Why Strings?

The American String Teachers Association (ASTA) is an organization whose mission is to provide professional development, career building and support, and a community of peers for all teachers of stringed instruments. The organization promotes advocacy for string programs and string teachers through many brochures and publications available on their website at www.astaweb.com

As members of ASTA’s corporate The String Industry Council, Forum Festivals proudly supports and serves the needs of string educators and students.  As music programs are launched throughout the country, we thought it would be helpful to share a reprint of one of their most popular brochures promoting recruitment and advocacy.

Why Strings?

Participation in a school and/or studio string instrument program enhances a child’s quality of life. It provides creative, emotional, and social opportunities and unifies communities.

  • Research on brain development has shown string players brains are larger, have more neural pathways, and process information faster.
  • All children are capable of learning to play a stringed instrument, regardless of “talent,” “giftedness,” or musical background. String classes have been successfully taught to diverse populations and in diverse settings.
  • Unlike most other musical instruments, stringed instruments come in a variety of sizes so that children as young as three years old can begin instruction.
  • Orchestral music, which is considered one of Western culture’s greatest treasures, cannot be performed without stringed instruments.
  • Contemporary music increasingly relies on strings. Some of the popular musical genres that feature stringed instruments include jazz, country, pop, and various folk styles. Other world cultures also use stringed instruments in their music making.
  • Lifelong opportunities to perform on a stringed instrument abound. According to the American Symphony Orchestra League, opportunities exist for adult musicians in more than 1,600 orchestras in the United States. Professionals in all fields have played stringed instruments for lifelong fulfillment, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein.
  • Playing a stringed instrument enhances the enjoyment of music, and leads to a lifelong appreciation of music. An estimated 25 million people currently attend concerts each year in the United States.
  • Colleges and universities may need string players for their orchestras and may offer scholarships to qualified students regardless of their intended academic major.
  • Opportunities also abound for undergraduate string education and performance majors. Today, more than 8,000 string teaching positions exist in public schools alone, and performers have opportunities to teach in studios, community music schools, and in orchestra community outreach programs.

Communities benefit from area schools that offer a full complement of fine arts courses, including stringed instrument study. Businesses often appraise the cultural climate of a region when making decisions about where to locate.

In every school, there are students who are inherently attracted to the sound of stringed instruments. Without a string and orchestra program to provide access to string education, students are denied the possibility of realizing their potential.

For information about the American String Teachers Association, please visit our website: www.astastrings.org

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.   

Setting Up a Jazz Program

Developing a jazz band at your school can be fun and inspiring.  A jazz band can serve as a mighty tool for recruiting. It helps students with sight reading.  It teaches leadership, self-confidence, and reinforces creative expression.  If your background does not specifically include jazz performance, you can still start a jazz program for your students.

Prepare yourself:

  1.  Observe colleagues with strong jazz programs.  Attending their rehearsals and concerts, both at the high school and college level, will help you build your skills.
  2. Listen to Big Band recordings – current and classic.  Don’t forget about the excellent music from local or regional bands.
  3. Attend workshops and conferences that include help for beginning jazz band instructors.
  4. Research materials appropriate for teaching and encouraging improvisation – the whole point of jazz!
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask.  Many jazz educators can advise you or present a “Jazz Band 101” presentation to your group.

Other considerations before you get started: 

  1.  What equipment will we need?
    • Small trap set – local instrument store can advise.
    • Electric bass and amp.  Stand up bass will need appropriate strings and a pickup.
    • Piano
    • Mutes:  Harmon, Bucket, and Cup Mutes for trombone and trumpet sections
    • A couple of beginning method books to teach style and rhythmic articulation
  2.  Should you select members by audition or all-inclusive?
  3. When will jazz band meet? If outside school hours,how will rehearsals be set up?
  4. Jazz band is an added commitment.  Inform parents & students early about concert dates and rehearsals.  Expect more from your jazz students – they must come to class prepared and responsible to the group.
  5. Encourage students to double on secondary instruments.  Adjudicators love to see flexibility and creativity, but don’t sacrifice intonation and proficiency.
  6. Recruit from outside your band program.  Don’t overlook a guitarist, a vocalist, or a pianist not already in your concert band.  There are some jewels out there waiting to be discovered.

Some points to sell your idea to students, parents, and administration:

  1. How will jazz band benefit the instrumental program?  Students develop new concepts, better recognize musical nuance, learn new vocabulary, and prepare for leadership in other groups.
  2. Stronger, more talented players can be featured one on a part.
  3. Jazz is known as “The American Art Form.”  Learning about traditional jazz artists and its historical value shores up what students are already learning in history and literature classes.
  4. Cooperation among members – an essential consideration.  Although jazz allows for solo and improvisation, it also requires balance and teamwork.  As Wynton Marsalis noted, “You must listen.  You must have a conversation.  The group must work together to achieve its goals.”

Okay – you did it!  You established a jazz band at your school.  Now what?

