June 22, 2017     Ward Dilmore

How to Grow Recruitment and Ensure Retention in Your Strings Program


Ward Dilmore comes to Encore Tours having been a client for nearly 20 years. Encore’s eBook, A Year in the Life of Beginner Strings,” provides a year-long, month-to-month template that Ward developed and tested through 33 years of public school teaching, building a strings program in Wilmington, MA from 12 to over 400 students. It’s based on a sense of purpose that unfolds over ten years, from grades 3 – 12. Read on for Ward’s background and experience in developing this method!

The Best Things in Life Have Strings Attached: How to Grow Recruitment and Ensure Retention in Your Strings Program

It reminded me of the movie Spartacus. 

200 4th graders were sitting on the gym floor. The band director had just stoked the fires of their enthusiasm with the promises of marching in parades, Disney World, and performing for fans on the football field. 

On the only day when elementary school kids could choose an instrument, the deal was sealed for most of them, and they could finally join the band!

I was an afterthought. By way of introducing me, in a manner that certainly wouldn’t be confused with a fountain of support, the Principal intoned, “And now our new strings teacher will take only a minute more of your time to show you instruments that a couple of you might want to think about.” As he pointed to his watch to remind me that the train had to run on time, I saw promise leave ahead of schedule.

I stood there, in a town where the band program had come into existence around the same year as the covered wagon. Its 200 loyal members were a great source of pride in the community. Certainly, I was respectful of the good work of my colleague, the band director. But I had a daunting challenge: create a strings program in a school system where having a viable number of students was key to surviving or fold my tent and explore the rewards of retail sales. I was desperate for a few brave souls to have their “I am Spartacus” moment and choose strings.

And twelve did. 

Over the years, 12 pioneers became 450 strings students in grades 4 – 12 in a small, blue-collar town north of Boston. As I discovered that morning, the key to recruitment and retention was simple: establish a sense of purpose by showing them the path…

This article was originally published in School, Band & Orchestra magazine.

Read the full article on SBO’s website!

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