For more than forty years, Hopkins, Minnesota has showcased its 5-12 band program with annual All-District Band Festivals. These multi-evening events bring more than 1500 students into the high school auditorium. An undertaking of this magnitude requires significant teamwork, coordination, and preparation.
Whether you are planning an All-District Festival, an end of the year celebration concert, or a more modest winter concert, your preparations will be very similar. The secret to a successful concert is to plan, plan, plan! I recommend creating a detailed concert checklist so no task is overlooked. Such a list should also indicate when each task should be completed.
The thoughts I’ve shared below come from my participation in the All-District Band Festivals as well as many other concerts. I hope you can use some of the information in creating your own personal concert preparation checklist.
For me, the music selection comes first. Music is a vital part of your curriculum. Choosing great music is key, and variety in the music makes the concert interesting. Factors for your consideration include different:
- Time signatures, for example 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8…
- Tempos, dynamics, etc. Go for contrast; some fast, some slow, some loud, some soft…
- Styles – consider opening fanfares, overtures, marches, programmatic music…
- Themes – “Music from Around the World,” “Music of John Williams,” “American Composers,” etc.
- Difficulty levels – you might include some easy, some medium, and only one or two difficult pieces.
Would you welcome some additional ideas? Check out this SmartMusic Blog post.
If you will be ordering new music for the concert, order it early. This will ensure that even if there are minor delays, your students will receive plenty of rehearsal time with the new music.
Long-Term Planning (Several Months Out)
While it sounds obvious, start with those tasks that have to be completed first. The window of opportunity for some of these items may have already passed for this year, but that’s no reason to omit them. The list you’re creating now can serve as the foundation for future lists. Plus, it’s never too early to start planning for next year.
Select your concert dates. Make sure they are on the district and building calendars, shared with parents at your open house (or in your newsletter), and written on the board for students to put in their planners. Will you rehearse in the performance space before the concert? Will you need the space for a reception afterwards? Be sure to include these details in your scheduling.
Set up planning meetings for everyone involved in the concert. Attendees might include administrators, teachers, AV and tech staff, custodians, etc.
You will want to complete all required documentation. If you will be performing at a location different than your school you may need a building use form. You may also need to order buses. If you do order buses, determine if you will need a trailer for the big instruments.
Medium-Term Planning (A Month or Two Out)
Plan ahead to promote your concert. Reach out to local newspapers and radio stations and anyone else who might include your event in their calendars. Think about creating and hanging posters, both at school and in local businesses. Make sure parents are sufficiently notified and reminded in newsletters and/or emails.
We required a “Student Permission Slip” to be signed and returned. If you do too, this can be a great opportunity to share additional important information with parents. You could indicate concert attire. If students need black or white clothes, for example, this gives parents a chance to find some options or shop for bargains.
You might also use this opportunity to ask for student and parent volunteers. This might include serving refreshments, handing out programs, helping clean up, or acting as chaperones, providing student supervision for wherever you will not be at concert. I’ve provided a sample permission slip to help you get started.
Double-check to confirm the concert is listed on district and building calendars; if not, follow up. Look for other opportunities to promote the concert including school or department websites.
Start working on your printed program early, making lists of student names, acknowledgements, concert order, etc. You can refine later, but capture the information as it becomes available. You’ll find additional tips about making printed programs in this related blog post.
Prepare a concert preparation rehearsal time-line. This would essentially be your lesson planning; what pieces you’ll work on when, some benchmarks, and perhaps a list of SmartMusic assignments.
It’s not too early to finalize your hardware needs. How many chairs and stands will you need? How will they get where they need to be? What about a podium or a microphone? Will you have a monitor behind the band for rehearsal and announcements? Don’t leave these items to the last minute. You may want to get started on ordering the printing of your programs.
If you’ll be using technology, like PowerPoint slides or video, identify a tech helper and discuss the details. You’ll also want to identify who will help with stage set-up and tear down. If you’re going to shoot video of the performance (or simply take group photos while you’re there), line that up, too. Photos can be very helpful to promoting your group (as well as a treasure for parents), so don’t overlook this opportunity.
In addition, you may also want to start thinking about the announcements you will make at the program (especially if you will invite a guest speaker). Here are some ideas to consider:
- Welcome parents
- Tell them how terrific their kids are
- Invite the principal to speak
- Share some thoughts on the importance of the arts in education
- Thank everyone who has helped with the concert
- Invite parents for refreshments after the concert
- Remind everyone of upcoming events
Short-Term Planning (The Week of the Concert)
Make an emergency kit. This could include instrument repair items (zip ties, duct tape, reeds, valve oil, mutes etc). Because of the likelihood that someone will “forget” about the dress code, you might even consider packing some emergency wardrobe pieces (like extra black pants). You can often find affordable options at second hand or thrift stores.
If you’ll be using a wireless microphone, or anything else that uses batteries, bring some extra. If you’ll serve refreshments, or will have a reception after the show, now’s the time to finalize those arrangements.
Check in with everyone identified above, from facilities people to parent volunteers, just to make sure the event is on their calendars as well as in their minds (as this can be a hectic and chaotic time of year).
And remember to pick up the programs.
At the Concert
Be sure to bring your emergency kit, and your checklist, which should include cell numbers for partners you’re counting on. If you have an announcer, guest speakers, or guest performers, identify where they’ll stand, and if they’ll need a spotlight. Bring some signs for reserved seats, especially if you have multiple bands performing. And slot some time for those group photos:
Especially if you’ll have a reception afterwards, make sure you’re clear who staffs that AND who will perform cleanup duties (and when). Cleanup might include backstage areas, the auditorium, and any dressing or reception areas. If you don’t do it yourself, you’ll want someone to do a thorough “idiot check,” walking through the building and making sure nothing has been left behind.
It seems like a lot, doesn’t it? Don’t let the details overwhelm you. Winston Churchill said: “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” Anytime you’re feeling a little anxious, use that energy to check off a few more tasks from your list.
In addition to being a great way to manage all your tasks, a thorough concert preparation checklist can also be a great comfort, by helping you reassure yourself that everything has been prepared for a great performance.
Kay Hawley is a retired teacher who taught instrumental music in Hopkins, MN for more than 40 years. She holds Bachelor and Master of Music Education degrees from the University of Minnesota.
Kay is a strong advocate for the arts in education and has presented at an impressive list of state and national conferences. In 2012 she was named the Minnesota Music Educator of the Year.