  1. When ready, take your band on the road! An encouragement-style festival offers helpful written and recorded feedback from adjudicators.  At Forum, we record performances which can be played back in your classroom – a motivator for improved playing!
  2. Look for opportunities to showcase the jazz band!  They can play at Open House, fast food openings, sporting events – lots of experience and lots of PR!
  3. Introduce all kinds of jazz in your classroom – Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Marian McPartland, Dave Brubeck, Diana Krall, the list goes on and on!  All the greats and all the standards.
  4. Join the ranks of your jazzy colleagues.  Join a jazz educator’s organization (i.e. California Alliance for Jazz), invite a colleague to rehearse your band.  Invite a jazz artist, or guest jazz band from the local college to visit your classroom.  Contact Forum if you would like a referral for a jazz band clinician!

Lots of things to consider, but at its core, you’ll decide whether developing a jazz program is something you want for your students.  Rewards are plentiful, but there’s no shortage of hard work.  Only you, given your background, your motivation, and your school’s make up, can determine this.  But once you get started, keep on swingin!

How to Feed A Student Group

When taking a student group on any trip, you are faced with the prospect of feeding a lot of hungry teenagers.  Feeding the endlessly ravenous can be a pretty daunting task.  How about a short list of ideas to feed the crowd?

  •  Meal vouchers – Offered at most theme parks, students can individually redeem vouchers for specific menu items or for dollar amounts as listed on the card.
  • Pizza for all!  – Most pizza restaurants will deliver pizza, salad, soda, and paper goods to a location you determine.  Check with the hotel to see if outside food is allowed on the premises.  Or arrange delivery at a park or picnic area.  Pizza is economical, popular, and always well-received by the student crowd.  Always remember – encouraging students (and adults) to clean up after themselves will ensure another invitation!
  • Buffets and Cafeterias.  Choices, choices, choices – always a great option for picky eaters.  Buffet restaurants usually offer student-friendly menus, quick service, and space for groups.  Buffet restaurants such as Golden Corral, Souplantation, Clifton’s Cafeteria, Hometown Buffet, and a myriad of local restaurants that serve buffet-style have low prices, lots of choices, and a student-friendly atmosphere.
  • College campuses.  If you are performing at a college campus, check out the options in the college cafeteria.  They are designed to feed a young, hungry population on a low-income budget.  Boxed lunches or cafeteria-style eating is often conveniently available.
  • Food Courts.  Many large shopping centers feature a central food court which can handle groups.  Most likely, students will need to bring their own money, but they can choose what they want, including familiar fast food restaurants that cater to the teenage crowd.
  • Destination meal vouchers.  Some sightseeing destinations have great meal plans.  For example, at Pier 39’s program in San Francisco, vouchers at three different price points will buy a variety of items at many restaurants.  At Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, an all-day dining plan provides a wristband allowing students to select an entrée and side as often as every 90-minutes throughout the day at a budget-friendly price. 
  • Finale Dinner or Welcome Dinner.  Here’s a chance to build in a nice restaurant meal for your group on either your first evening or the final evening of the trip.  We have many suggestions for these restaurant meals that include meal, beverage, dessert, gratuity and tax – all inclusive.  Cement the good vibes by kicking off the trip with a Welcome Dinner.  Or relieve some lasting memories and educational high points with a Finale Dinner on your last evening! 

We’d love to hear your ideas.  As you have traveled with your student groups, what best works for your students?  Feel free to exchange ideas for great meal options by emailing us at office@forummusicfestivals.com.  Bon Appetit!

Why Should I Register Early?

  1. It takes the pressure off remembering to register when school starts.
  2. Your first choice date is locked in.
  3. You can announce your plans to parents & boosters at Back-to-School night.
  4. Potential students are attracted to sign up for band, orchestra, choir, etc.
  5. More time for fundraising!
  6. It allows more time for grant writing or to request funding from community groups.
  7. You give enough notice for the festival to hire expert adjudicators who will address your group’s specific musical genre.
  8. Early bird discounts may be available!
  9. More time to musically prepare your ensemble for the event!
  10. Because organized directors PLAN AHEAD!

Checklist for end of the year!

  1. Include your students in a big musical thank you to administration & staff for supporting the music program this year!
  2. Include your students in a big musical thank you to their parents and boosters!
  3. Tell your students to sign up for next year and give them a reason why they should!  (Music trip, friendship, choir/band/orchestra banquet)
  4. Clean and repair!  Do yourself a favor (or the colleague who follows you) when school ends by cleaning your classroom and repairing your equipment!
  5. Make time for some end-of-the-year fun in the classroom!  After the final concert when the days are winding down, consider having a fun day with Name That Tune, or Karaoke or Musical Charades.
  6. Plan now for next year.  Don’t forget to register for your first choice festival date!  (www.forummusicfestivals.com)
  7. Give yourself a pat on the back!  You made it through another school year.  Time to recharge and take care of yourself so you’ll be ready to start again with another roomful of fresh faces!

NYC Music Teacher Honored as Top 10 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week!  Never too late or too early to thank a teacher for his or her impact on your life! 

