Amy Jo Cherner

Amy Jo Cherner

The COVID pandemic of 2020-NOW has wreaked havoc over all of our lives.  It changed how we live, how we communicate, and how we teach. As music educators, we had to completely reinvent how to teach music over a screen, and how to teach choir through masks. We continue to see the mental health crisis amongst our students and within ourselves as the pandemic has turned into an endemic. Lastly, we are seeing the effects of COVID on our programs. Decreased enrollment…. Less funding…. NOW WHAT? WE are scared for our jobs, our programs, but also for our students who will no longer have the amazing opportunities that choir provides. Registration for the 2022-2023 school year is done…… So take a breather… and let’s start talking about being proactive for January 2023, when we hit “registration season!”

For anyone who knows me, I am a glass half-full person! I am positive, optimistic, and hopeful… but once January hits, I become paranoid. Which of our current singers will leave our program and why? How many 8th graders will sign up? Will our feeder school’s administration allow us to come in and talk to 8th graders? How are we being portrayed by counselors? My amazing colleague Jim Cox keeps reminding me that there are many things we cannot control, so let’s worry about those we CAN control. Below are recruitment ideas that Jim and I currently do, many of them “stolen” from other directors (thanks Judy Sagen). They won’t all work for everyone because different administrators/districts have different rules regarding “recruitment,” but the more we can help each other, the better! Also, I am writing this from the HIGH SCHOOL perspective, but could be used for other transitions.

  • Instagram/Facebook.  

Have a social media presence – Instagram is for students and Facebook is for parents/adults. Ours is run by a choir parent, and our choir officers have access to post content. Send the account name to your feeder schools and have them tell their students to follow it. We use this platform in the following ways:

    1. Posting about current choir student accomplishments
    2. Have students do a “day in the life” on a concert day
    3. Post clips of rehearsals and concerts
    4. Promote opportunities members of our choirs have
  • Promo Video

We asked some current seniors to create a 3-minute promo video. It included clips from concerts, pictures from events around the town, and voice-overs of students in the department. If your choir tours, this is the BEST PLACE to talk about those opportunities. This video was shown in class, sent home to families, and sent out via social media and to our feeder schools.

  • Google Form

We ask our feeder middle schools to give their 8th graders a google form which we created. In this form we ask for their email, address, current interests, about their potential registration status, and if they want to learn more about our school. If they want to learn more about our school, that gives us permission to send them a letter home.  See below:

  • Letters

We try to send a letter to CURRENT 8th grade choir parents at least one week before students register. In this letter we include statistics on the importance of fine arts, the history of our department, which choir their child should register for, and a sample schedule. We find it is very important to include a 9-12th grade sample schedule. This sample shows how a student can do choir all 4 years and fulfill all their graduation requirements.

  • Middle School Visits

We try to visit our feeder middle schools 1-2 weeks before they officially register. Ideally, we bring 1-2 current singers and have them talk about the choral department. We also show the promo video, have them fill out a google form, and give them a sample schedule. If you cannot bring students into your feeder school, give them a document with “what current 9th graders say about choir at EHS.” If we were allowed, we would have the students SING for the middle schoolers, but we’ve been told no.

  • Emails

Using the information from the google doc, we pair our current students with 8th graders and see who has common interests. Then ask our students to reach out via email and talk about choir.

  • School Presence
    1. National anthem
      • We try to have our singers/choirs perform the national anthem at every football, basketball, soccer, etc.  GREAT VISIBILITY!
      • We also go and perform the National Anthem as a whole department for the MN Twins and Timberwolves! Great to talk about to potential singers!
    2. School song
      • Ask your coaches for time to teach their players the school song, especially the freshman teams. This gets you in front of those teams and they can see how FUN you are and YOU can start hearing stand out voices.
    3. Get INVOLVED in your school
      • As a mom to 3 kids, this is becoming harder to do. I can no longer go to every event my students are in because of my work/home balance. But if you are in a stage of life where you HAVE the time, this is HUGE! When in doubt, quality over quantity EVERY TIME!
  • Administration/ Counselors
    1. Look at the registration guide and see what is written as your course descriptions. In today’s day and age where kids want FUN and EXCITEMENT, make sure your course description is enticing! Also make sure it is inclusive in language regarding genders. We have moved away from calling a choir “gender specific”, and now describe them as Soprano/Alto voices or Tenor/Bass voices.
    2. MAKE FRIENDS with counselors and those who give tours to new students. Talk about how choir is a GREAT way to meet new kids in the community.
    3. Take the time to find out HOW you are staffed in your school. If you are applying for new jobs, this is a GREAT interview question! Is it by the number of choirs you teach or by the number of singers? Will you always have the same FTE regardless of singers or choirs?
    4. Choir Requirements – In our 9th grade choirs, we have taken away “required all three trimesters” and asked counselors to put those who sign up for 1-2 in fall and winter trimesters. The majority of students who sign up for the first trimester then go and switch their schedules for the rest of the year because they realize how AWESOME being in choir is.  However, they need a chance to make that decision on their own.  If they are unable to switch that year, we at least use the time to make an impression so they sign up the following year! This has helped us tremendously!

A final thought to share with you all. I STILL take it personally when a current singer chooses not to continue with choir. It is hard for me to realize that choir isn’t for everyone and that they want to try other classes. That doesn’t mean we are bad teachers or that they hate our class, but there are so many other options out there and they want to try them all. My goal is to keep in touch with those students now and still show them how much I care for them. Hopefully, someday they will come back.