Sustainability in Wisconsin Schools
Amery High School, Intermediate School
I teach in a small, rural district with drastically falling enrollment. We are losing 10 percent of our high school population next year, as well as 10 percent of our elementary school population. To maintain my program’s size as well as quality, I am trying to make the band experience in Amery all about the students. Instead of dictating what we play, for instance, I will often give students a choice of A or B, and let them pick. I am currently tapping into my student leaders for ideas to renovate our current pep band attendance system to make it less punitive and more rewarding of those who do the work. The ownership of the band is in the students’ hands, which means that they get most of the credit when we succeed, but also they get the blame if we don’t.
This allows them not only to make music together, but to learn to have responsibility and manage it within their lives. While this is only my second year, I feel confident that the morale and mood of the band is such that we will continue strong with this system. In addition, our fifth grade band numbers are higher than any time in the district’s past.
Medford Area Public Schools
To start with, we don’t have a problem with keeping students in band in Medford. I think some of it has to do with tradition, but much has to do with the fact that I teach from student to podium instead of from podium out. This makes a difference because students are being heard and worked with (intervention if necessary). The number one concern is always tone and range with most students. I use the Anatowind teaching process to assist in my teaching. You can check them out at www.anatowind.com. They are a music clinic locat4ed in Beloit, WI. If you put the student first then good things happen in the program and students feel more successful.
You might want to check their site out and feel free to contact me for more information. The PERSON must be first in the three-prong approach to teaching. Person, Instrument and then the music.
West Bend High School
In an era where our craft is often endangered because we are not a tested “core” class, the biggest thing a director can do to sustain their program is to create relationships that can function as allies. Being visible in the community, having a strong parent group and having trusted resource people are key. The more visible you and your band are in your community (that means doing the extra parades, nursing home gigs, store openings, run/walks, etc.), the more your community leaders are going to remember your program when it comes time to make any decisions that could negatively impact your program. Your program needs to be the best PR your district has–and don’t be afraid to share the newspaper articles and thank-you letters that you receive with both your principal(s) and your superintendent. Personally invite your school board members and administration to concerts. Be as visible as possible, as much as possible. Also, start a booster group if you don’t already have one. Not only will you get some much-needed help out of your boosters (our boosters take care of fundraising, receptions, advertising/marketing and the coordination of all parent volunteers), but administration will listen to parents’ concerns first in the event that there is a change (scheduling, programming, staffing, etc.) that needs to be addressed. Having a mobile parent force that understands the importance of your program (because they work with your program) is an incredible tool that you should have at the ready. Finally, it’s absolutely imperative that you have other industry professionals that you can rely on to counsel you when the going gets tough. I cannot tell you how often I’ve relied on experienced directors to guide me through a tough political situation, scheduling change or staff reduction. Their sage wisdom has prevented me from making some ill-advised, rash decisions and have also given me avenues of direction that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of on my own. Whether they’re your former middle school, high school or college directors, or the director in the next district–have a few that you trust and respect. Don’t forget to offer your services as well. Remember — it’s all about relationships. Make those allies and keep your program strong!
Waterford Graded Schools
I teach at 3 buildings, but I am fortunate enough to be able to propose my own schedule each year in order to balance my time at each school. I have a few weeks in the beginning of the school year when I see 5th and 6th grade students for general music. Chorus is comprised of 5th/6th grade students- so I frequently emphasize during that time that ALL students are welcome to be a part of chorus. This year I showed a you tube vide of an all boys choir singing “Some Nights,” with the hopes of having more boys join, and I had more boys join this year than I ever have.
For orchestra, I have current orchestra students make signs to hang up in their school’s hallways to advertise Sign-Up Night. A few weeks before Sign-Up Night, I have 2 hours at each school, where I meet with individual students and show them each instrument. Throughout the year, students will play for morning announcements, play during lunchtime in the cafeteria, and of course for our 2 concerts. Emphasizing how fun it is, and showing current students having fun with it helps a lot.