Melissa Salguero built an remarkable music program at P.S. 48 in New York City.  When she started, the program had absolutely no instruments, no funding, and the school hadn’t had a music program for over thirty years.   With grants, teaching awards, and an enthused teaching style, she welcomes any student who wishes to participate in the music program, regardless of financial hardship.  P.S.48 is located in the South Bronx, one of the country’s poorest congressional districts.  Not only has Ms. Salguero been recognized as a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize, she has also been awarded Lincoln Center Arts Teacher of the Year, and a 2018 Grammy Music Educator Awards, among many other accolades and honors. 

“Music education teaches us more than the “right” notes.  It teaches us to create, express, and it connects us all,” she exclaims.

At Forum Music Festivals, we have the good fortune each week during the spring to see hundreds of music teachers hard at work impacting the lives of their students. At festival, the students and teacher can see what their efforts have achieved.  From the NAfME website, we share a few thoughts written by music educators who posted about being a music educator.

  • Being a music teacher means I get to reach students who other teachers may have “written off.” Everyone is creative!
  • Teaching means sharing the world of music with my students! 
  • Being a music educator is more than teaching the music, it’s about teaching life, love, & being a “family” 
  • Being a teacher means I get to teach students to love and appreciate music as much as I do! 
  • I love teaching how to play with emotion.
  • Being a music teacher means that I get to live life around creativity. It is so exciting to work with students as they find a place where they can truly think and create within the school.

So, hats off to all of you in music education! You are doing challenging, but important work!  We appreciate you and you deserve every cheer and smile you receive this week!

Celebrity Musicians

Your students are lining up to choose classes for next year. The time to recruit students for your music program continues.  How about sharing with your school community a list of famous people who participated in school music programs?  Maybe you’ll light an artistic fire in a celebrity of the future!

  1. Blake Lively – The Gossip Girl showed off her singing and dancing skills in Show Choir at Tarzana High School.
  2. Brad Pitt – Sang in his high school choir in Springfield, Missouri
  3. Steven Spielberg – Clarinetist – You’ll hear him featured with a high school orchestra in the movie “Jaws.”
  4. The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, wanted to play the flute, but was assigned the tuba in school.
  5. Anne Hathaway performed with her award-winning high school choir at the All-Eastern U.S. High School Honors Chorus at Carnegie Hall.
  6. President Barack Obama, known for being a notable public speaker was a member of his high school’s choir in 1977.
  7. Who knew that Gwen Stefani was also a flutist at Loara High School?
  8. Tina Fey was a member of her school choir and played the flute at Upper Darby High.
  9. Race car driver Danica Patrick also sang in her high school choir and played flute in the band.
  10. Barbra Streisand went to high school with Neil Diamond. Both sang in the school choir.
  11. Samuel L. Jackson, French Horn and Trumpet, marched in his high school band and played in the orchestra.
  12. Joe Montana – NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback had another lesser known talent off the football field – singing in his high school choir.
  13. Fergie – Lead singer of The Black Eyed Peas, sang in choir at Mesa Robles Middle School and Wilson High School.
  14. Halle Berry – Flute player at her high school in Ohio.
  15. Ewan McGregor – Turns out Obi Wan Kenobi is a pretty good French Horn player having studied seriously in his native Scotland.
  16. Jennifer Garner – A self-confessed band geek, Jennifer Garner serenaded Reese Witherspoon on Instagram for her birthday – full marching uniform and saxophone.
  17. Pharrell Williams played the snare drum and keyboards and met his best friend in summer band camp.
  18. Emily Blunt played the cello in high school and showed off her skills in her early movie role, “My Summer of Love.”
  19. NBA Star, Vince Carter, and actress, Eva Longoria, both served their high school marching bands as drum major.

Can your students find any other famous folks who got their creative energy by performing in high school music programs? 

Exploring Music Down a Different Trail

Over the past 24 years, we’ve hosted thousands of music groups at festivals.  But, guitar ensemble registrations have markedly risen over the last 10 years.  NAfME’s ongoing series, “50 States of Guitar Class,” features interviews with respected music educators across the country.   According to the series, some programs have developed because of the teacher’s own familiarity with the instrument; other programs have grown out of traditional genres – band, orchestra, and choir – with non-guitarist instructors who’ve been tasked with teaching guitar. To read the ongoing series (they are currently on #7 out of 50), visit NAfME’s site.

Here’s some highpoints from the articles plus our own observations as festival producers:

  1. Guitar is hugely popular. The guitar uniquely speaks to teens and can be played in many different genres of music.  Its versatility appeals to students who love folk, jazz, classical, blues, Flamenco and rock. Its appeal is enduring.
  2. “Guitar gave several struggling students something to look forward to on a daily basis.” So reported Vicki Boyle, Guitar Teacher in Bristol, Rhode Island.  Guitar students often have unique personalities.  With guitar instruction, you’ll likely see students thrive who wouldn’t necessarily fit into a regular band or choral set up.
  3. Offering performances in many different venues builds a guitar program by exposing students to the community and other students. “…treating the guitar ensemble as any other ensemble such as band or chorus has helped grow the program. The guitar ensembles are revered throughout our towns and in our school” (Vicki Boyle)
  4. A guitar is relatively inexpensive. Most students will be able to find access to a guitar.
  5. Learn as much as you can from folks who know. Successful programs often have teachers who network with local colleges or state music associations.  Tap into the expertise of college guitar majors to offer “master classes” or to mentor exceptional young guitarists.  Chris Perez, a Director of Guitar Studies in Orlando, Florida encourages non-guitarist music educators to collaborate with colleagues. “Working with others and asking questions will help you be more solid in delivering quality guitar instruction and music teaching to your students. “

Forum Festivals hires college-level guitar educators as adjudicators.  The ensemble can demonstrate technique and get constructive feedback.  As you consider competitions or festivals, ask who will be adjudicating.  If your school’s band, orchestra, or choir is going on a music trip, consider welcoming your guitar ensemble to come along.

