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Tuning Up for Success: Tips for the Elementary Music Performance

November 27, 2023


For many of us in the music education world, the return from Thanksgiving Break also means it’s concert season! If you’re anything like me at the time of writing, you probably just enjoyed a nice, relaxing holiday break with family and friends. And now you’re back at school, trying to get ready for a fast-approaching performance! Performances are of course a lot of work, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have to be stressful & overwhelming.


Here are a few tips that may help you with this winter concert season and any future performances you and your students may have!


Tip #1: Make a List & Check it Twice


I like to organize my concert preparation by creating a list of everything that needs to be done before the performance. All of our school & teaching situations are different, so of course our preparation lists will be different, too. But here is a sample list I have used for my before-school Music Maker club to help make sure we are ready in time for our performances:


Early On :

  • Set concert dates & communicate them to school leadership

  • Add concert dates to school calendar

  • Add concert dates to club sign-up forms and paperwork and communicate with families

  • Select music

  • Order/Purchase music

  • Make arrangements for any necessary accompaniment (live pianist, pre-recorded tracks, etc.)

  • Communicate concert attire specifics to families

  • Order club t-shirts to be worn at performances


Prepping the Students :

  • Pass out music

  • Assign parts as needed

  • Make instrument list

  • Assign instruments

  • Create practice tracks

  • Post practice tracks where they can be accessed by students & families to practice at home (I like to use the school platform, Canvas)

  • Audition students for singing solos as needed

  • Audition/assign student speaking parts as needed


Concert Logistics (getting closer) :

  • Communicate & make arrangements with custodians for concert set-up and tear-down

  • Reach out to PTA & parent volunteers to help where needed (this may include any decorating for the performance, help with folding programs, etc)

  • Send home a minimum of 3 notifications/reminders about the concert

  • Create & share a flier/informational image for school newsletters, social media, bulletin boards, etc.

  • Personally invite teachers, staff, & school leadership to attend

  • Schedule at least one “dress rehearsal” on stage (I aim for 2 so that my students are extra comfortable with transitions)

  • Arrange for someone to photograph/film

  • Arrange for someone to handle sound/tech

  • Arrange for someone to pass out programs (I usually have other students doing this before the show)


Nearing the Finish Line! :

  • Create programs (print or digital)

  • Fold programs if printed

  • Create visuals that may be needed to assist students during the concert (lyrics, song forms / song roadmaps, etc)

  • Move instruments and risers to stage for dress rehearsals & performance

  • Decorate as needed

  • Reserve seats as needed

  • Performance time!

  • Clean up/clear stage

  • Schedule a post-concert celebration (we are a morning club, so I usually either do a celebratory breakfast or goodie bags for them to take home)

  • Write & distribute “thank you” cards to volunteers


I know that list sure looks like a doozy! Writing out every detail though, no matter how small, helps in the long run. Having such a specific list helps ensure that no detail is forgotten, especially as the school year rolls along!


Tip #2: Do You Hear What I Hear? (Spread the Word!)


I am big on spreading the word and advertising our performances! One of our greatest forms of advocacy in music education is community outreach. When families see & hear first-hand the impact of music on our students, it helps build support for the music program.


There are many ways you can spread the word about your performance. Here are a few ideas:


Digital Newsletters

Our school sends out a digital newsletter that is sent out monthly to all school families & staff. These newsletters contain a school calendar & information about any upcoming events within the next month. I always make sure to include a concise info-graphic in these newsletters to catch the eye of the readers. These graphics contain the most important info: Event, Date, Time, etc. Digital newsletters have replaced paper copy newsletters at my school. If your administration is ok with it, you could also print a physical flier. These printed reminders can be a great way to get the word out about your upcoming performance!


School Bulletin Boards

I like to post a graphic/poster for the performance on the bulletin board near the music room and any other spots that see a lot of traffic throughout the school day. While it’s not something physical for students to take home, it gets the word out to students & staff so they can bring it up with family later on!


School Social Media

Our school has a relatively active presence & following on social media, so I make sure to also post my concert info there as well. Just a quick post advertising the performance can lead to a large increase in audience members. The bonus is that families can share these posts to their own social media, so families of students who are performing in the concerts can use these posts to get the word out to their own family/friends. I have found social media to be one of the most impactful ways to advertise for our performances!