Poynette Middle School
It all starts with an effective recruitment system. Once you have the kids, it’s about keeping them. Whatever you have to do to help them feel successful, you do it. For me, that is encouragement, flexibility in the lesson schedule, and adjusting expectations to meet the reality of less time with students. I have had to pare back the difficulty of music performance level since all of this change began. The feeling of success is the driving force that keeps students motivated. It is important to make sure their music fits their skill levels so they can always enjoy the process and performance.
Ashland High School
I began teaching in 1984 in a small school where being in band was “the thing to do”! I taught there three years and learned with wonderful students. I then moved to a larger city where I worked in the middle school program. There were so many sixth graders starting band that we split them up in several groups. We started them in the summer and everyone was excited to participate. I moved up to the high school in 1990 and had several years of high involvement and high energy with my students. The band grew from 35 to 141 students where it reached a plateau. These students were outgoing and very giving of themselves. They did music, student government, sports, etc. They participated in everything and even had jobs outside of school.
Through the next years I saw a decline in student participation. Reasons given to me were; “I have to take an A.P. class”, “I have to have a study hall”, “I have too much going on with my other activities”, “I don’t like to march”, and many more. I looked inwardly to see if I could find reasons for declining numbers. I made sure that I was doing everything I could to “reach” all of my students. I vowed that I would watch my actions to help them feel included. I also spoke with the band members and together we have tried to encourage our younger players and in the past three years our numbers are coming back up.
I have done several things to sustain and grow the participation in music at my high school. I started a piano class. We have 10 donated pianos and now have two periods a day where students are working on learning to play the piano or improve their piano skills. I also started a classical guitar class. I have a dozen students who are learning to read and play music on guitars who may not have become involved if there was only a band. I have encouraged non-music students to participate with my band kids in WI Launchpad. I have encouraged many students in our school to share their talents through our annual talent show that I started 22 years ago. This gives me a chance to meet many new students who might not set foot in the band room.
I feel there have been changes in our society and schools where students are not pushed to give of themselves through their music. There is a big push to give of themselves through sports because there seem to be more carrots of scholarship out there. I feel that students are spending more time “away” from each other with the technology they have which allows them to communicate more frequently without seeing. They don’t feel they need to play music together.
The budget cuts in our school cost us our summer beginner programs and our summer marching program. We have also dropped from 7.5 music instructors in our district to 6 throughout my tenure. There are many new pushes in education, which pull music students away from our programs. I must always keep in mind that my students need to enjoy making music together and enjoy each others company as it wouldn’t be difficult to walk away from it.
My next push will be towards more electronic music. I don’t have the proper equipment yet but I am hoping to find funds and create a space for the students who want to go that route. There will never be an end to adapting in this ever-changing music world. Just need to keep one note ahead.
1. WE ARE A K-12 DEPARTMENT! We are committed to working together to achieve a common goal, which is to provide a quality musical (& life) education to our students.
2. We bring an enthusiasm for music, our students, and LIFE in general to our classes…all of us!
3. We are kid-centered. Our students feel safe and loved in our rooms. We are a family!
Along the lines of the fact that we are a K-12 program, you could add that we collaborate not only between the choral and band programs (Think of the joint concerts that COULD happen at other schools but don’t because the teachers refuse to support the other discipline!!), but also between buildings – Elem/Middle/High. I’m thinking of the jazz band concert, the show choir concert, all of the seniors that do their SEPs with kids from another building….
Also, I think the fact that we keep our concerts (except if we are fundraising) free to the public, and we also have our extra-curricular groups perform at community events keeps us visible. When the community is aware of the things we do, they want to support us.
The common vision of the music staff is imperative. We are also blessed with community support with an amazing performance facility and the high school band room is also an impressive rehearsal space. We have an enormous amount of fun but it does not interfere with putting out a very quality product.
I think that the music program is successful because the teachers challenge the students to do well, but the students have fun in the process.
I think what makes my music program at West Salem so successful is because we have successful music teachers. Without them I wouldn’t even be able to learn music. I know for a fact that when I grabbed a clarinet in fifth grade I knew it was the perfect instrument of choice for me. Not only that but also choir has taught me how to become a better singer not just for me but for a whole chorus. It got me involved in barbershop singing and it has significantly changed how I view things in life.
