Supportive parents make their enthusiasm for their music programs known in ways the music teacher may never be aware of. While it's nice to be surrounded by happy parents after a concert, what really makes me feel good is when a parent says something like, "Oh, by the way, I ran into Mr. Principal in the store the day after the concert and told him how wonderful I thought it was."
Supportive parents are knowledgeable parents. Creating knowledgeable parents is an important part of string teaching. Communication has never been easier; we just have to make sure we do it. Email is a great tool for promoting activities. Face-to-face communication is still best, so after email gets parents to a program, use that concert as an opportunity for personal interaction. Parents need to be involved from the beginning so they can support their kids and your program.
Here are some ideas for making a child's early musical experiences more meaningful to parents:
- Be sure parents are present on enrollment night and that they have to sign something to have their child enrolled. A short presentation of yourself, your expectations of students and parents, and a brief preview of the year's planned activities will strengthen your case for parental involvement as a critical component in their child's successful experience.
- Put beginners on a performance as soon as possible, hopefully in October. Maybe in conjunction with PTA. It's not a concert; it's a demonstration of what they are learning. Parents can see their kids being taught posture, playing position and class routine as they listen to open string cycles, finger pattern drills and a couple of favorite one-line tunes like Twinkle or French Folk Song. If you have a 2nd year class in the same school, those kids can continue in the same vein demonstrating techniques and ending with one or two pieces.
- This is an opportunity to call attention to how well the students are presenting themselves, and to inform parents how to meet their responsibility to be a supportive audience. Then after the 30-minute (or less) program, it's meet and greet for you and the parents, who may even help you clean up afterward.
- Make the first concert a short one with only your orchestra students involved. Try to visit a bit with parents (especially if they don't look familiar) as they arrive. This can be tough to do with performers of this age, but give it a try. Again, this program should be very early in the year.
- Instead of warming the groups up in a separate area, start the program (after the greeting and decorum reminder) with a warmup demonstration which could show tuning procedure and some variations on a scale or two. This reminds parents that we are actually teaching, not simply trying to entertain.
- Next, briefly tell the audience what the students will be doing over the next few months--your program goals. Then introduce a couple of program pieces chosen to show off their newly-acquired skills.
- Have cheap, easy refreshments after (cookies, pretzels, etc.--no drinks). Meet and greet the audience and ask them to help you clean up. Practice your social skills.
- Stand at the entrance to personally greet each audience member and thank them for coming. Just like church! Remember, these people came early so their kids could make the call time, so you have time to visit a bit while your section leader make sure everyone's tuned, ready, and in the right place at the right time.
- Again, start the program by reminding parents of their involvement, of the need to avoid creating distractions, and how much their kids appreciate their applause.
- Keep the concert short. Forty-five minutes is a good maximum. Any more and you're on borrowed time.
The underlying things to remember are that what we do must have integrity, and the kids must look and sound good. The program's support in the school and community can't help but be enhanced when performances for parents are carefully planned and executed. Management is everything.