We jokingly refer to this time of year as May-une, the strange but wonderful period between the end of April and graduation. Just like you we are busy with concerts, award ceremonies, banquets, and volunteer recognition.
A top priority in these final weeks is to do everything we can to best close up shop and set things up in advance for back-to-school. We use a checklist of things to do in these final weeks to help make the start of the new school year easier. To avoid writing a novel, we have consciously excluded the many summer activities we all do including marching band, summer lessons, theater, etc.
We have a large number of district instruments available for student use. The start and end of the year are great times to educate students on instrument care. At the same time this training will help you better maintain your “fleet.”
Be sure to plan ahead and collect instruments early enough to evaluate and make plans, but allow for end of year educational activities, too.
We photograph all incoming brass instruments for dents and update an electronic portfolio. Our rental agreement states that families are responsible for damage. These photos may come in handy.
At the same time, drumheads and other percussion equipment are checked and necessary replacements are ordered.
We use the last week of lessons and band to clean, oil, and grease brass instruments. We have a large tub, snakes, mouthpiece brushes, and other supplies for student use. Students also clean mouthpieces and apply cork grease to woodwinds.
All returned instruments must be inspected to determine where repairs are necessary. Any minor repairs that we can do in-house, we will. We have a small repair kit for this purpose (as well as for emergencies throughout the year).
More complex repairs are sent to a local shop. We have found it helpful to send our school rental woodwinds for minor adjustments and pad evaluation early each summer. We encourage families to do the same with their personal instruments. Repair shops get busy in September. We arrange for school instruments to be picked up while we are still in session and returned over the summer.
It is important to keep good records of what instruments are going and what repairs have been performed. We use repair records to determine when it may be appropriate to retire and replace an instrument.
Also on our checklist are lines to assign summer rentals and assign instruments to returning and/or new students for fall.
We have music library storage at each grade level in our district and are fortunate to also have a regional music library from which to borrow. There is a district-wide database for each library, band, orchestra, jazz band, and choral. In the district-wide library database we indicate which pieces we perform each year to avoid duplication. This is especially helpful where our middle school colleagues may program a challenging piece for their group that we might consider programming for one of our ensembles.
Chief among our music library tasks are to return borrowed music and to file as much music as possible (ensemble music, solos, method books, etc.) to start new year with a clean slate. It is also crucial to order replacement parts for missing music. There’s nothing more annoying than pulling a piece of music out of the library to find it is missing a vital part. Take care of it before it is put away. Student librarians are a huge help with library management throughout the year.
We typically select one or two pieces for next year and pull them from the library, then set up folders to begin rehearsing as soon as possible in the fall.
Summer Music Assignment
We use MakeMusic Cloud to create a summer class and a summer assignment. In the class, we include ensemble music for next year, assign a few exercises, include some improvisation examples, and a method book. Students are not required to submit assignments but we ask them to accumulate at least 200 minutes of practice throughout the summer.
By giving students specific instructions and items to practice we have found they tend to practice more. What a difference it makes when students come to the first back-to-school rehearsal already prepared to play.
Music rooms tend to be shared spaces over the summer. Cleaners will move around equipment. Things are less likely to be damaged or go missing if they are covered and/or packed. This is particularly important with percussion equipment.
Put things away as much as possible. This is never easy with end-of-the-year events, but it is much easier starting the following year with everything in its place. Set aside a special space for items you will absolutely need on the first day back.
We have the students stack and rack chairs and stands as part of the final rehearsal. Not only does it help our cleaners but we have found it keeps our music stands from wandering into other classrooms.
Whenever possible, establish a communication plan if your room will be a shared space over the summer. Better to answer a quick question than be surprised.
These are pretty clear-cut tasks on the checklist. Clothing needs to be collected, cleaned and organized for fall. You may also have to contact families for any missing or damaged items.
Calendar for the Following Year
Our district begins to plan dates for the following school year in December. We use this to make our calendar, which includes annual events for our building, district, and community. It even includes helpful data points like various religious holidays.
As you work on your schedule you will also want to coordinate with others including the building principal, fine arts director, and particularly the athletic director to minimize conflicts and create a supportive environment for your musician-athletes.
Be sure to share concert and event dates with families ASAP to motivate students and notify parents early enough to eliminate conflicts.
If your district allows it, order your supplies for next year before you leave. That way they will be there on the first day and you will not have to think about it.
If you have a sense of your next year’s ensemble, order a piece or two to get started with. We have a local music business that offers leftover music inventory to music teachers, by appointment, at half-price at the end of each year. They are willing to bill for these purchases after the start of the new budget year. This is a great way to build a library.
Most schools will ask you to request new equipment mid-year. In our situation, we must order the instruments once the community approves our school budget. The instruments are delivered over the summer and are then ready to assign.
Elect/Appoint Student Leaders
We have an active band council with an elected executive council and several appointed positions such as stage manager, librarians, section leaders, and uniform managers. A council of student leaders can be both helpful and successful at any level by limiting position requirements for younger students.
In addition to electing officers and appointing positions, you’ll want to have current student leaders train new student leaders on job requirements. We have an annual old/new council meeting at a local coffee shop.
Put new student leaders to work prior to summer break. You may find new leaders have the energy and drive to outdo their predecessors.
Information, Documents, Social Media
If possible, collect information about incoming students. While we have access to information through our district student management system, we maintain our own database of music-related information. The best source of this information comes from their current teacher. District teachers share student name, instrument, parent emails, and current performance level. One of our colleagues goes beyond that to provide a paragraph of information about each student.
Complete start-of-year documents. Examples include rental forms, welcome-back letter, handbooks, and concert dates/event calendars.
Select music to arrange for small or non-traditional ensembles. If you have a unique ensemble or missing parts, use the summer make an appropriate arrangement.
We also create and send an end-of-year email to all band family households. Include some or all of the following items:
- Thanks for a great year
- Possible summer music activities i.e. music camp opportunities
- Calendar of possible in-school activities for next year (see above)
- Summer assignment (see above)
- Welcome incoming students with information about band/orchestra and expectations
- Student needs for next year (method books, concert attire, instrument supplies, etc.)
- List of approved private teachers in the area. The end of the year might be a good opportunity to bring teachers in to meet students and encourage participation
You may also wish to establish district-approved social media to keep in touch over the summer.
We saved the best (or most important) for last. You need to take care of you so you can take care of your students next year and beyond.
Find time to be a musician. It is important to remember that we are both musicians and educators. Take some time to get in touch with your own musicianship.
Schedule time to relax and recharge! This has to be a priority. If you are like most music educators, you spent the year setting aside your own needs for those of your students. Use the summer to recharge those batteries for a great start in the fall.
We hope these ideas are helpful. We wish to thank the colleagues that offered their own additions to our brainstorming list. The best checklist is one you tailor to your own needs and situation.