I thought it helped that we got and started playing our instruments at the end of fifth grade so we started and would be somewhat ready for Middle School Band.
Lodi High School
I’ve been a choir director for 35 years in two different districts. The main trick: teach to/for the boys. If it’s between a couple songs for the concert, I have the students vote, telling them I get the ultimate decision. We usually try the songs a couple more times but I choose the one the majority of boys vote for.
Also, finding songs that feature the boys – maybe a spiritual that the boys start (Elijah Rock or Shut de Door) or a fun guys song (There is Nothing like a Dame) or something challenging but the boys have the ‘lead” in (Ye Followers of the Lamb) or a boys barbershop CHOIR where they all learn the toughest style of singing but in numbers so they succeed.
Another trick: let students have a say in the selection. Besides the songs I pick for each choir out of the repertoire in our music library, I listen for several hours to the Hal Leonard or other brochures that have a CD or other audio track. I have slips of paper and write down songs for the appropriate choir. The choir listens to the songs (maybe 6 – 15 songs depending on the year and group) over a couple of days and students vote yes/no/maybe. Again, the final songs are chosen by me, but the students narrow it down and really enjoy having a say. Also, there may be a song I think would work for the group but if most of the choir votes no, I don’t bother. I’m not giving in to them if that’s what you’re thinking – – just not choosing the best songs for them out of the group of songs they get to pick from. I’ve already chosen ones – they get to add to it.
Don’t forget: diversity. At each concert, there will usually be some of the following styles/genres: patriotic, classical/romantic etc., spiritual, a cappella, instrumental feature within, familiar to the audience, humorous, foreign language, guys or girls feature, surprise guest soloist, movement to a song (you can’t just stand there and sing “In the Still of the Night”), having a choir start in the back of the auditorium with solos on stage or combining the choirs. One year our football coach sang the lead in Blue Christmas in an Elvis suit with the choir doing the back-up and step togethers. Yup – it doesn’t get any better than that.
Also: create opportunities for students to perform. We’ve had a talent show for years at the high school along with an Alumni Show in the summer. Students have the opportunity to sing at a lot of events in our community between clubs, nursing homes, assisted living centers, events at churches, the Optimists, Women’s Club, Rotary etc. We have a competitive show choir that participates in three events in January and hosts a Swing Choir Invitational for 30 years, a musical and play every year, a school of dance and a Jazz Dinner Theater besides our many regular concerts. We also have an active band program with marching band, pep band, jazz band, show band and pit orchestra. Lots of students just in band or just in choir or they used to be in music but dropped out often add music classes to their schedule if it’s possible.
Extra: bring in performers for the students. We are excited to have so many Lodi graduates that make music a part of their life and are willing to share with our students. Several are professional musicians and will come back to school with groups or as soloists to perform or teach a clinic for the high school or a concert for out community. We also have had a dozen or so college or high school music groups or other professional groups that have performed here while on a tour in the area.
Finally: publicity. I’ve touched on this a bit mentioning the performing opportunities students can take advantage of around our town. We also send a lot of pictures and write-ups to the paper, have posters around town, have 1/4 page flyers at stores and the grocery store for events, have posters of Jazz Band and Show Choir we put up and take our students places, including watching a musical in Chicago every other year since 1994, performances in Memphis, Chicago, Whitewater and TEN years of performing in Florida at Disneyland.
Athens Grades 6-12 Instrumental Music
Our community of Athens has a population of approximately 1000 and is located in northwestern rural Marathon County. Presently our high school has an enrollment of 203 students with 78 who have chosen to be in band.
Many times in small schools we are sharing students with athletics, forensics, yearbook, clubs, etc. Instead of competing against these other programs, which are also important for our students’ development, I believe in “supporting” each other. Many times I talk with coaches about which pep band dates are important so we can show support for what they are doing even though we can’t play for all their events. I spend time talking with other advisors and encourage my students to participate in a variety of activities. In addition, I ask student how he/she is doing in their activities.
