5 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Festival

1. Is the festival scheduled in an appropriate venue?

Choosing a festival with a great performance venue really makes a big difference to your students.  Many times, we’ve heard from discouraged directors who scheduled another festival where a school cafeteria, a multi-purpose room, or a gymnasium was considered a suitable venue.  At Forum, that’s just not our style!  Forum venues include college theatres, local auditoriums, or civic theatres that support good acoustics and a high level of professionalism.  A good sound system and professional set-up encourages your students to perform their best.

2. What large equipment will be provided?

Don’t assume that you will or won’t have to bring large percussion equipment to the festival.  The festival should provide a percussion list that will be made available to your students onstage.  Knowledge is power and it’s good to know what will be available to you.

3. Is it non-competitive or a competition?

It’s fun to be the winner of a competition, but perhaps your students aren’t ready for that quite yet.  After 25 years, I’ve realized that many top groups steer clear of the ranking at competitive festivals in lieu of an encouragement-style, educational festival.  Competitions certainly have their place, but student musicians deserve support and constructive feedback as well as an opportunity to hear and appreciate other student ensembles without worrying about their position on the leaderboard. We want students to leave feeling good about their performance and their experience with Forum.

4. How can I make sure this is a learning experience?

  • Question the festival organizer about the festival format so you can talk to your students about theatre etiquette and how to be generous audience members and participants.
  • Request a blank adjudication form to review with your students.  Consider having them bring the form to quietly “adjudicate” other performances to discuss back in the classroom.
  • Delve deeper into the literature chosen by you as well as other groups.  Cultural, historical, as well as musical threads are interwoven in music and this is your opportunity to develop your students’ knowledge about each of these elements.
  • Where and when does the awards ceremony take place?  Plan to attend to support the other festival performances and to see how everything comes out. Your students deserve the chance to be a part of this important event.
  • Will the judges write and record comments that can be used back in the classroom as a teaching tool?  At Forum, we also provide a clear recording without comments so your students can hear and comment on their own performance.

5. How will my students feel when they leave the festival?

If you are training your students to play to the best of their abilities and you are not communicating a level of disappointment regarding the results, your students should leave the festival with a positive feeling about moving forward with their music studies.  Evaluation is a good thing, if it is handled in a constructive, encouraging, and positive way.  Choose music that your students can play.  The biggest complaint from adjudicators is with directors who select music that is too challenging for students to perform.  Direct the ensemble in front of you. By giving your students a chance to feel successful, they will focus on sharing their music with their peers and feeling satisfied that the hours of preparation were worthwhile.