Directors' Toolbox

School Concert Planning Checklist

September 11, 2018

Trying to keep track of all of your classes and ensembles is hard enough. Then concert planning time comes, and there is a sea of event planning details to remember as well. To try to make things easier, we’ve compiled a checklist of concert planning tasks, along with a few stories from the trenches that showcase ideas that worked and moments when things went unexpectedly wrong. First, here is the checklist. Follow the arrows to see the planning steps from beginning to end:

As you go through the process, there also is a need to prepare for the unexpected. Here are some stories that former teachers and performers shared about times when things went wrong – followed by a couple of good ideas to make the most of the experience.

“Oh no” moments

My ensemble was asked to perform holiday music for a pre-winter break assembly. We worked for months on a few carols, including Do You Hear What I Hear?  Regrettably, I didn’t think to ask what other ensembles or repertoire would be on the program. The morning of the assembly, it was announced we would enjoy a guest ensemble from a local school for the deaf, a sign-language choir! Needless to say, I took that piece off our program, and never again forgot to do my research before a performance. 


I was a new percussionist in my college orchestra. We set up our instruments before a concert, but a staff member questioned our placement and rearranged instruments on a table. During a composition, I was standing at the triangle when my fellow percussionist picked up a drum stick from the table during a quiet moment in the piece. That made the now unbalanced table fall over, and everything went crashing down with a thunderous sound. From that, I learned to double-check our instrument placement before concerts and be leery about any rearrangements that may cause problems. 


The school’s quarterback and all-around gifted athlete was in the choir.  His coach evidently kept the players late, and so this young man only had time to quickly shower, get dressed and head to the concert hall. We were on the last number in the concert – Hallelujah that we sang with the band – when I noticed this young man start to get wobbly and weave back and forth. Some of his neighbors noticed it too, and through a bit of intense eye contact and hand motions, I was able to continue directing the choir while encouraging the students standing around him to lean into him and hold him up. That gave him enough support to last through the song, but on the last ‘jah’ he came crashing down. It’s something we were able to laugh about at his senior roast – but a lesson learned: take the time to talk to your students about proper hydration and nutrition prior to a concert!

Great Successes – Ideas that Worked

I would routinely assign students the task of writing program notes for each of the songs we would be performing. Part of the requirements included: what the text/lyrics were about; how the composer worked with those lyrics to match the music with the lyrics to make sense to the performer as well as the audience; what the song/composition means to them; what message, if any, did they gain from it; and what they learned musically or artistically through studying the piece. After reading them all, I would choose a student to read their notes at the performance, or if they were just too shy, I would print them in the program with their name. 


In my first year of teaching, it was challenging to coordinate the use of the hall with other events, even when planning months in advance. One conflict was an international fair, when the hall was needed for the student-created displays of various countries. I met with the classroom teacher, and she was delighted to allow my ensemble to participate in the evening event. She shared the project details so that we could coordinate our folk and world music selections to represent some of the countries the students had researched. My ensemble had fun preparing the repertoire, which enhanced their understanding of the cultures they were studying. We combined the evening into a musical event so that visiting parents were treated to a live concert before the exhibit hall opened. 


I engaged my students by having them be part of the song selection process. Depending on the level of the students I would give them different tasks, with some of the tasks being:

  • Selecting a theme for the concert
  • Using the theme, students in groups would select repertoire, including both newer music as well as music within the library. Students then had to examine the pieces and defend their selections from an artistic and technical aspect.
  • Students used this information to develop criteria to choose which pieces should be included in the performance and the order the selections should occur.

We actually performed several of these concerts – and even though they complained along the way, every time I had students indicate how much they really appreciated being able to be part of the process. It really made the concert ‘theirs.’


If you need help with repertoire for concert season, please visit our pages for choral, concert band, jazz band, and orchestra.

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