everyone loves these rooms dedicated to the band, orchestra, and choir,” said Walk. “They were well designed, and the windows offer spectacular views of downtown Fort Worth.”
The new PAC is stunning and impressive by all accounts. Wide hallways lead to generous specialty classrooms with all of the latest technology and useful equipment. Everything about it is impressive.
“The community loves it. The symphony plays there, the opera plays there and the Texas Ballet Theater plans to return with their annual Nutcracker performance. When it opened, it was always packed and has made a tremendous difference for the district and the community,” said Mellard.
“The Diva shell and the variety of spaces enable us to do what we love: collaborate to a higher degree at a professional level,” said Brendler.
And the extra effort to get the sound right was well worth it.
“Everyone loves this space,” said Walk. “If it didn’t have excellent acoustics, it wouldn’t have been worth building. In this hall, everything sounds great.”
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.
Many of us are taxed from online learning. It is an unavoidable situation that has many educators reinventing music classes from the ground up. If you’re craving a taste of “normal" opportunities for your students, Music for All has spring semester educational experiences that can help.
Music for All is offering opportunities for schools to perform live from their home communities and share the amazing things your students are creating with the world. This past fall, participating ensembles in our Live Showcases valued the opportunity to perform this fall sharing scholastic performances from around the country through our online viewing platform. Each performance was broadcast in real time on video.musicforall.org so families and communities could see what their students were able to accomplish.
For many schools, COVID-19 safety guidelines prevent the gathering of an audience to see what great work your students are doing. Music for All’s Live Showcases provide a way to share your performance safely with audience members across the country.
With the same equipment you use to conduct virtual classes, you can stream your performance to Music for All. Music for All can take a stream from your school via phone, tablet, or camera and broadcast it to an audience through video.musicforall.org. This is not a pre-recorded video take. This is live, in the moment.
We think it is important to provide an opportunity for students to get that pre-performance flutter, energy, and experience that only comes with live performance. Plus, you can share this opportunity with parents and community members so that they can enjoy what your students have worked so hard to achieve. Best yet, supporters can watch from their homes in a safe environment.
We know that everyone has different restrictions, rehearsal times, number of students, and opportunities. Music for All believes in the importance of sharing your successes – no matter what that looks like this year. This is important not only for your students, but for the community and world to see that music education is alive and students and teachers are working together to do amazing work.
Every ensemble has the opportunity to receive evaluator feedback on their performance opportunity. A panel of three renowned music educators will be selected to provide audio feedback about your group’s performance. They will be watching your performance live as it happens and recording real-time feedback that will be sent to you just a few minutes after your performance is complete.
Music for All Live Showcases are $100 for a 15-minute performance opportunity.
Adding performance evaluation brings the total cost to $275 for a 15-minute performance and feedback from three evaluators.
Tickets for spectators are $15 per household or device. Purchasing a “ticket” is the equivalent of purchasing one login, so you can watch solo or as a household.
Enroll your ensemble today at instruction.musicforall.org!
The Patrick John Hughes Parent Booster Award recognizes the extraordinary commitment, dedication, support, and sacrifice of music parents and boosters across the nation by shining a spotlight on a recipient who exemplifies these qualities.
The award is named in honor of Patrick John Hughes, the father of Patrick Henry Hughes. Patrick Henry is a remarkable young man who, despite physical challenges that would seem overwhelming to many, has excelled as a musician and student, singing and playing piano and trumpet with the Louisville Marching and Pep Bands, with the help of his father, who tirelessly maneuvers his son’s wheelchair through the formations with the other 220+ members of the Cardinal Marching Band.
During Music for All’s Live Pledge Event on November 14, 2020, the 2020 Patrick John Hughes Parent Booster award was awarded to Bill Montgomery of Bellbrook High School, OH.
Mr. Montgomery has been a dedicated volunteer with Bellbrook High School in Ohio since 2005 when his daughter joined the band as a flute player. Over the last fifteen years, he has served as trustee, chairman, and pit dad. No matter his role, Bill has always been there for every single musician at Bellbrook. His fellow band boosters say Bill genuinely cares about the kids in the band - he learns their names and what they play, and he always has a high five and words of encouragement for them.
Bill is Bellbrook’s resident master pizza maker, an essential aspect of Bellbrook band’s concession stand fundraising efforts. Beyond this culinary duty, Bill volunteers his time to build props, attend parades and competitions, and train new pit dads. Bill is known for taking new volunteers under his wing to show them the ropes and make them feel welcome. His humble, passionate work ethic sets the tone for other parents and volunteers.
“Year after year, the Bellbrook Band has been the fortunate beneficiary of Bill’s extraordinary character and true selflessness. I am lucky indeed to know him, and even luckier that he chooses to spend his valuable time working for this organization,” says Barbara Siler, director of bands at Bellbrook High School.
Congratulations Mr. Montgomery!
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!”