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Community Band Organizational Stuff

Ten years ago I was a founding member of a community bad that was organized in our small town. A retired music teacher agreed to be the conductor. As the band evolved, she began to have aspirations of providing a higher level of musicianship to the audience and began dismissing lesser players from the band. She also became very nasty during rehearsals and brow beat / scolded people for mistakes made. I'm sure that in her mind, she felt that she was 'motivating' people.

The night that she chased a high school girl off the stage in tears for playing her Bassoon out of tune was the last straw for me...I called the director after rehearsal and told her that I was leaving the band and why I was leaving, that I couldn't participate in an organization where volunteers were treated poorly. It was a MUCH longer conversation (and a lot of it was ME getting yelled at) but my comment above kind of sums up my feelings.

Anyway...after 10 years of leading the band, this director announced last weekend that she is 'retiring' and the band will be no more.

Some of us have discovered that there were never any kind of documents generated to govern the band...the 'board of directors' were four of her friends and there were no regularly scheduled meetings. We believe that anything that was done was simply the director telling her 'gang of four' this is what we are going to do and they all nodded in agreement.

So a 'cattle call' has been put out for past and present musicians to meet next Tuesday with the goal to resurrect the band, but to do it in an organized manner with a constitution and by-laws, an elected board of directors, and some kind of provisions for removal of the director should it ever become necessary in the future...so that we don't get stuck with a tyrant again.

What I am looking for is anyone who has gone through the process to help set up a community band to correspond with me about the process that they went through...possibly some documents that could be shared...advice about how to handle musicianship levels...auditions...stuff like that.

If you have anything you are willing to share, please PM me.
One of the problems with any musical group of any size is that you first must provide a rehearsal space for your group. While not mentioned above, I get the feeling that that space was part of the deal, perhaps some arrangement that the director made with her former employer to allow the use of the band hall.

If so, any volunteer group is going to be at the mercy of s/he who controls the keys, and that presents a conumdrum of the first order. Tread carefully, or your group will be out in the cold.

Absent that, there is still the problem that they have been "made" the director. Losing control of the group at the start makes for the bad experience, no question there. Now that you are resurrecting things, a formal, written agreement to which all are party should give the governing board the power that is needed.

The only problem remains is, if you lose a director (for whatever cause), you have to find a new one now, or your group starts to drift. Perhaps an assistant director needs to be appointed as well, so s/he can step in when things get critical. This too can be addressed by the agreement.

In the commercial way of things, a similar problem occurs when a critical player moves on or is moved on. A lead trumpet, alto, tenor or trombone can be replaced by someone stepping up from the section, but a member of the rhythm section (bass, guitar, percussion and keyboards) is a problem of geometric proportions. I maintain a listing of folks who have been interested in performing with my group, and can dial up one of them in a heartbeat if needed. But, occasionally, complications prevent an easy substitution, and that point things get particularly sticky.

One other caution: getting a voluntary director from hell to move on is akin to firing an employee, even if no compensation is involved. Ego enters the equation, and the yelling fit is likely to start when a request is made that someone (director or player) give up and move on. Whoever gets the nod to make the "firing" needs to be steeled for what might occur. It may be that the removal will go smoothly (something to be hoped for, but seldom attained), but it is more likely that words will be exchanged, even with no money in mind.

My over thirty years in government management presented me with a number of these "opportunities". Usually, it was with an employee who was fobbed off on me during an reorganization, when someone else was eager to rid themselves of a problem. The approach that I took was to first give them the opportunity to perform up to a minimal level. But, if they refused or dodged the responsibilities of the position, it was time to first document the "lack of performance", then step through the whole verbal warning, written warning route.

If things didn't straighten out and fly right at that point, it was then time for "the talk". I made sure that I had all of my ducks in a row, then called them in and explained why the time for improvement was over and it was time to either have them resign their position, or (in extremis) be terminated.

Without money in the balance, I would imagine that most would take the hint that they were no longer wanted. If they managed to install their own power structure (as it appears to be in this case), then you did the right thing and fired yourself until the situation changed on its own.

This time, do it right, formalize the organization, and point out that the director, like the players, is a volunteer for the organization - and make crystal clear that the organization has the final say. Most potential tyrants will move on at that point, as they don't want to take on a situation where they are not in absolute control.

I played bassoon for a community organization once, when they were desperate for a second faggott. The conductor was none other than Leonard Slatkin, back in the days when he was fresh out of school and working as an adjunct for the Saint Louis Symphony. (His conducting duties were part of his internship, or whatever he was on.)

Put simply, the man was an absolute asshole, ranting and raving at players right and left. My first chair partner was also reduced to tears by the conductor's criticism; we both walked after that evening. I hope that they had a stack of backup bassoonists to take up the slack.

