Integrating the Private Studio with School Ensembles

Team Teaching with Wendy Devaney

One way to accelerate the growth of a new private studio is to work with an orchestra director at a nearby school. Such a partnership can offer you the convenience of seeing multiple students in one location as well as providing high visibility to many students and parents at once. Better yet, students can really benefit from having their orchestra director and a private instructor working together as a team.

While my expertise is in stringed instruments, please keep in mind that the following suggestions can apply to band instruments, too.

Reaching Out to Orchestra Directors

When reaching out to prospective orchestra directors with whom you’d like to work, you’ll want to clearly highlight the benefits you offer, over and above your teaching expertise, passion, and credentials. These may include the convenience to parents and students, a second pair of trained hands at concerts, and a professional string-playing assistant. One effective way to communicate your teaching style and prowess is to give the director a lesson; even simply offering to do so provides a sense of your willingness to work together.

How to Get Started

If you don’t have one already, create a website that includes your fees and lesson policies. This also serves as a great way to let prospective students know that by signing up for lessons with you they are agreeing to your studio policies – and that you and your studio and are completely separate from the school. If the orchestra has a website, you can ask the director to link to yours.

There are many ways to generate interest among students in the school. You might consider offering free trial lessons to recruit students or to offer a discounted rate or free scholarship to one student per semester (nominated by the director or a parents’ group). Another option is to offer to conduct sectionals for the orchestra director so students can get to know you.

Finally, never overlook advertising. Consider placing an ad in the orchestra concert program and hand out flyers during class, concerts and events.

Leverage the School Calendar

Once you’re teaching students in the school, be as involved with the school orchestra program as possible. Get a calendar of events for the year and plan on focusing on those which are important to the orchestra director (chair tests, UIL Contest, Solo and Ensemble, all concerts and functions). If a concert or test is approaching, be sure to focus on that music first before focusing on “your” music. Ask the director for specifics such as bowing and fingering preferences. Make orchestra music the priority of your lessons until students are competent enough to move on to etudes, solos, scales and theory.

Most importantly, be present. The orchestra director chose YOU as a partner, so avoid canceling and rescheduling as much as possible. Consistency is key to the students’ improvement and to your relationship with the director.

Helping Orchestra Directors Make it Happen

You can help a prospective orchestra director see how this could work by offering suggestions of ways common problems can be resolved. For example, what can be done for students who cannot afford private lessons? You could suggest that the PTA or Booster Club sponsor some lessons. Another option is to set up a private lesson fund and support it through fundraising.

In summary, offering students a strong team of teachers is a great way to ensure that they will remain committed to music in the long-term. A high-quality ensemble takes a tremendous amount of teamwork, and working closely with an orchestra director can help demonstrate this important lesson by example.

For instance, one director I worked with for many years at the Gorzycki Middle School in Austin, Texas, let students know early on that she and I would be working together as partners. Not only did that help eliminate the need for heavy recruiting on my end, but it also removed the ability for the students to say “my other teacher told me to do this,” a problem most of us hear all too often. As she was a cellist and I play violin and viola, when it came to fingerings and bowings we tag-teamed the upper and lower strings. She would ask me to work on specific sections with students in their lessons, and I would report back to her what spots they were having trouble with, which generally turned into test sections.

This team-teaching relationship really highlighted for me how perfect this three-way collaboration, between director, instructor, and students, can be in setting up students for success.

Wendy Blog 250Wendy Devaney took up the violin at the age of 12 (the viola came later). She was soon performing with an El Paso mariachi band with whom she eventually toured the southwest – and France – and recorded several albums. She earned her B.A. in music performance from Texas State University, where she was principal violist in the Texas State Symphony.

Wendy has performed and recorded with several mariachi groups, local bands, and classical ensembles and is a guest clinician at the Texas State String Camp. After running a successful private studio in Austin, Wendy founded Orchestra Tutor, a tutorial website designed to help string students.

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