Since students have a lot on their plates, sometimes recruiting them for marching band can be a challenge. Even big-name bands work hard for a large freshman class, so recruiting for a smaller high school or college ensemble can be a daunting task. But it’s far from impossible when directors and current members get involved.
How far would you go to recruit students for your band? Last year, Texas College (TC) Director of Bands Jeffery C. Herbert embarked on a 17-day tour of the southern United States and drove more than 3,000 miles visiting various high schools.
With the strain of academics and other extracurricular activities on today’s students, sometimes it’s hard to convince people there’s still time for marching band. Every band should plan and implement a recruitment strategy to draw in new members to keep the band alive and growing, especially in the case of small or developing bands.
Texas College, a historically black college established in 1894 in Tyler, Texas, had always had a band, but it never had more than 30 members. Herbert, a high school band director and former assistant director and alum of the Southern University band, was hired in 2006. He worked with a 17-member band in his first year.
TC had hired Herbert because the school wanted a band with more than 100, so Herbert had some drastic recruiting to do before school started in the fall. Herbert borrowed a TC van and visited 59 high schools in the southern states, recruiting students for the band and at the same time, for Texas College. In the fall, 102 students showed up to try out.
“I needed to go out and recruit some talented, gifted kids for this program,” Herbert says. “I didn’t have much to offer, but I spread what my vision was for the Texas College band.”
This year, Herbert took a slightly different approach. A New Orleans native, Herbert is well versed in the festivities that take place in the area during Mardi Gras. With help from TC students that went home to New Orleans for the weekend, he visited more than 20 different parades, each with 15 to 20 bands from all over the country. They talked to bands and collected reply cards as the students got off the buses before their performances.
Mardi Gras 2008 was a significant event for New Orleans because most of the parades used their normal routes for the first time since Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005. Also, more revelers crowded the city for Mardi Gras than they had since the disaster, creating an ultra-enthused atmosphere for Herbert to give his recruitment pitch.
In some cases, Herbert needs to convince the students to simply attend college before even thinking about the band.
“Sometimes kids change their mind, and they don’t want to go to college, and they settle for fast food or construction jobs,” Herbert says. “They’re not looking at the long haul. I have to give them hope that their work will all come back in 100-fold. I’m a band director, but, at the same time, I’m like a parent and a counselor.”
Herbert has supported and counseled students who previously didn’t believe they could attend college and some who have overcome considerable hardships. “I have to sit down and talk to these kids because they have issues, especially the ones from New Orleans,” Herbert says. “They lost everything in Katrina, and they are here, and being here on this campus is the only thing that seems sane to them. When they go back to New Orleans, they are still living in trailers on the front lawn of their former houses.”
One student had to evacuate quickly and left his trombone in his house. “He thought he was going to only be gone for a day, but he lost everything,” Herbert says. “He said it was like his baby that he had for 10 years was washed away.”
TC has an unusual open-door policy for admitting students. If students don’t reach TC’s standard on the ACT or SAT, they can still attend the school but must take a placement test once there. If their score is below average, the school recommends that the students take remedial classes. Herbert has the same policy for the marching band.
“If you do not have experience with marching band, I would have a beginner stage in which to work with you,” Herbert says. “The band room door is like the college door—open-door policy.”
TC also offers scholarships to the band members. After students apply for federal grants, and all other scholarships come in, the remaining tuition balance can be supplemented with band scholarships of different levels based on need and seniority.
High School bands are getting into the recruitment game as well. At Liverpool (N.Y.) High School, a small group of students surprised their director by creating a recruitment video that he could show middle school students and upload on YouTube.com.
“It was my idea; I’m known to come up with crazy ideas,” says Adam Deyoe, a junior in the band at the time. “The director didn’t know anything about it, and we surprised him when we were done.”
Deyoe and his friends conducted interviews with members of the band— even utilizing “greenscreen” technology— and edited them together with performance videos, still photos from band camps and events, and a video clip of the band on the local television news.