  1. You are teaching a lifelong skill.  Some students may go on to successful careers, but all will develop an appreciation for the instrument and be able to perform for friends and family. Sometimes we get so caught up in lessons, concerts, fundraisers, paperwork, etc., that it can be easy to forget the power music has to change lives,” reminds Steven Sabet of the Thomas Jefferson Arts Academy in Elizabeth, NJ.
  2. It’s okay to learn technique and play songs, according to Vin Downes who teaches in New Jersey. Many at-risk students are interested in studying guitar, but meeting them where they are means teaching the fundamentals in order to play a few songs to get started. Its benefits include teamwork in an ensemble, but it is also an individual instrument.
  3. Guitar instruction doesn’t take away from band, orchestra, or choir enrollment. Schools offering guitar usually show an overall increase in music studies.

As guitar instruction continues to thrive in schools across the country, we’re very pleased to welcome an increasing number of guitar ensembles to festival.  Networking with college-level guitar educators is just one of many positive elements of bringing guitar students to be seen and heard at festival.  Organizing a trip with your guitar students can also include college clinics, concerts and performances with guitar artists, exchange concerts, and more.   For more information about expanding your program to include an adjudicated festival, contact office@forummusicfestivals.com.  We’re here as a resource for your guitar students and program.  Guitar has a global appeal. At Forum, it’s rewarding to be connected with guitar educators who embrace this common community of musicians.

Bugging the Adjudicator

A young middle school jazz band instructor recently came to a festival armed with handwritten notes on school notepaper and thrust them at me on the way to the warm up room. His plea as he ran – “Please make the judges read this!”  Wading through the notes, I learned that Johnny so and so had dropped out last week because his family had moved, and Suzie so and so had to take on the baritone sax in his stead, and how the program was very new and the boundaries in their district had changed, and on the first piece, please overlook the 2nd solo because the student’s regular instrument was in the repair shop, and on and on. You get the picture.

From my previous conversations with him, I knew that this director had been working very hard to build his program. He clearly cared about his students’ performance, but his nervousness was evident to me and, more importantly, to his students.  In his state of anxiety he had forgotten the judges’ music scores and had barely made the bus thereby shortening the warm-up, but he wanted to explain his way to a better performance.

In this case, the adjudicators wanted to hear the group and to judge them based on their performance – not on the handwritten excuses provided by the director. The notes were handed back to me without being read.

Experienced adjudicators are music professionals who typically want to help, not tear apart, the director and their students.  Sometimes they are seen as “bad guys” and worry many directors.  Although their efforts are often under appreciated, the constructive adjudicator provides a needed element if you want to improve the music your students are making: impartial feedback.

But, if you still really want to BUG the adjudicator at festival, several prominent adjudicators provide these surefire tips.

  • Select music that is technically and musically above the students’ abilities.

Probably the most commonly cited error seen at festivals, it is usually tied directly to the director’s lack of experience.  Remove those blinders and accurately assess your group’s strengths and weaknesses. Then select the music accordingly. If unsure, ask an experienced colleague to evaluate your group’s level. An adjudicator must score based on the performance he or she hears. If that performance is one in which the performers struggle through the entire piece, the score will reflect the result. Remember – the adjudicator is not judging Mozart, or Beethoven, or Sousa – the adjudicator is judging your group’s interpretation and ability to perform the piece.

  • Bore the adjudicator by performing all music at one dynamic level.

No question – it is challenging to teach young musicians to perform with dynamic or stylistic differences.  A young musician hangs on by the fingernails just trying to get the notes out, let alone keeping down the decibels. Whereas this problem consistently bugs the adjudicator, it’s also worthy to note that using dynamic contrast in your program will tend to impress the adjudicator.  Bring some tunes and artists in to the band or choir room to influence your students musically and to demonstrate what you are trying to get them to understand.  If you are unfamiliar with the music that most young teens are listening to, ask them to bring in a sample.  Upon hearing it, you may better understand why dynamics is a misunderstood concept to most beginning music students!

  • Use photocopied music scores or provide no scores at all.

Here they come – dressed in beautiful costly concert dress or uniforms, playing expensive instruments, arriving in deluxe charter buses, but pleading that photocopied music scores for the judges are the best they could do.   Judges aren’t buying it and neither should you. If scores are not available because they are “out of print,” present a letter of authorization from the publisher along with the photocopies.

  • Tune your group on stage.

