6 inventive tips for building a high school orchestra program that endures

Building and maintaining a strong high school orchestra program is no small task. The ebb and flow of district funding for the arts is at best unpredictable, and at worst, predictably dismal. Meanwhile, it can be an uphill battle to get parents and students seriously invested in music education.

Here are a few suggestions for getting resourceful to build a high school orchestra program that lasts.

1) Inspire younger musicians

Older musicians can be a vast source of inspiration for younger kiddos. Many elementary and middle schools would happily welcome high school orchestra students to perform at assemblies, show and tell their instruments in a music class, or volunteer to help beginner students. High school students can spread their passion for music while supporting early start programs in their district.

Take a few cues from this professional quartet that prepares simple tunes specifically for young audiences.

2) Develop a relationship with your community

Considering that many professional orchestras wouldn’t be able to stay afloat without a combination of government assistance and private donations, it’s crucial for orchestras of all kinds to maintain a strong relationship with their community. Performing at local events, retirement homes, and public spaces can be a great way to showcase the work of the students. If students are encouraged to put themselves out there after performances and engage with audience members, they can even build personal connections with potential advocates and patrons.

See how one Texas high school orchestra uses music to support health and wellness in its community.

3) Collaborate with other schools in your district

If there aren’t enough resources at any one school, it may be necessary to think creatively to ensure everyone is accommodated. If there are plenty of kids but not enough instruments, different groups can meet at different times and share the same instruments. If there are not enough kids at any one school, students throughout the district could join a unified program.

Here's how one high school orchestra director in Nevada thought outside the box to grow his program.

4) Provide varied opportunities for competition

Some students are terrified of performing a solo, while other students get bored of playing a small part in a large group. Competitions for large ensemble, small ensemble, and soloists offer something for everybody and can give students something to look forward to every year in orchestra. If it’s difficult to find local opportunities, letting students compete for a solo in a piece or letting small ensembles compete for a slot on the next program is a great way to raise the bar and make class more exciting.

Look up your regional chapter of the National Association for Music Education to start scouting competition opportunities in your area.

5) Engage parents

Playing music makes us smarterhappier, and more creative. And when talking to parents about their kids, it is always worth mentioning how orchestra experience enhances a college application. Long-term involvement in an extracurricular like orchestra shows passion and dedication. The orchestra experience will be even more impactful if students are exposed to opportunities for mentorship, community outreach, and competition.

Learn about the growing field of music neuroscience and the scientific basis for music education here.

6) Fundraise smarter, not harder

Have you fallen into a pattern of running four to five fundraisers per year to fund an orchestra program? Whether it’s chocolate bar sales in the fall, lollipop sales in the winter, or coupon books in the spring, these fundraisers can waste valuable time for students and instructors. 

Consider switching to Snap! Raise to achieve your fundraising goals without the hassle of selling products that your community doesn’t want or need. Snap! Raise has helped raise nearly $2M for orchestra programs across the country by helping them expand their network of potential supporters. That way students and group leaders can focus on building their dream program instead of navigating an endless sea of fundraisers just to keep their program afloat.

See how Chicago’s Protégé Philharmonic expanded its network of supporters through smarter fundraising.

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