As educators if we chose to use the “attack mode” and use put downs toward another program, we tend to divide our students. The student feels forced to have to pick and chose what is better for them which might not be the music program. This doesn’t assist with sustainability.
To sustain my band program, I encourage cooperation so all programs are strong. This makes our school stronger when students are allowed a variety of experiences. With school choice options, we want our small school to be more appealing to new students as well as our present students. Through the various activities, students have the chance to discover their strengths and weakness. which allows them to reach their fullest potential.
As a band teacher, I follow the normal “PR” that most other music departments use. The local newspaper and district newsletter have articles or pictures of our students’ participation in events. More importantly, I show support of my students so that “word of mouth” becomes the best “PR” for the band program. This tends to advertise our strengths, which allows for sustainability. People want to be where the positive energy is!!
Spending time in dialogue with your administration sharing the importance of music education is crucial for sustainability. If there are one-section class conflicts with your single section of band or choir, this creates stress for the student. The student might be forced to pick Chemistry over a music class since their career goal requires that class. In our school, the administrator does his best to avoid having single section classes scheduled against the music ensembles. The eight period day assists the scheduling of all elective classes. While creating the schedule, our administrator uses the software to lock the students into band and choir first since those are the 2 largest classes. Using a spreadsheet during the process, the seniors have their choices strategically placed followed by juniors, sophomores, and freshman. All band students in grades 6-12 are able to have lessons either weekly or biweekly. We understand this scheduling process is not perfect but allows our students to have a balanced education that gives them more options especially for participating in music.
Another important part of sustainability is to keep yourself fresh. It is obvious you need to keep current on the new demands and trends in education as well as maintaining a rigorous curriculum. But more importantly, you need to take care of yourself! Many of our staff members pursue outside interests that are supportive of our civic, community, and church organizations. Engaging in healthy personal exercise and other mentally stimulating activities are life enhancing and refreshing as well. If you feel good, your students will enjoy being with you!
United we stand, divided we fall. Those who are insecure and weak use the attack mode on other programs to make their own program appear good. Does elitism really build a better music program or does it alienate others from wanting to be a part of our groups? What kind of life lesson are we teaching our children with this sort of attitude?
In my opinion, sustainability comes from positive energy and genuine concern we give our students. These young people deserve our encouragement in all academic, clubs, and athletic endeavors at this important point in their life.
It has been a privilege and blessing for me to serve the Athens School District for the past 34 years as the 6-12 instrumental music instructor.
St. Joseph Catholic Academy High, Kenosha
I work at a small private Catholic School that has about 570 students from grades 6-12. The school year is in trimesters, which doesn’t help the elective slots for students. Our feeder program is being cut and changed, and is trying to establish a consistent program. It is extremely hard for my band and choir program to sustain with all of the factors playing into it.
Besides regular band and choir classes, I offer study hall bands and choirs that let students who can’t fit music into their schedule, which allows numbers to build and students can stay in band and choir the whole year if they choose. I combine middle school and high school together for certain pieces. It takes a lot of modifying parts but it helps having full instrumentation for band or choir. The sixth graders feel very proud of themselves for playing/singing with seniors. I make sure to have a balance of concert repertoire along with popular pieces of music and then I make sure to advertise that to the school. This makes a lot of students who aren’t in band or choir want to join because of the music that we are doing. I also let students find some music to order and then we vote to see what music gets picked.
These are some of the strategies I try to employ to sustain and keep numbers up.
Lake Mills Orchestras, Grades 5-12
After our school district cut 4th grade strings and added 5th grade band, i thought the orchestra program was going to crumble. The band director and I recruit TOGETHER instead of against each other. We call every 4th grader’s home to explain how they can enroll in either or both ensembles, and inform them when our respective recruiting nights are. We do a recruiting concert together. The band might play on Wisconsin and the orchestra plays something rockin’ or spooky, using electric bass and one of our electric violins (purchased with grant money from the Lake Mills Arts Alliance). Although we have very different teaching styles, many students are in both band and orchestra as a result of our “sharing them nicely”.