Every festival organizer should provide ample time and space for groups to warm up.  By insisting on a prolonged tune up onstage, the director may as well announce the group’s weaknesses to the adjudicators prior to the actual performance itself.  The director who not only indulges in a lingering onstage tune-up, but also uses the opportunity to nitpick weak spots in sections or, worse yet, among individual student musicians tries the patience of judges and fellow participants.

  • Perform your concert in the warm-up room.

This overtaxes the brass players who then tire in performance and the pitch suffers.  The warm-up period is just that – warming up for the performance at hand. You’ve already had your rehearsals – use this time to allow everyone to tune, give the students a few last minute reminders, encouragement, and you’re good to go!  Please don’t deny your students the excitement of the performance itself.

  • Don’t time your music.

Adjudicators need a few minutes to give a good critique at the end of a performance. By ignoring the guidelines set down by the festival and overextending your performance, you are causing delays for other performers.  Adjudicators are under pressure to stay on time. Playing one more selection over the suggested time limit that you just know everyone wants to hear seldom changes the adjudicators’ opinion of the strengths and weaknesses, but is seen as a breach of festival etiquette and a lack of courtesy to others.

  • Conduct your choir from the piano.

Directors that act as accompanist leave their traditional choir without a conductor.  You cannot help your choir and maintain control listening carefully to problems if you are behind a keyboard. What if your group cannot afford an accompanist?  Better to pre-record your accompaniment and use a playback tape during festival than to use the nodding head choral conducting style.   Another excellent alternative would be to assign the job of accompanist to a capable student or possibly select material to be performed a cappella.

  • Sing along

Ask yourself – am I singing with my performers because they can’t remember the words?  Because I really like the tune?  Because I like to hear myself sing?  Be their conductor, not another member of the group.  You can’t hear what your sections need you to hear if you are humming or singing along.

Directors tend to look at a festival as a sort of personal report card. Be assured – festival adjudicators are not the “bad guys;” they’re just people like you who have worked their way through the ups and downs of music education and maybe learned something along the way. They choose to adjudicate because they believe that their input can help groups to improve. No one sets out to actually “bug” the adjudicator at a festival.  But ticking off a mental checklist of these no-nos ahead of time puts your group in the best possible light and allows the sheer talent and skill of your performers to shine through.

The Small Programs

In our history, we’ve welcomed groups of all sizes and abilities.  Whereas some festivals require a minimum number of students, that’s something that we’ve never done.  Because our founders were themselves music educators (with big programs, by the way), they felt that the quality of the program was not necessarily determined by the quantity of students.  And the same could be said of the reverse – just because the program is big doesn’t mean that the quality of the music is top notch.

By requiring students to undertake their music studies with the same intensity that a big program requires, you are investing in their passion.  Student musicians in small programs simply cannot hide mistakes or sloppy practice habits, but they are often full of heart and the desire to improve or they would not be there.  And with the focus on educating the student and offering performance and learning opportunities, small programs sometimes become larger.  Nothing like success appeals to students to give music a try.

Don Gunderson, one of our most popular adjudicators and a legend in Southern California music education, says, Conduct the band that is in front of you – not the one in your fantasy.” Each of your students deserves a teacher who believes that making music at the highest levels is the goal.  No, your program may not achieve the “wall of sound” that big programs have, but the success of the program may lie in selecting appropriate literature, motivating dedicated students, and the excellence of the result.

And at Forum Music Festivals, we want to help music programs of all sizes and abilities accomplish those goals by providing an opportunity to perform in good venues and to expand their musical education with constructive feedback from adjudicators who see the spark.  Success comes in all sizes.  We want to be part of that effort.

Holiday Greetings!

As we get ready to celebrate the holidays, we reflect on the privilege of hosting many of you at festivals over the past 24 years. We hope that you will enjoy the holidays and focus on friends and family. Our staff wishes you the very best in the coming year and  a season of health, happiness and peace.

Our offices will be closed from December 22 to January 2, however we will be answering emails and picking up phone messages.

Happy Holidays and here’s to a New Year filled with great music!

Preparing for the Holiday Concerts: Don’t Forget to Cover Stage Etiquette

It’s that special time of year – excitement is definitely in the air!  You’re preparing your students for their holiday concert which is bound to bring a lot of angst to you and to them.  “I’ve only had them at school for a few short months.  What will we get when they file out on stage and face their school community, parents, and administrators?”

Volumes have been written about proper audience etiquette, but it doesn’t hurt to remind your students that as performers, they need to show a certain level of consideration for the folks who came to see them.  Here’s a short list – your students can probably add a few more of their own ideas:

  1. Be respectful.  Your friends and family came there to support you.
  2. You are part of an ensemble – don’t sing or play in a way that makes you stand out. You may think it is funny, but it spoils the desired effect and disrespects the hard work of your peers.
  3. Listen to and focus on your director.
  4. Don’t carry your electronic device or phone onstage.
  5. Don’t wave to the audience and don’t talk to anyone onstage.
  6. NO gum!!
  7. Use your best posture.
  8. Grooming matters – iron your shirt, choose appropriate socks, and comb your hair.
  9. If you make a mistake, don’t show it in your body language or your face.
  10. Don’t wear a goofy elf hat unless your director gives permission.

