Taking Your Students to Festival

Playing music for yourself – there’s nothing like it! But, being part of a performing group is all about feedback – there is no substitute for an audience and its response to your music. The best directors seek opportunities for their fledgling musicians to perform to spectators – not to justify their worth as a director, but rather to better the group’s musical skills, self-confidence, and to hear other student musicians of similar age and ability. Taking a group of music students on the road is an effective way to build your program – lots of work, but oh, the rewards are well worth it. If you are contemplating bringing your group to a festival this season, consider a few tips.

Plan Ahead
Can’t say enough about it. You owe it to your students and their parents to prepare them financially, emotionally, and musically. Involve your parent group and administration in your plans early. Get the word out through newsletters, parent meetings, and good old-fashioned rumor to create some enthusiasm with your music families. Build a website about the trip or leave a detailed message on your office answering machine about your program’s events and the progress being made to put the trip together.

Just Exactly What Am I Getting Into?

Be realistic about your group. Don’t get caught up in an ego exercise by trying to impress parents, colleagues, or administration – if your students aren’t ready for a highly competitive festival, the results may make them feel badly about their abilities and your program. Perhaps your group is in a building year – they need to perform, but are inexperienced. Festival companies often have non-competitive categories that combine a performance showcase with adjudicator’s constructive comments and the chance to discover how the group stands in comparison to similar groups.

From “Hot Cross Buns” to Rachmaninoff, Will They Rise To The Occasion?
Choose appropriate literature …please. Some directors hold fast to the belief that the selection of difficult pieces will positively affect the scoring. The fact is…seeing your students struggle in performance frustrates you and them and does not impress the adjudicator. Learning how to discern your group’s ability and set appropriate goals for your group is what separates the novice from the master!

Deadlines Are Not The Enemy!
Music educators are the hardest working teachers on campus! One choral teacher spent every one of HIS lunch hours for months selling goodies to junior high kids to fund the kind of program that he wanted. Admirable? You bet. Necessary? Not really. You will drive yourself to distraction if you shoulder the entire fundraising effort alone. Delegate the fundraising to helpful booster members, if possible. Make it their mission to creatively raise funds, collect money, and do follow-up for the group. Millions of ideas abound for creative fundraisers- just keep the enthusiasm going with parents and students. Don’t be afraid to set target dates for collecting the funds so you build in ample time to identify the students who need extra time or financial help to get them to the festival.

Musical deadlines are vital. Involve your students in your musical goal-setting. Let them know that doing well matters to you and it should also matter to them. Breaking down the score into “small bites” makes it manageable to learn. After selecting three pieces for festival, one director designed a large chart listing all the student’s names vertically with the selected pieces listed in columns across the top. Dates were set for each student to learn each of the three pieces. Students who didn’t take the responsibility to learn the music were not allowed to go on the trip. Peer pressure is a great musical motivator. It does take some extra time from the director, private teacher, or section leader, but the results are well worth it.

Realize that transportation rules the world!
Order the buses as soon as you have a confirmed date. Understand the rules of the bus company – drivers require a certain number of hours “off” before they can drive you home again. For an overnight trip, don’t forget to budget for a driver’s room, if necessary. Consider heavy traffic, late students, bathroom breaks, and a reasonable warm-up period when planning the call time for your take-off. Always confirm your transportation several days before you will need it.

Festival Etiquette for Young Ladies and Gentlemen
Ensure that your students’ behavior will prompt a welcome back. Model courtesy and interest when hearing other groups. Teach them some basics about festival etiquette.

  • Never enter the auditorium during a performance.
  • Don’t talk during a performance.
  • Listen attentively. You want others to hear you – accord them the same consideration.
  • Remember – you are a representative for your school and your community – act like it!

A festival permits your students to better understand their progress and appropriate musical standards for their age. Evaluate the other performances back in the classroom, not loudly in front of all to hear.

We’ve all seen THOSE groups – running wildly through the facility, speaking loudly during performances, or ignoring other performances completely. All they know is “I’m not at school today.” All the other participants know is “We wish you were.”

After the Festival
Your experience doesn’t end when you get back home. It’s always best to listen to the adjudicator’s tapes before you play them for your group. While all festivals aim to hire the best, occasionally an adjudicator may comment on something that may not be appropriate to your situation. Don’t be afraid to edit.

Use common sense in assessing your group’s performance. Adjudicators hear many groups throughout their careers. Don’t take offense at suggestions or constructive criticism that are offered. Listen, think, and decide if the comment is a valid one, particularly if more than one judge makes the remark.

Should you compare your scores from one festival to another? Every adjudicator brings his or her own opinions and expertise to a festival. Keep in mind that the very best bands, orchestras, and choirs will perform differently from one rehearsal to the next. You can’t discount the variables in location, sound systems, student (and director) fatigue, and excitement.

Finally, the most important lesson you will teach your students about music – have fun! Once all the planning is in place, the details delegated, the chaperones briefed, the students practiced and good to go, all you have left to do is to relish the experience with your kids. Your visible enjoyment of the entire festival speaks volumes to your young musicians. And, after all, isn’t the pure pleasure of making music together what music education should be all about?