Wilmot Union High School
The Wilmot High School instrumental music program has held steadily between 12 and 14 percent of our 1,200 member student body. Maintaining this percentage is key to offering a healthy, well-rounded music curriculum. As a school that regards reading and writing as integral parts to the curriculum, I always include an essay question on final exams. The question simply asks the students their opinion about the program. What do you like, what should we change, what can we add, why are you in the band? Some students are interested in pursuing a career in music whereas some simply enjoy making music with their friends. Other students are in the program because they enjoy the dance portion of color guard. Still others enjoy the travel that comes with membership in the band. Knowing these things and including them all into my curriculum is a valuable way to keep enrollment up as well as offer the students a well-rounded musical education.
Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School
I have recently started incorporating contemporary a cappella and it’s catching on like fire. Everyone wants to be a part of it, but the catch is you have to be in one of my three concert choirs for at least a year to even audition. The great thing about this kind of music is that it actually is very hard to pull off. Lots of texture, rhythms, music theory, chord progressions, intonation, etc. that we talk about and really dive into when singing and learning any of our songs. Honestly choral music becomes very simple when comparing it to this genre. I tell my students that “Choral Music is the foundation and is a necessity to experience before you are able to understand other types of music.” As of the past two years I have almost half of the school involved in the choral program!
Wayland Academy, Beaver Dam
We were FINALLY (after 10 years) able to alter our schedule for next year, so that we will have a “Fine Arts” Period. No classes other than band, choir, and perhaps an art class will be scheduled during this time. This will mean I will see my concert band six days out of a seven day cycle (for 45 minutes a day), as opposed to the one day (20 minutes) per week I see them now. I am hoping that this will increase the numbers in band (and choir, as well) and give us a chance to really create a great program.
Berlin High School
I think several things important to sustain a quality program are (in no particular order):
~ A quality feeder program at every level
~ A supportive administration
~ Quality literature that challenges and excites the musicians
~ Strong teacher/student relationships built on respect and trust
Barneveld High School/Middle School
I have found that public exposure is the best way to sustain a good music program. I am the small town of Barneveld, WI. This is my first year of teaching, and what I have done to make sure this program sustains success is to really make sure the music program gets exposure to the community. In a small town, the community is everything. And with this being a basketball town, we make sure that we are ready for pep band performances. I have received many compliments about our pep band this year from community members that I do not even know. Concerts are obviously important, but usually only the parents of the students get to hear them. It is important to get the music out to the community so they have a chance to experience it. That way when I need to go looking for support, they know what we are doing and what we are all about.
Webster High School
My name is Cory Westgard and I am a first year teacher up in Webster, Wi. I teach High school and middle school choir, and am the K-4 music specialist in the elementary school.
The program I’ve just inherited had been dwindling for many years. On my first day of school I had 17 girls and 1 boy in my high school choir and 19 girls and 3 boys in my middle school choir. This whole semester so far has been about inspiring and celebrating every success. Therefore, I’ve added as many performance opportunities as I could from the previously made schedule, which was rather lean. The performance opportunities include: Singing the National Anthem at sporting events and pep rallies/assemblies, performing at the veteran’s day program, seeking out community ran events such as our Youth In Harmony program, Honor’s choir participation, caroling in the halls the day before Christmas break, scheduling performances at our memorial day service, graduation and other various school assemblies. Through these created events I’ve generated more opportunities to legitimize my praise of my choirs.
We’ve just started second semester and my numbers are up from a total of 40 choir wide at the beginning of the year to 59. I believe the increase in numbers is a direct result of the innovations I’ve made and establishing the expected presence of choir at school/community events.
Hustisford School District
In my music classroom the key is COLLABORTION! I try very hard to work with the classroom teachers on things they are teaching in their classroom, as well as, teaching my music concepts! They really do fit hand in hand!! I also work hard to incorporate Common Core, RtI and all of the reading initiatives our district is working on! Because I am able to show how well my classroom reinforces the Core subjects and do it all while continuing to teach my music curriculum, my district has been very supportive of our music program!