Plan to Plan: What to Consider When Planning a Festival or Special Event


When we were members of a school music program, we most likely participated in an honors festival, an adjudication or competition of some sort, or we were treated to an evening or clinic with a special guest artist.

In those days, while we spent hours preparing to participate in these events, we had the luxury of simply showing up on event day and everything just magically seemed to happen. Then, when it was over, we hopped in our parents’ car and went home with lifelong memories and nothing to clean up.

Now that we are on the other side of the fence, at some point in our careers we discover that it was not magic that made these major events happen, but hours, days, weeks, and months of careful planning and sacrifice. It’s like becoming a parent and realizing that Santa doesn’t magically make toys and deliver them while you sleep. However, like taking on the role of Santa, with careful planning and loads of collaborative efforts, hosting events can be some of the most worthwhile and satisfying experiences of your teaching career.

Here, we will share some things to consider to help you navigate the planning of a large-scale event:

Find a mentor

When you have questions, reach out to colleagues and parents who have been down this path before. They will be happy to help, and their advice and insight will be invaluable—you will not regret it.

Get your ducks in a row

Now that you have decided to take on hosting a competition festival, a guest artist, or a major honors festival, it’s time to get down to business. Make a checklist of everything you need to organize. Be sure to include the guest conductor or artist, riders, paperwork and other registration materials, meals, transportation, facilities, music acquisition and distribution, hotel accommodations, chaperones, medals, awards, programs, recording, judges, hospitality, reauditions, schedules, parking, concessions, security, tickets, money, nurse, instrument repair person, and piano tuner.

Create a production schedule

Every detail has its own timeline and deadlines. I recommend you list the deadlines for each detail and work backward to the present moment to determine what needs to be done by when. And plan early: artists, conductors, judges, transportation companies, caterers, and hotels book up—you don’t want to be a month away from the festival and not have a place for the students to stay.

Plan to plan

If you are planning an optional event, such as a special concert with a guest artist, and there is no budget from a state music organization, you need to plan very far in advance—at least a year. Think of it as writing a business plan. You need to make sure your parent organization is on board, so put together a realistic budget for all costs, a fundraising plan, and a list of the event’s educational benefits before taking it to the administration for approval.

There may be times when someone passes through town and you’ll need to fly by the seat of your pants to put together an event—but always plan to plan.

Organize committees

This will be an all-hands-on-deck effort, and you will need to tap all your parent and student resources. It’s critical that you delegate the logistical details. It’s not possible to tackle everything alone, and you will need time to be able to field questions and put out fires with directors, managers, and others.

You are now a project manager

Add this to your already overflowing list of job duties. Luckily, these days many large-scale festivals are hosted by three schools, so you will be able to split up the duties to make them more manageable. Major components will be delegated to committees, but you will still need to oversee and approve everything. Since you will be held responsible for any mishaps, you must know exactly what is going on—so insist that everything carries your seal of approval.

Good things take time

Keep in mind that planning events will consume a lot of your life. The closer it gets to the actual date, the more time it will consume. Be sure to communicate this to spouses, children, book club members, and anyone else who expects your attention. Those closest to you will need to understand that they will need to share you even more than they already do.

To help combat this pressure, it’s a great idea to plan some sort of special getaway after the event is over. A week in the Caribbean is typically not an option, but a special night away in a nearby city or even a little weekend staycation with just your spouse, partner, or family will be a great way to unwind and reconnect after an event.

Timing communication and relationships

This is not the time to establish strong working relationships with your parent organization, administrators, or building staff. That should have been the first thing you did when you started your job. This is the time when those relationships pay off. No matter what you are planning, you will need the full support of all the groups and individuals you work with. I cannot stress this enough.

Plan for things to go wrong—because they will

No matter how much planning you do and no matter how much you communicate, there will be hiccups. Have plenty of spare luggage tags on hand, print extra schedules and place them on every music stand, and be prepared to answer questions. In my personal experience, I have had scheduled buses not show up, and music that was mailed to schools that didn’t arrive for many weeks. Sometimes you’ll have to think on the fly, but plan for what you can.

Grow some thick skin and don’t take things personally

There will be mistakes. Issues will arise. Directors, parents, and even superintendents have been known to bring grievances, and sometimes they can be very direct and personally insulting. If it’s because of an oversight on your part, suck it up, solve the issue, learn from it, and move on. If people cause drama because they don’t like where a student placed after an audition or the like, handle it with the utmost professionalism and move on. Either way, you have an event to put on.

Get creative

Whether you are putting on a large fundraiser or a special concert, it is in your best interest to reduce overhead costs. There are numerous ways to get creative with finances: Get families to sponsor awards; solicit food and beverage donations; and utilize 50/50 drawings and silent auctions with donated items. Do you use a specific travel agency to book your group trips? Ask them to sponsor a meal for the directors and allow them to distribute promotional information or items.

Extend thank-yous when the event is over

You won’t be the only person sacrificing free and family time in the months leading up to the event. Volunteers who help make it happen do so too, because they believe deeply in what you are trying to accomplish. This should not and cannot go unrewarded. You don’t need to host a Viennese ball, but you can offer something that shows the depth of your gratitude and appreciation for their indispensable contributions.

As anyone who has been in music education for even a few months has figured out, being in front of an ensemble is just a small part of the work. A lot of your job will be spent in the planning stages. While this may prove to be the most stressful part of the job, it’s also the most rewarding. After all, the higher the stress, the higher the payoff.

Throughout this process, keep in mind why we do these things. Think back to your time spent at honors festivals. Remember what the experience meant to you and how it nurtured your love of music and helped you get to where you are today. Now it’s your turn to give that experience to the next generation. While it can be a major addition to your already heavy workload, putting the effort into producing special events with musical artists is well worth it and will create an amazing experience for your students.

Best wishes for a successful event—and please reach out if I can be of any service.

Joe Snyder
Joe Snyder
Joe serves as the Band and Orchestra Editor at J.W. Pepper in Exton, Pa. For 17 years he taught K-12 Instrumental and General Music in Pennsylvania and Florida. He is also an active musician, composer/arranger and music copyist. Please feel free to reach out with questions or comments at


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