Good luck and enjoy the season!

Happy Thanksgiving Sale!

This holiday season, we’re thankful for loyal customers like you!


In celebration of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we are offering a fabulous discount on one-day or overnight packages for select  San Diego area festivals.

Join us for an all-in-one-day package with a San Diego festival plus a trip to the world-famous San Diego Zoo or Safari Park for  ONLY $69 per student and $49 per chaperone.
Experience the wild kingdom with your students after your morning festival on March 30, April 27 or May 4, 2019.


Overnight package for only $149 per person*

• Adjudicated Forum Music Festival
• San Diego Zoo or Safari Park Admission
• One-night’s lodging at a gorgeous 3-diamond hotel in Hotel Circle
• Delicious hot breakfast at your hotel
• Complimentary director’s package for one director

*Pricing based on quad occupancy, 1-night and festival participation.
Pending availability at time of booking for hotel and festival.
Additional room nights or activities available – contact Forum for options.
Must be booked by December 31, 2018.

Earth Without Art is Just “Eh”

Published originally by the National Association for Music Education, written by Paul Fox

We’re coming up to Thanksgiving… and school music and art teachers do have a lot for which to be thankful!

In spite of all of the pressures involving student recruitment/retention and declining enrollments, equity/access to the arts, scheduling, budget, etc., we are among the few professionals who have “jumped into” a career of doing what we love! In our pilgrimage to promote and foster creative self-expression in the schools, music is life-long learning, and represents our personal mission/vision, our artistry, our vehicle to communicate and collaborate, our pastime and “play,” our inspiration, and what nurtures our souls!

Why are we so “lucky” to serve as music teachers?

  1. Music is one of life’s greatest treasures!
  2. You will always have your music. Your employment is also your hobby, and even after 35 or more years, you will be inclined to continue your music throughout the “golden years” of retirement.
  3. There are so many ways you can “make a difference” in the lives of children with music. Whether it is singing, playing an instrument, composing, listening, feeling, or moving in response to music, music fills a basic need!
  4. Although music is an excellent vehicle for developing 21st Century learning skills (the four C’s of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication), participating in music for music’s sake is paramount. To find true meaning and personal artistry, you cannot review the arts without “doing” (or creating) the arts.
  5. Your joy of creative self-expression and “making music” will sustain you through almost anything… the good times and the bad! It will transfer to your students’ success in life.
  6. In most settings of school music courses and extra-curricular activities, your students make a conscious effort to choose you and the study of music in order to spend as much time together. “They may have to take math and English, but they also want their daily dose of music!”
  7. Newcomers to this field, you do not have to be right or perfect all the time in class. During your student teaching and early years on the job, if you are enthusiastic, dedicated, and respectful of the feelings of your students, your mistakes (and there will be many) will be forgiven. Besides, there are usually no “single right answers” in music and art – only opportunities for divergent and flexible thinking, adaptability, and personal expression.
  8. You’ll never forget your students… and when you bump into them after graduation, they will remind you all about “those good times!” Don’t be surprised when they tell you were the best part of their education.

So, that’s why “earth” without “art” is just “eh!”

Special Savings in April at San Diego Festival

Discover sunny San Diego with your students at a deeply discounted festival rate!


Join us on Saturday, April 6, 2019 for an epic event that includes:

  • Adjudicated Forum Music Festival
  • USS Midway Museum self-guided tour
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix film accompanied LIVE by the San Diego Symphony
  • One-night’s lodging at a gorgeous 3-diamond hotel in Hotel Circle
  • Delicious breakfast at the hotel
  • Complimentary director’s package for one director

Exclusive pricing for this festival: $169* per student

A great opportunity at a great price for students!

Contact us today for more information.

*Pricing based on quad occupancy, 1-night and festival participation.
Pending availability at time of booking for hotel and symphony tickets.
Additional room nights or activities available – contact Forum for options & pricing.
Must be booked by December 1, 2018.


New Bus Policy

Safety is a top priority for Forum Music Festivals. We work hard to ensure all of our clients are safe and sound throughout the duration of their travel with us – whether a one-day or overnight trip. Our goal is to provide the most comfortable and enjoyable experience for your students.

Staying current with the newest research and federal regulations, Forum Music Festivals has implemented a new bus policy for all motor coach transportation that we contract on behalf of our clients. In the past, many clients joined us for turnaround trips or for trips that include overnight driving. The decision to execute a new policy was not made lightly as we consider the best way forward for groups.   However, based on the increase of fatigue-related accidents, we are implementing the following policy in order to maintain safety as our top priority.

Starting with the 2019 festival season, Forum Music Festivals is putting into effect the following policies:

  • While uninterrupted travel during the late night and early morning is not prohibited by law, we recognize that night-time driving can contribute to drowsiness in the driver. We strongly encourage groups to plan alternate itineraries to avoid a late evening departure. For that reason, trips will no longer be booked by Forum Music Festivals that require drivers to drive between the hours of 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM. Drivers must be off the clock during these middle of the night hours.
  • Seat belts will be requested and provided unless otherwise notified.
    • Please not California law now requires seat belts be worn in buses equipped with them
  • If a district has a list of pre-qualified charter bus companies, we will confer with our client and double check the charter company’s safety record so we may abide by the district’s guidelines.