You can of course keep your advertisements simple with just text and the most important details. However, I like to create an image that can help catch the eye. My favorite platform to use for this is Canva! There are so many pre-made templates you can use so that you can create a flier/ad in a matter of minutes.


Here are some examples of graphics we used to advertise past performances at our school:




Tip #3: It Takes a Village!


Despite us all being music education superheroes, it is ok to accept the fact that sometimes we just can’t do it all (crazy, I know). One of my biggest tips when it comes to performances is probably no surprise; ask for (and gratefully accept!) the help of those in your community. There are so many tasks related to performances that your support system can easily help you with, so that you can focus on the reason for the season: making music with your students!


Sometimes accepting help and working with volunteers is easier said than done. Not because we don’t want and appreciate the help, but because it can be difficult to decide which tasks you are comfortable letting other people handle. And sometimes we feel guilty accepting help because we know that everyone else is busy, too! But in my experience, there are people in the school community who really do want to contribute their time & who truly get fulfillment from helping!


Here are a few performance tasks I have found over the years that I am comfortable accepting help with, and that my volunteers have expressed that they genuinely enjoy:


Programs: With the right template and a good spreadsheet of information, the creation of concert programs (whether digital or printed) is something that a volunteer can definitely assist with! Or if you prefer to type your own programs like I do, it never hurts to still have helping hands when it comes to proofreading & folding. I am often able to find responsible student volunteers to fold our programs, and while it is something small and simple, it is also one less thing to worry about on our to-do list!


Stage Decorations: I always say there is a reason that I am a music teacher & not an art teacher. While I do enjoy decorating for themed concerts/shows, I can also admit that someone else can probably do a better job than I can! I have had crafty parents/guardians go out of their way to volunteer for this task because it is something they genuinely enjoy doing. I still provide some parameters and suggestions, but having the help of volunteers in this regard is definitely a time saver and is very much appreciated!


Photography: I have worked with many parents & colleagues over the years who have amazing talent for photography. We almost always have people from our school community reach out asking if we would like them to photograph our performances. Since all students in my club have a school media release, the answer is always a resounding “yes” from me! This has become such an incredible addition to our performances, because we end up with amazing photos that can be shared with families after. One of my awesome colleagues even had the idea to take a close-up candid photo of each 5th grader as they performed, so we could print & include a musical memory in their goodies when we send them off to middle school. Having someone photograph during the performance (and communicating that in advance to the audience) also takes the pressure off families to capture everything themselves. They can put their phones/cameras away and just enjoy the performance & focus on supporting their students!


Finding Volunteers

Depending on your school community, finding volunteers may be a bit daunting at first. I have found that some form of survey or volunteer interest indicator can go a long way in finding those who want to help and organizing them to help in the ways they will feel most comfortable. It could be something as simple as adding an interest survey at the bottom of your club permission form or concert information memo:


Please circle any areas that you would be interested in volunteering & supporting our program:


-Stage Decorations

-Programs/Copies

-Concert Advertisement/Fliers

-Photography

-Post-Concert Celebration


I have had a lot of luck with this method and have found that people are often more inclined to help when they can apply one of their talents/interests. And then there are those incredible families where volunteering (in any capacity) IS their talent/interest! Either way, many people will jump at the chance to help out if they know there is a need.


The Gift of Gratitude

When I am accepting help, I also make sure to thank our volunteers however I can. Sometimes that is a note in the program, sometimes it is a shout-out at the concert, sometimes it is a detailed thank-you card, and sometimes it is all of the above! If people go out of their way to show support & appreciation by volunteering their time and/or resources for US, then it is so important that we go out of our way to show our support & appreciation of THEM! Doing this will strengthen relationships and will help you grow an amazing support system and music community.


I am lucky to have a lot of support for the arts at my school coming from a variety of sources: supportive admin & staff, helpful & generous colleagues, and an incredible PTA. Accepting help when it is volunteered can go such a long way in making performance preparation run as smoothly and as stress-free as possible.


If you ever need help with things in the world of elementary music, whether performance-related or otherwise, reaching out to fellow music educators can be such a lifesaver! And if you don’t know where to start, just know your FEMEA Board is always here to help :-)


I’m wishing you all the best of luck with your upcoming performances and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!


- Madison Schafer


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