“Basically we’re from a large school, and we had a dwindling band population because school scheduling was causing a lot of conflicts,” Deyoe says. “The idea of the video was to get something flashy that would get people interested in doing it.”
The video helped Liverpool attract one of its largest recruitment classes in many years. “It’s worked well for us, and it gets the kids excited about it,” says James Dumas, director of the Liverpool Marching Warriors.
Deyoe is now a freshman at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., and though his school has no marching band, he helps out with the local high school band in the fall. He looks back fondly on the experience of making the recruitment video.
“We started getting a lot more people that are dedicated to [band] and want to have fun,” Deyoe said. “I think the video helps people that are trying to decide and are unsure about it.”
Show Your Style
Many bands still use more traditional methods to recruit students. The Cal Aggie Marching “Band-uh!” from University of California, Davis, sends out letters to all students accepted to the school that indicated an interest in music on the PSAT’s Student Search Service.
“It’s a weird way to do it,” says Susanna Peeples, the band’s assistant manager. “Our band is a little different than other bands in that we accept everyone.”
The “Band-uh!” is one of the few entirely student-run marching bands in the country. “For us, it’s definitely more about if you want to be a supporter of Aggie athletics, then you can be a part of the band, and we’ll teach you to play something,” Peeples says. “Everyone has the right to learn to play a musical instrument, and a lot of people don’t get that chance anymore.”
Performing and hosting a table at recruitment days, involvement fairs and orientations are other recruiting tools used by the Aggie band. “People see us, and they see how much fun we’re having playing music and see that it’s completely different from high school band,” Peeples says. “People will come up after games and ask us how to join when they see how much the crowd appreciates us.”
The quirks of the group also help to draw interest. Its unusual moniker, “Band-uh!,” and its striking announcement, “Fast, Furious and Foaming at the mouth, Bold, Blue and Bitchin,” bring extra attention to the band.
“‘Band-uh!’ came from an announcer in the early 80’s who really over-annunciated, and it really just caught on, so it’s one of those things that makes us sound a little more fun from the get go,” Peeples says.
Though the band has no scholarships, Peeples says it doesn’t detract from recruiting efforts. “You’re there because you want to be there,” Peeples says. “You’re not doing it because you’re getting a scholarship; you’re doing it because you love being there and having fun. We want to help you, so that you can be the best that you want be be. It might take a little time for things to ferment and for you to really shine, so we like to give everyone that kind of chance.”
One common concern for new band members is time management with academics. “A lot of people love coming to band and doing band because it’s their way of not overdoing [themselves],” Peeples says. “You’re busy, but it keeps you focused and gives you more time management skills. It’s a great way to relax because college is stressful. Playing in the band relaxes you. We’re rocking out.”
We Are Family
Most bands try to promote, above all else, the close-knit support system created for students in a marching band. “A lot of people might think marching band is stupid—too much work, not fun,” Deyoe says. “We just wanted to show that it’s a bunch of people having a good time.”
Peeples also stresses the family-like community atmosphere created by the “Band-uh.” Before every fall semester begins, the band members go on a weeklong retreat at which new members are paired with an “upperbandsman” to help and guide them. These traditions give freshmen a group of friends before school even starts.
“It’s really nice going into college cause it’s like having your own personal adviser, someone who’s been there and done that and can help you,” Peeples says. “We really are our own community, so people find people they can study with, find their best friends. It’s like an immediate support group.”
Herbert feels the same way about TC. “That’s what we have to offer, not just with the college itself, but when they get in this band, it’s one band, one sound,” he says. “Each student is a part of this big happy family. Everyone knows each other by name, and that’s the closeness that we have to offer here.”
About the Author
Elizabeth Geli is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is currently a junior majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California. She began playing flute 11 years ago in her hometown of Placentia, Calif. Now she plays in the USC Trojan Marching Band and has supported the teams at back-to-back-to-back Rose Bowls, the NCAA basketball tournament and as many other games as possible.
Photo courtesy of Jeffery C. Herbert. All rights reserved.