Federal Regulations mandate that…

  • Motorcoach drivers cannot drive more than 10 hours in a 24 hour period.
  • Motorcoach drivers may not drive after having been on duty for 15 hours.
  • Motorcoach drivers must have at least 8 hours off before their next shift can start (some bus companies may require more).
  • Motorcoach drivers may not drive after 60 hours on duty over seven days or after 70 hours on duty over eight days.
  • Driver hours are now tracked using electronic logging devices.

California regulations mandate that…

  • Charter buses and drivers who transport California students must complete SPAB certification. SPAB stands for School Pupil Activity Bus and is certified through the California Highway Patrol (CHP) .
  • Effective July 2018, California State Law SB20 requires that both drivers and passengers wear seat belts. Parents, guardians or chartering companies are being held responsible for making sure children 16 and under are buckled up. ANY charter bus manufactured with seat belts traveling through the state of California, regardless of where they originated, must comply with this law. Directors and chaperones must ensure all students are wearing seatbelts. Fines will be written for offenders.

We believe this new policy will enhance the experience for groups who trust us with selecting and planning their charter bus transportation.  If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us at office@forummusicfestivals.com.

The Nuts and Bolts of Fundraising

Fundraising – not exactly the reason you entered music education, is it?  However, if you plan to travel with your students, it’s time to face the fact that fundraising is part of your program.

Couple of tips about raising funds for student travel:

How much will it cost?  Include the base price of the trip, extra outings, and transportation (can be a biggie).  Will chaperones pay their own way or should fundraising cover their portion?  Knowledge is power, right?  Don’t be daunted and think that wishin’, hopin’, and prayin’ are going to get the job done.  Just find out how much the trip will cost.  A travel planner can work to whittle down the costs within your budget.

Involve parents early.  Parents are full of fundraising ideas.  Consider launching a parent-operated fundraising committee.  The more parents are included, the more successful your fundraiser.

Children, Go Where I Send Thee!  Do students want to go where you want to take them?  Enlist their suggestions and earnestly listen to their ideas.  Your enthusiasm will be contagious.  If students don’t want to go on your trip, back-burner that destination. Explore other more student-appealing options.

Financial deadlines.  Once you have costs, settle on due dates with your travel planner.  Your travel planner will provide a detailed itinerary with trip inclusions and what is not included. Cancellation dates and attrition policies should be clear.   Give yourself time to collect straggling payments, to deposit monies, and to prepare your payment. Give your families due dates of at least a week prior to the deadline.

Speaking of itineraries…  If you add director-arranged activities to your itinerary, keep your travel planner in the know.  Changes add bus hours.  Due to laws controlling hours of service PLUS the bus’s Electronic Logging Devices, your bus moves must be carefully evaluated.  Weather conditions, traffic congestion, and unforeseen issues with illness or tardiness will all affect your driver’s hours of service.

How will money be handled?  Only you can answer this question based on your booster club’s process or your district requirements.  Having one or two persons in charge of finances makes it easier.  Regular reports should be due to you and your booster board. Other booster members should audit the funds. Selecting people who respect confidentiality helps families feel secure about sharing financial concerns.

Be sensitive.  Recognize your music families’ economic situation.  Having lofty goals for a trip of a lifetime is fine, but if students can’t raise the funds, adjust expectations.  Some anxious parents may not want students to venture from home or to fundraise.  Meet individually with those parents so no one is embarrassed.  Do you have a “scholarship” fund set up for students who cannot provide family funds?  Discuss this concern early with school administration and/or with your booster club.   Explore potential sources of revenue for those students. Forum Music Festivals’ scholarship program discounts trips for returning schools and directors.  SYTA (Student Youth Travel Association) offers scholarships through their SYF fund.  Many community organizations offer financial assistance if they are aware of the need.

Sales Promotion 101.  Let the world know your group is fundraising.  Use social media including a hashtag that students can use.  Make school-wide public announcements.  Ask community clubs for donations. Enlist the local newspaper for publicity.  One director schedules his choir to sing at restaurant openings, or Kiwanis or Rotary Club meetings.  A small town orchestra director sets up string quartets to perform outside local stores, and hosts community concerts (for a small fee, of course).  Invite important sponsors to concerts, rehearsals, and any pre-trip launch parties you may have.

Creating partnerships with area businesses is a win/win for students AND business owners! Counting on community pride, student travelers involve the community when heading to a new destination and return home to share the experience.

Fundraising ideas are endless and can be fun. Provide some selling tips and pointers about sales etiquette. This may be the first time students have ever “sold” or asked for donations.  Don’t be discouraged by the amount required to take the trip.  Just get started.  Your students will discover a view of the world that they will never forget.

