Preparing for a Positive Festival Experience; Part 3, Wrapping It All Up

Preparing for a Positive Festival Experience; Part 3, Wrapping It All Up

This is the third of three posts in a series about preparing your ensemble for festival. In the first post, we looked at what to consider when selecting repertoire. Next, we prepared our students during the weeks of rehearsal before festival.

Now we prepare for the actual festival day.


These details can make or break your festival day.  Everyone at the festival won’t know how wonderfully your students are playing in rehearsal if there is no bus ready to take them to the performance!

Of Course

  • Check with your school site to find out all the necessary requirements for a field trip.
  • Prepare emergency release forms and take them with you.
  • Call reliable parents to serve as chaperones. While some teachers prefer to seek volunteers, I usually like to approach specific parents who I know will be dependable as chaperones for the day.
  • Order busses. I like to do this by email so that I have a written record of what was requested.

Writing Your Itinerary

Plan a schedule that’s not going to have too much or too little free time. You don’t want your students to feel rushed just before they have to perform. But you also don’t want to have a lot of “dead time” where students are bored and may be tempted to misbehave. Be sure you include time for students to hear other ensembles’ performances. That’s also an important part of the festival experience! And don’t forget to account for meal times. You don’t want students performing when they are hungry.

Making Your List, Checking It Twice…

What do you need to bring with you?

  • Forms and materials: Be sure you have followed the instructions from your festival host regarding any documents you need to bring.
  • Extra copies of the score for the judges are commonly required and will need to be ordered in advance, so plan ahead to avoid paying overnight shipping costs.
  • In my experience, the host school usually furnishes the larger percussion items, but not smaller ones. I bring my own cymbals, snare, stick, and mallets. Be sure you know exactly what will be on stage. My first time at festival I was scrambling to borrow things because I had made some false assumptions.
  • For orchestras, be sure to bring cello and bass stops, as well as extra rosin and strings.
  • I like to bring one of every part with me. It’s cheap insurance against forgotten parts. I would hate to be without a tuba player at festival just because the folder was left at home.
  • I also like to bring an extra mouthpiece or two.
  • Bring some emergency repair items. I’ve had to fix instruments in warm-up at festival. A set of screwdrivers, some tape, and rubber bands can go a long way.
  • Don’t forget your own scores and baton.

Mental Preparation

There are many things we need to explain to our students to help them be mentally prepared for receiving constructive criticism.

Review the judging sheets

Once more, go through the sheets or criteria with the students to help them understand what the judges will be looking for. Help them have a clear and realistic understanding of what each level of achievement requires.

Emphasize Growth

Help your students approach festival with the idea that this is a chance for them to get specific feedback that can help them improve as a band. Emphasize that the improvement that happens over the course of preparing for (and performing at) festival is even more important than the final rating. Students can control the process and preparation and if they do that well they will improve. The rating is beyond our control and should not make or break the experience.

Preparing for a Positive Festival Experience; Part 3, Wrapping It All Up 2

Walk them through the day:

I tell my students about all the little details they will encounter during the day. This helps them be a little more comfortable in a strange new situation. I tell them:

  • We will leave our cases in a designated area. Take whatever items you need for performance. Leave your cases neatly organized.
  • We will warm up in one room; then walk over to wait for our turn to go on stage. You’ll need to stand quietly and wait outside.
  • On stage, you will have bright lights shining in your face. I will be standing on a much higher podium.
  • In between pieces, we have to wait for a few minutes while the judges write down their comments.
  • After we perform on stage, we’ll file out quietly and wait again outside the sight reading room.
  • When you walk into the sight reading room, enter quietly and place your music under your chair. Wait for instructions.
  • You need to behave professionally and seriously during the day. You are a reflection of your school, especially while wearing your concert uniform. Do not run around, yell, break things, etc.

Your list will probably be different based on your specific experience, but students need this level of information ahead of time.

Concert Etiquette

Prepare your students for being a good audience. Remind them to listen quietly, silence their phones, applaud respectfully, and treat the performers the way they would want to be treated.

Comments Only

Some festivals offer the option of bringing your ensemble for “comments only.” This means that the students perform but do not receive a final rating from the judges. They would still receive comments that would help them improve. This is a great way to introduce students to festival without all the pressure of trying to achieve a specific rating. Share this with your students if you plan to utilize this option so they don’t wonder why they don’t have a rating.

Good Luck?

I know there are many directors who eschew the phrase “good luck” and prefer “good skill,” because they want to emphasize that success depends on preparation. But as I approach middle-age, I have come to realize that while hard work and preparation is definitely important, luck can also play a role, for good or for ill. I think it’s OK for us to let students know that as much as we prepare, there can still be factors beyond our control that will affect the outcome. Before our students perform, it’s important for us to let them know that no matter what happens on stage, we are proud of the hard work they have done up to this point.

After the festival

Be sure to share the feedback you receive.

  • Copy and post the sheets and listen to the most helpful recorded comments.
  • Emphasize this feedback more than the final rating as you talk with your students.
  • Celebrate the positive comments and recall all the growth that has occurred throughout this process.
  • Refer back to this feedback in future rehearsals as you work on other repertoire.
  • Finally, share widely any positive news with parents, administrators, and your school community. Take the opportunity to toot your own horn!

Preparing a group for festival adjudication is always a lot of work, but I am always amazed by how much my students improve. Having that outside feedback really pushes them to prepare to a higher level.

Hopefully, this series of blog posts has sparked ideas you can use with your students in this festival season. Good luck!

Jonathan M. Peske has directed the bands at Summit Intermediate School since 2002. Mr. Peske earned his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the University of Redlands. He has played clarinet for over 25 years and plays many other instruments as well.

When he is not teaching band, he enjoys photography, reading, cooking, and spending time with his family. You can find him on Twitter @jpeske.

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