Since that time, Slatkin has moved on two times, from Saint Louis to Washington DC, and from Washington to Detroit. When he was in Saint Louis, he praised the wonderful organization and whatever. When he moved to Washington, he praised the wonderful organization and whatever, in the same terms as he used for Saint Louis. One wonders if Detroit got the same treatment...
Terry, Thanks for your comments...we have use of our small community Concert Hall venue for rehearsals and performances, and the Concert Hall desperately wants the band to continue...they have already advertised for the first concert in May !!! So rehearsal / performance venues are not a problem at all.

And we are anxiously / actively seeking a new director.

There are a number of local band directors who already play in the band. One idea that my wife presented (she is a Flautiste in the band and a much more accomplished musician than I) was for each of the band directors who would volunteer to direct a series of rehearsals leading to a concert (a 6 week sequence) then another band director, and another, etc. That way none of them have to do it all season...the ball gets passed around. I like her idea and hopefully enough of the possible directors will like it enough to volunteer.

There is another contingent of people who want to BEG the old director to come back. I am NOT part of that group.

We shall see what happens...
Having been in my favorite community band for 12 years now, we have gone through a change of directors a number of times. We list the opening on many online venues, allow most to audition, and then the band selects the new conductor. There is a full board including president, membership, events, librarian (X2 one for the wind ensemble and one for the two jazz bands). Our band is a 501c association that has to pay for practice venues, performance halls, and we are required by these places to have a $1 million insurance policy.

Our current director is stellar, but we don't let her worry about finances. If she wants a special chart, someone usually donates the chart for the band. If she wants to mix it up and play at a special venue, we make it happen. BTW, she gets continuing education credits for directing this band; they are required for her to be a music teacher in Washington state.

We are on our third band president in this 12 years and they tend to be leaders who are nominated and the band votes to accept them. They have been uniformly excellent, the hardest working people in the band, and have great people skills. They also know a *lot* about bands and music.

Good luck on this venture, I would love to hear how it goes for your community band.
There has been a LOT of water over the dam since my first posting. We had our first meeting with basically 2 camps in attendance...the people who wanted to go on with a 'new' community band and (fortunately) only a few who wanted to lapse back to the 'old' organization. There has been a firestorm of e-mails flying around...I was not the main spokesman so none of the vitriol has come directly to me...only as a 'cc'.

I copied a couple of 'Constitution and By-Laws' of a community band that were published online and generated one for our band / situation.

It has been revised 4 times now based on input from the people who want to see the band continue.

Next Tuesday we hope to adopt the Constitution and By-laws for a 6 month trial period, with another vote to be held in July when the 'summer people' are here (we live in a summer / seasonal community). Then we will elect officers and move on.

The community is behind us as they want to see the band continue. One of the Trumpet players who is himself a band director has agreed to be our interim conductor until we can find a more permanent person. I have a feeling that this person will eventually agree to stay on as the 'permanent' director but time will tell.

We have a list of about 45 interested musicians...most parts are covered...so things are looking pretty good.

Our next meeting is 02/04...we shall see how it goes. I am cautiously optimistic that this will work out.
The Constitution and By-Laws was adopted with a unanimous vote by all in attendance...three were also 10 'YES' votes via e-mail by people who couldn't actually attend the meeting and ONLY one NO vote (an e-mail vote). So the tally was 40 YES and 1 NO as I recall.

Next Tuesday we elect officers...things are looking pretty good.

I'll probably be back in my old chair playing Tenor Sax again...I'm looking forward to it.
We had our first rehearsal tonight...things went really well. It looks like we are back in business with a new Sheriff...and a good guy this time...and I am back in my old chair. Ultimately we lost 7 people who were loyal to the old director but gained back 3 who had left due to the old director (myself included) so in the scheme of things...not too much of a loss. And it will get better as time goes on.
The baby boomers are lined up to join our band. We actually have a waiting list. And finding sub is really no problem. We finally instituted an audition process. The music we play now is much harder than it was when we accepted all comers. YMMD.
And to update this old thread, I was elected president of the band last Tuesday...ironic given how I left the band in frustration...funny how things change...
I'm glad to hear that your band was about to get itself organized. Most people who play in community bands don't realize just how much work it is to make everything happen, let alone the general public who we have to beg to come to our shows! We've got some bumps-on-logs in my band that I'd love to light a fire under! (figurative and literally)

I am on the executive team for both groups I play in, a community concert band and a clarinet choir. Lots of work to do for both, like applying for grants from the government, finding sponsors, sending out concert listing and organizing ads (I do marketing & publicity for both groups). All the hair pulling and sleepless nights are worth it to be able to make music with like minded people.

so, great work keeping all these bands together! somebody's got to do it

way to go.jpg
I've played in half a dozen community bands and am aware of a bunch more in our area. There are many different structures that work and several that do not. Some work great with a single "champion", who is usually the conductor too, making everything happen. But it is not uncommon to arrive at a point where that person must be removed for the general good of the organization. The group can die at this point or become re-invented.

Congrats on securing your group's future for many years to come!
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