Getting students into the classroom is the first challenge for any teacher, and keeping them there year after year developing consistency, and building on the previous years is the crucial next step to creating a successful, high-level program. These two facets of an educator’s job often slide under the radar of the choral director’s university training, yet the importance of both recruitment and retention cannot be overstated.
For some vocal music educators, the body of work and activities undertaken do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to building excitement around a program. But many other choral directors must be proactive to keep their numbers up year in and year out. For those of you who fall in that latter category, this latest CD reader survey aims to provide the recruitment and retention tips that will keep your classes happy and full, while also providing a broader view of the status of school choir populations across the country.
How has the population of your vocal music program changed this year, relative to last?
“Our numbers have gone down over the last couple of years. We’re getting very few boys from the middle school, despite the recruiting concert we do.”
Shady Side Academy
Are you meeting your program-capacity expectations?
Do you actively recruit prospective students?
If yes, what recruiting methods have you found to be successful?
“I attempt to get to know my students personally. I try to create a sense of family within the program, where the students know that this is a safe environment within the school. I encourage kids to hang out in the Chorus Room before and after school. They use this as study time, tutoring time, or social time.”
Marshall Butler, Jr.
Sanderson High School
“Get the students involved in recruiting, and have them bring their friends. That’s proven to be much more effective than me doing it myself.”
Reyburn Intermediate School
“Being ‘good’ and running a popular subject are the best recruiting tools. Students want to be a part of anything that is of quality. It also helps to build the connection between high school and middle school through joint concerts, assemblies for the school, frequent visits, and collaborations. Trips, musicals, et cetera, can be beneficial, but the main thing is how the program is perceived. If it is perceived as good and popular, your job is a lot easier.
“Keeping kids in your program is as easy as 1-2-3. To retain students, you need to know what you are doing, provide a learning experience that engages all students, and sincerely care about the children.”
Ledyard High School
“Personal contact. It has been important for me to contact students, but even more effective is teaching my current students to reach out and excite potential students. One of our most effective tools is to partner a student with a visitor for a day. Let them sit in on classes, attend rehearsals, have a meal on the house, and a tour of campus.”
Dr. Matthew C. Harden
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Approximately what percentage of students return to your program every year?
What steps do you take to ensure that students continue in your program?
“I try to make it a good program in a non-threatening environment. I believe that if the students are proud of what they are doing and learning, they will want to return.”
Wellston City Schools
“We hope that those who have participated will encourage others. Older students mentor the younger ones. We try to give many appropriate public performances and think of new venues and performance opportunities for the students.”
The Gow School
South Wales, N.Y.
“I attempt to have a relationship that is more than simply knowing the name of each of my singers. All students in my classes sign a contract that includes expectations and concert dates. If a student is on the fence, I sit down and talk with them to discover their reasons for possibly not returning, and ask them to talk to their parents about it. Sometimes, it is mutually beneficial for them to resign because of learning problems or behavior issues. If not, I will try to diffuse their worries or excuses and encourage them to stay.”
Martin Kellogg Middle School
“Value each student as a person, whether or not they are the most talented. Keep lines of communication open with students and parents.”
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School
“I think the key to retention is successful programming. Giving the students opportunities for expression through a variety of styles, genres, languages, and literature is paramount to making them crave more. Most students are drawn to the music, which is what makes our class such a unique subject on campus. Ensuring that the literature is quality and can be well taught and mastered builds confidence, character, and a life-long desire to take on more.”
Coronado High School
Are there any specific challenges you face in retaining students?
“My biggest issues arise from scheduling problems. We have lots of classes that are only offered once a day, and students have to make choices. There is high-pressure from the AP college courses, and students tend to go for those classes over an art or music class because they are told that it will ‘look better’ on their college applications.”
Flint Hill School
“Scheduling, increased graduation requirements, and required remediation classes for those who fail a portion of the Indiana standardized testing. I almost always lose those students for at least one semester, and they sometimes just don’t make it back into the program.”
North Central Jr-Sr High School
“The biggest challenge I face is that students are not being allowed to take electives; instead, they are being forced to take remedial academic classes to achieve better test scores, and close the ‘achievement gap.’ In doing so, my district seems to be creating a much larger ‘cultural gap.'”
Shady Grove Middle School
Additional thoughts on recruitment and retention?
High school and middle school students have very short memories. They cannot be expected to know about your program or the honors that your choirs have received in the past. Even if you are or have been successful, kids need to be talked with one-on-one and they need to get to know you and your program. They have to be recruited to your program one singer at time. We recruit singers year round!”
Lexington High School
“Currently, I have fewer boys at the middle school than usual. I think this is a reflection on the previous elementary teacher who did very little singing in his classes. We have a new elementary teacher who has set up a 4th- and 5th-grade choir at the elementary schools, which should have a positive affect on my middle school choirs.”
Park High School
“Choosing the right literature is key to a thriving program. A balance of art, folk, contemporary, sacred, secular, and world music from North America, Africa, Latin America, the Pacific rim, and Europe and the Mediterranean is most important. Our curriculum needs to reflect American society with all of its sub-cultures and traditions. While popular music has its place, emphasis on American popular culture does not provide for a well-balanced curriculum and actually hinders growth.”
The Blake School