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Making It Work: Structuring and Organizing Programs

Making It Work:
Structuring and Organizing Programs Throughout the Year

Many music educators face the conundrum of how to make programs and concerts work for the children, families, school culture and capacity constraints of school performance spaces. There are many factors that may not be negotiable; in some schools the format is free and easy. Every situation will be different, but this is how I “Make it Work.”

I teach third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade general music, choir, as well as fifth and sixth grade beginning band and orchestra. I have four homeroom classes in each grade level. It is important to me that every child has an opportunity to share their learning at least once each school year. The band, orchestra, and choir perform twice each year, once in the winter and once in the spring. I also feel strongly about keeping the concert to an hour or less. I am allowed no rehearsal time in the performance space or any time to practice outside of my scheduled music class. The program runs from beginning to end for the first time during “dress rehearsal,” and the whole school is there to watch. Lastly, I have a “café-gym-atorium” situation, which is not large and has a ridiculously small stage.

I have five scheduled performances in my school building this year. We hold two winter concerts in January and two spring concerts in May. The first concert will feature the choir and one class from 4th, 5th and 6th grade general music. The Second winter concert features the instrumental music students and a different class from 4th, 5th and 6th grade general music. The remaining classes are included on the spring concerts in the same manner. Third grade was added to my intermediate building this year. My first thought was to add one class to each of the existing concerts. The space limitations of the gym made it necessary for me to add a separate 3rd grade performance in March.

Choose a Theme

I choose a theme for each concert (winter and spring). The children and I create a selection for performance that addresses content, and meets my curricular goals and state standard requirements. All four classes at each grade level complete the same project in our classroom. The “performing” classes use the concert as their final product. The other two classes share their final product in our classroom. We video record each performance and the children self assess using a rubric that they create. I ask the children for feedback on the project. Then I reflect on its success and make note of where I need to make improvements for the next project.

This year our Winter Concert theme is New Year Celebrations. The fourth grade children are working on a project that celebrates Chinese New Year, and also reinforces melodic and rhythmic learning goals. Fifth grade is using creative movement, composition, and improvisation on barred instruments and recorders to bring to life a picture book about the winter solstice. This meets a multitude of standards and learning targets. Students in sixth grade general music are learning an Afro-Cuban selection with singing, drums, bell and movement that is used to celebrate the New Year. This aligns with our focus on world music.

Each class begins with the same foundation and premise for the projects, and the children make the creative decisions. The winter solstice story will be performed twice – by two different fifth grade classes – but each performance will be unique. The children have become used to this and look forward to seeing how each class puts their own spin on the content. We will do the same thing again in the spring, where the theme is “Trees” and the remaining classes perform on stage. The third grade children will have a separate performance where we create a final product inspired by a picture book.

Things to Consider

When deciding how to structure performances for your school there are a few things to consider. First, what are the non-negotiable circumstances for your teaching situation? Write down the things that you are unable to change or influence at this time. Second, what are your non-negotiable terms? Write down the aspects of the performances that are important to you. Include how many late nights (if you do evening concerts) are workable for you and your family. Next, if at all possible, schedule performances as far in advance as you can. Make sure everyone knows the dates and times – including parents. Lastly, find a way to organize what the content of each performance will be. Plan ahead as much as is feasible. Choosing a theme helps me to focus my ideas and collect projects and lessons that fit the theme and my learning targets over time. After considering each of these items, approach administration with your plan of action and be ready to discuss the reasoning behind your ideas.

Every school has different expectations for school performances. This is just one possible solution. Please share your ideas for scheduling and organizing concerts and performances throughout the year in the comments below. We can all help each other to “Make It Work”.

LeslieAnne Bird

LeslieAnne Bird is a music and movement educator at University Schools in Shaker, Ohio. She teaches general music and choir to fifth through seventh grade young men and is an adjunct Professor at the University of Akron. She has previously taught in North Olmsted & Cleveland Ohio as well as in Prince George’s County, Maryland. LeslieAnne is a national presenter. She has served as vice president and membership chair for the Greater Cleveland Orff Chapter and is currently serving as the content curator for the Teaching With Orff community. In addition, she is the owner and CEO of Three Little Birds Music Education Services LLC where she offers teacher training, coaching and musical experiences for children and adults. She earned Orff Certification from Baldwin Wallace University in 2014, and has completed Music Learning Theory General Music Level One, Level One World Music Drumming training, Level One Google Certification and has earned the Ohio Master Teacher designation.

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  1. Jeanne Novacek on November 16, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing your situation and solutions you have found. I teach in 2 very small schools (music) in Northern Minnesota. Our performance spaces are one gym in each school, and we too, get only one rehearsal in the gym before each concert. I have K-5 in each building and 6,7,8 Choir in the 2nd building also (81 students in my room 2 days a week, with no assistance – I’ve been at this a long time!) and General music for 6th grade, I have 8 concerts a year (4 Elementary and 4 Middle School), and music gets good support, but I still struggle with Sports having a higher priority. I have had to change dates for sporting events, even though my events are planned a year in advance – that’s the most frustrating part of my job. I love teaching singing and the elements and sight-singing to my students and I can’t imagine where my life will go when I retire after next year.

  2. Valeria Winston on November 17, 2016 at 8:16 am

    How did you start your Strings Program at your school? And what grade level did you use for beginners? Thanks

    • LeslieAnne Bird on December 28, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      The instrumental music program at my school was there when I was hired. We begin both band and orchestra at 5th grade.

    • LeslieAnne Bird on December 28, 2016 at 2:50 pm

      Thank you for your questions Valeria! The strings program was already in place when I was hired. In my district we begin band and orchestra instruments in the 5th grade.

  3. Jill Murrell on November 19, 2016 at 8:55 am

    Great article! Music is a performing art and your use of student directed learning is very relevant. Bravo!

  4. Katherine iooss on December 22, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    Thank you for sketching the performance process you use. Right now, the only groups that perform in my K-6 school are chorus, strings, and band. I am interested in adding a grade level to the chorus performance. We have 4 of each grade level, split between 2 music teachers. Would you be willing to provide more details on how you go about setting up the prep time/rubrics/how many weeks or rehearsals go into each presentation? Thank you!

    • LeslieAnne Bird on December 28, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      thank you for your reply Katherine. I usually work on the “process” for creating the project for 6-8 weeks. That does not mean I spend the entire class period rehearsing for that long. In the beginning we may only spend a small period of time on the “project” and spend the whole class time “rehearsing” for two to three classes. Most of the time the children are engaged in creating, composing, improvising, arranging and choreographing the segments as part of their learning. We set short term learning targets along the way that I or the children assess, and the kids set individual learning goals as we get closer to the final product. The students create a rubric for the performance and then self assess their work as well as provide feedback to me on how well I performed my role as facilitator and their level of engagement with the project. Hope you find this helpful!

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