Introducing Your Trip Assistant

When you take a group on an overnight excursion, you are responsible for keeping track of EVERYTHING!  A tour escort can solve that task by making sure that you are where you need to be on time and with whatever you need.  At Forum, we can arrange for a Tour Escort for you – meet you when you arrive by bus or plane, check your group into the hotel, tell you when you need to be back at the bus, and the list goes on and on.  But that kind of service, as helpful as it is, does increase the cost of your trip.  And what traveling student group wants to spend additional money?

At Forum, our itineraries are so comprehensive that you really don’t need a tour escort.  And 24-hour travel assistance is always available to you.  Now, we’ve introduced yet another new feature for overnight and touring groups: Your Trip Assistant.

Your Trip Assistant is a convenient, customized alert system for directors of overnight groups.

Once you “opt in,” we will text itinerary reminders to you throughout your trip, as needed.  Text messages apply only to your trip; we do not use them for sales or marketing purposes. It’s like a digital tour escort on your phone!  You won’t miss your performance time or the downbeat of your symphony performance.  A text reminder will arrive on your phone when it’s time to board the bus for your next destination, meal, or performance.

One more thing – Your Trip Assistant is a complimentary “opt in” value added feature of your overnight travel package at no additional cost to you or your group!

Whatever tools we can provide to make your travel easier and worry free, we’re happy to do.  We’re dedicated to helping you do what you do best:  make great music and wonderful memories for your students!  For more information, request a quote today.

Problem-Solving – Our Specialty

If customer service is important to a company, the question to ask is:

What problems are we trying to solve for our customers?

To answer that question, student event producers have to walk in the shoes of band, orchestra, and choir directors.  At Forum Festivals, here’s what we’re seeing.

  • Financial – Yep, no question about it. If you are teaching students and wanting to introduce them to live performances and adjudicated opportunities, then raising funds definitely figurs into your daily concerns.
  • Recruitment – Perhaps more than any other subject, teachers in the arts have to think about how to recruit new students and motivate current students. Why should this difficult? Because kids have a huge desire to participate in music, theatre, and arts, but the many pressures and choices they face can make it difficult. So, how do you keep the party going?
  • Maintaining excellence – You didn’t go into teaching music to teach mediocre performing ensembles. You are hoping to showcase your excellent ensemble. But how do you motivate your students to commit to a successful outcome?
  • What is my purpose? I’ve stood at many a Music Ed conference chatting with music educators who are struggling with the everyday-ness of their interactions with administrators, parents, and students.  You were a person who loved music, loved young musicians, and wanted to share the enthusiasm.  But did you realize how difficult it was going to be to stay focused and enthusiastic about your vocation?

So, what kinds of suggestions and tools can we offer you?

  • Promote Advocacy – helping to promote YOUR program to YOUR community and administration will help you with a couple of things. If your group can perform for local civic organizations, fast food restaurant openings, or before City Council or Chamber meetings, you’ll not only gain exposure within the community, you may also garner a few bucks towards your fundraising goal.
  • Embrace a little fun in your schedule. Your program is competing against a host of other enticements for your students – sports, video gaming, social lives, or just plain apathy.  Nothing breeds success like success!  Plan a trip that incorporates educational elements but also some time for your group to develop a little camaraderie and have some good fun!  Word gets out that the music department gets to go somewhere and have some awesome experiences and …tah dah! Your program grows!
  • Keep your own learning going! Students want to be part of a successful program.  They don’t want you to help them be just mediocre.  Instead, they are counting on you to be excellent, too!  An adjudicated festival offers a key here: we put college and professional adjudicators in front of your ensemble. They have things to say that teach, motivate, and offer you more tools for your own tool kit.  At Forum Festivals, we encourage your students to see and hear other student ensembles at festival.  Learning happens and, what do you know?  It is enjoyable!  Performing AND listening – it’s just so important!
  • Do what it takes to cultivate your purpose. Getting outside of yourself and your classroom would be a great place to start!  Chances are your own great memories of music studies include a trip with your music class, a performance that had a big impact, or an encouraging word from another director, music student, or music professional.  Don’t forget about these moments and strive to create those memories for your students.  Networking at festival pertains to you as well – let college level adjudicators and other directors get to know you and your talents as an outstanding music educator. Learning how other ensembles do it is another part of your learning process.

At Forum Festivals, brainstorming with you to plan a great experience for your students is a very enjoyable part of our purpose.  In our own toolbox, we have lots of ideas for…

  • Inexpensive overnight trips.
  • Theme park choices that include performance or workshop options.
  • Performing outside the festival.
  • Destinations throughout the country with many cool things to put in front of your students.
  • How to feed and water your herd! We can suggest lots of ideas for inexpensive meals.
  • Shaking up your program – that is, doing something different or outside the box to stimulate your students’ interests.
  • Fundraising options – there are millions of ideas here. Note: Forum has a longstanding scholarship program for returning schools.

Customer service is not just a phrase to us – it’s our goal to provide the best service you will experience.  Feel free to call us to discuss your individual needs for your school.  We’re happy to hear your challenges and we’re dedicated to finding some solutions that fits your program!  We’d love to welcome you and your students to a Forum Music Festival!  Give us a call at 1-888-76-FORUM.