The end of the school year always brings a weird time of simultaneously ending your year and preparing for the next. Students are graduating and incoming freshmen are going to be exploring their musical options. Naturally, we want them to choose us.
I have seen some great recruitment examples, and I have also seen some major recruitment nightmares. What makes or breaks these experiences?
When you don’t have a clear, public motive for recruiting students, you are most likely going to end up with unhappy members of your organization. And here is why:
Without a recruitment motive, you are just playing a numbers game.
Think about the times when the majority of your alto section or your only bassoon player is graduating. Your first thought becomes, “I need to fill their spots.” And to an extent, you’re right. You do need to balance your ensembles. Numbers help us have a well-balanced ensemble.
But it can’t be all about numbers.
Your job as an educator is to serve your students by providing them with experiences that will develop their skills, further their knowledge, and foster their passion for music. Not just fill a spot in the choir.
To me, recruitment is a community building effort.
Your ensemble or organization is a community of people who want to achieve musical excellence, pursue a passion or hobby, and who want to learn more about music making.
Students don’t sign up to win superior trophies at festival, and they definitely don’t sign up because “you need them.” They join an ensemble because you are providing them with something they want and/or need: knowledge, experiences, and community. So approach it that way!
This can get even hairier on a collegiate level when scholarships are being offered. To a poor college student, receiving money to be in an ensemble seems very attractive. But what happens when there’s no knowledge being acquired, or their experience expectations are not met, or even worse, the community is non-existent? The money may not seem worth it, and they made trade the money to fill those voids elsewhere, or even worse, forgo those voids completely.
If your underlying motive for recruiting is numbers, that will be all you get. Students are not just voice parts or instruments, they are members of your organization and community, and they want more from you than a place to stand and sing.
Here are some Do’s and Don’t’s for your recruitment season:
- DO be excited to tell your prospective students about your organization. If you are pumped about it, they’ll notice and be interested in joining!
- DON’T make promises you can’t keep. If you haven’t received approval for your Disney trip yet, then don’t use that as a way to get kids excited about your program. If it falls through, you just look unreliable!
- DO bring current students to interact with your prospective students! There is no better testimony than from those who are already having the experience that future students want to know about! You may know all the answers to their questions, but your experience is not the same as your students, so bring some along to share their stories!
- DON’T avoid recruiting in person! A big part of joining an ensemble is finding out what the director is like! Letters, emails, or phone calls are great, but you never know what someone is like until you spend some time with them face to face. Would you take a job where you were interviewed over text message? Probably not. Hold an event where you can invite prospective students to hear your ensemble, talk to current students, and hear from you personally!
Reflect on your recruitment motives and remember that your incoming students don’t want to be sold on your program, they want to be a part of it!
How are you recruiting students? What kinds of events do you have? What has worked and what hasn’t? Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Twitter @LindsayBrazell.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tracyhunter/
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