Fostering Coordination & Cooperation Among School Band & Orchestra Programs

Phillip M. Hash

School band and string orchestra programs should work together to provide a quality instrumental music experience for all stu- dents. In some districts, however, these pro- grams work against each other in an unspoken competition to recruit and retain players and outdo the other’s musical accomplishments (Lautzenheiser, McLain, & Gourley, 2003). Tis phenomenon is the result of human nature and the extent to which music educators gain recognition and rewards from parents, admin- istrators, and colleagues for large programs and impressive performances. Directors sometimes also feel pressure to maintain enrollment and quality to protect their reputations and insure job security (Barnes & McCashin, 2005; Batey, 2002). Competition between teachers can become particularly acute when a disparity in quality exists between the band and orchestra programs or the ability of individual direc- tors. Although success should be a priority for all ensembles, teachers must recognize that collaboration and cooperation are always in the best interests of students (Townsend, 2006) and work together to create programs that are both comprehensive and student-centered.

Starting Grade and Recruiting

Many elementary schools begin strings one year before band because fractional size instru- ments are available for strings and many teach- ers believe that these students need additional time to master the physical aspects of playing (House, 1965). As a result, some children begin before they are cognitively, physically, or musically ready, resulting in a lack of success and a higher dropout rate. Students sometimes also discontinue strings to join band the next year, thereby creating a negative stigma for the strings program. Although some teachers may be concerned that starting later will result in


less retention and musical achievement, Hartley and Porter (2009) found that beginning string study in sixth-grade resulted in higher reten- tion rates at the end of the first and second years compared to students who began in fourth or fiſth grades. Te authors also found no significant relationship between start grade and ensemble performance achievement as measured by large-group festival ratings. Tese findings suggest that teacher competence, instruction time, and students’ earlier musi- cal preparation might affect achievement and retention more than an early starting grade.

Based on these findings, band and string instruction should start in the same grade. Directors should set goals for enrollment and instrumentation for each ensemble, and then coordinate efforts so that all teachers are recruiting for the instrumental program rather than the band or orchestra. Directors should not try to sway students toward one ensemble or the other, but rather emphasize the benefits of learning an instrument as they attempt to de- termine which program will best suit each indi- vidual child. In this model, instrument demon- strations feature band and string instruments equally. If upper level ensembles perform at the demonstration, both the band and strings presentations should be fun, energetic, and appealing to potential beginners. An effective grand finale would be a performance by strings and winds together, preferably conducted by both the band and the orchestra instructors.

Symphony Orchestra

One issue that sometimes creates stress be- tween middle school and high school band and strings instructors is the inclusion of winds and percussion in a full symphony orchestra. Te orchestra director usually wants the best players


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