I teach a small band (high school) and things are not looking good for next year. Basically, our administration dropped the ball on us this year and there was a scheduling nightmare that prevented us from getting good numbers from the middle school. We've had several talks with them, and I don't want to say that they "screwed up", but they definitely recognize that they didn't exactly have our best interests in mind when the master schedule was designed. Good news is that they want to do better and they're responding to our feedback and promising to do better for us next year.
The other bad news is that we recently lost a great director at our middle school. The kids LOVED him down there and so when we hired a new director, there was a mass exodus with kids leaving the program. Our new middle school director is trying to do his best to pick up the pieces, but the program is in shambles.
And lastly, in our small band of about 40 students, we're graduating about 25 which includes literally our ENTIRE brass section. We're going to be left with 0 returning brass students next year.
So the predicament is, right now we have a total of 16 8th graders that could potentially get. Of those students, about 4 of them are brass players. We're definitely not going to get all 16. We usually lose at least a fourth of those students because they transfer to other schools (and those are usually the best and brightest students too), and another fourth to two fourths will quit for a variety of other reasons.
So I'm sure you can understand why I'm sweating bullets for next year. I'm wondering how I can salvage this situation. I'm thinking of refocusing my recruitment efforts to students that have quit band, but I don't know how to go about that. I'm sure most of them are strutting around campus acting like they made the best decision of their lives after having never given the high school program a chance. I even have other students in different classes that will go on and on about how much they loved band, but when I try to convince them to join again, I always hear a multitude of excuses. But the most common thing is that another program picked them up (sports, CTE, etc) and they think that band will be too much of a time commitment and get in the way of their other activities. So would I even be successful in this sort of campaign?
First of all, I'm sorry you're going through this. Music education is a tough field. I've had kids at state now and yada yada and we still go through stuff like this. It doesn't ever really change unless you fall into one of those rare, wonderful places where your administration does everything they can to make sure you have a fair chance at success. If I was in your shoes, I would restart the entire culture. If you have outside of school rehearsals, do you really need them? When you compete, do you do too many contests? Time commitment becomes one of the biggest factors towards a child's decision to stick with a program. What about your musical expectations? Are they inline with state requirements or above? If they're above you may be scaring them away. What's your demeanor on the podium like? Are you somebody that people want to be around or do you turn them off? What about your show design.....is it pleasing to audiences where you get reactions or does it confuse them to where they get mocked for what they do? The middle school situation sounds like a thing but ultimately you are the captain of that program. How it does will be because you were humble enough to step back and learn from others or it will be what it is because you decided to be stubborn and stuck with your principles. Recruiting people that have quit band is so hard on the culture of your program. I'm worried for you in that positions are often held because of our ability to keep things calm. Having less than 20 people in your band will bring you and your administration unwanted attention. I'd ask them about possibilities in the future to reward the band kids for their hard work. Having taken band kids to state marching, I've seen kids quit band because they were disappointed in how valued they were in making state. It's up to us to garner an environment that encourages students and makes it "bigger than life" for them. Find people in your area who are amazingly good at recruitment and student quality and have conversations about what it takes.
Do you have concrete assurances that admin will not repeat the problematic scheduling? If not, I would consider moving to another school.
What is the instrumentation of your possible 4 brass players? Are there strong WW sections with motivated students who could switch to brass? It's not fun, but possible with careful guidance and programming (especially if you start now in anticipation). I've had saxophone players become outstanding tubist in the past to fill a need.
I would be cautious about approaching students who have left in the past. You know each situation better than I do but in my experience it causes more problems than it solves.
A band of any size/instrumentation can learn music and improve. Worst case take a year off UIL to rebuild.
Because "it's hard, so quit" is how to best get places in this business.
Problematic scheduling can be overcome by thinking outside the box.
OP: Consider having a beginner band for a year or two at the high school level. Get some kids in that never had a chance in middle school, or that may have dropped before 9th grade. They'll learn faster than you think, may be willing to march (even if they don't play) and will be a future asset.