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In this 1981 article, Bonnie Smith (founder of the Victoria, BC ukulele program) takes the reader step-by-step through the process of organizing a distict-wide concert; essential reading.

Organizing A District-Wide Ukulele Concert
By Bonnie Smith

Ukulele Yes! Vol. 6, No. 1 (1981). pp. 33-34

In most school districts on Vancouver Island, ukulele was first introduced to the schools through teachers rather than through the administration. When these teachers wanted to combine their groups to present a District concert, they had the responsibility of organizing the evening.

I have helped several districts organize District-Wide ukulele concerts over the past seven years, and the planning has now worked itself into a form which is successful in most cases.

Planning the Evening

Ukulele groups which might be included in the concert would be:

  • First year massed ukuleles
  • Advanced or second/third year ukuleles
  • Adult ukuleles
  • District honor ukulele group
  • Late start ukulele group or grade 3 ukuleles
  • Guest ukulele group from another city; a particularly outstanding local school ukulele group.

I usually assume that each ukulele number in a district concert takes 5 minutes. Generally speaking they are a bit shorter, but this allows time to move children at the 2 or 3 times necessary during a program, and allows for the welcome given by a representative of the administration. If there is a long presentation at the end of the program time must be allotted, but a simple thank you with instructions to the parents would be covered by the 5 minute time allowances. Guest ukulele groups are also given 5 minute slots. [1]

Other participants are often added to the concert for one or more of the following reasons:

  • to give variety
  • to help with pacing by keeping the audience involved while groups of children are moving in or out
  • to acquaint other district music teachers with the ukulele program
  • to add credibility to the ukulele program by association with "top" groups (particularly in the early years of a district ukulele program)

Some groups which have proved to be particularly successful as an addition to a ukulele concert are a district honour choir' a high school dixieland or jazz band; audience participation in the form of a sing-along (Nostalgia Medley).

If a group exceeds its allotted time, DO NOT INVITE THEM BACK, EVER.

Determine the time remaining after the ukulele groups have been taken care of. Then allot each guest conductor his TOTAL time to include anything "extra" he has to do such as tune, move students, or talk to the audience. A slow guest conductor can ruin the pace and lose audience interest for the rest of the concert. You must be firm about this when inviting the guest group to participate. You should try, however, to see that the group can be in place prior to the start of the concert, or can move in while you move a group out so that they don't have to lose part of their time to moving in or out of the auditorium. If a group exceeds its allotted time, DO NOT INVITE THEM BACK, EVER.

Guest groups are not allotted time at the dress rehearsal. They could probably have the final 20 minutes, as the ukuleles should be finished by then.

Conductors for the ukulele numbers in the concert need to be the strongest teachers in the district, They need to be able to rehearse the large group in the morning, making any last minute changes necessary for balance or to clean up sections which a teacher may have taught differently. The conductor must also be able to utilize the rhythm section effectively to control tempo. Small ukulele groups may be conducted by "playing with" but large groups require a more formal approach.

Music selection for ukulele groups should include both picking and strumming/singing for each group.

Pre-Concert Technicalities

Rentals or bookings through the school board or school principal should be taken care of early. A year ahead of time is not too early to book an auditorium or order needed equipment. You will need to reserve the following:

  • Auditorium or gym. Include the dates (will more than one night be needed to accommodate the audience) and the hours needed for the morning rehearsal and the evening concert. (Plan for a 2-hour morning rehearsal.)
  • P.A. System for both the rehearsal and the concert.
  • Holding rooms for students in the evening.
  • Choir Risers
  • Band Risers
  • Piano for guest groups
  • Extra chairs. (If chairs need to be set up plan to book the gym for the entire day, as this will have to be done after the rehearsal.)

Paper work can usually be done months ahead of time.

  • Tickets (and who will get the money).
  • Transportation to the rehearsal (and who will pay for it).
  • Letters to parents regarding the concert and the rehearsal
  • Letter to go with any complimentary tickets given out
  • Programmes - are there any enclosures such as an audience participation song sheet?

A good rhythm section is vital to the success of your concert. Who will the bass player and drummer be? They must be very competent players to go with the first year and the mass groups. It may be necessary to hire high school students or even professional musicians. The rhythm section must be present at the morning rehearsal.

Extra people required to do "jobs" on the evening of the concert should be asked for help will in advance.

  • Ushers, Ticket Takers, Ticket Sellers
  • Someone to set-up and run the P.A. System
  • Welcome to the audience (great political opportunity here - ask the Superintendent or Schools, Chairman of the School Board)
  • Tuning - who will do it; what will the procedure be?
  • Ventilation - who will look after doors or windows that may need to be opened or closed?
  • Runners - to bring in the next group requires.
  • Setting up - pre and post-concert help. Remember all wires must be taped down to satisfy fire department regulations.
  • Presentations or thank-you's at the concert's end.

Publicity: If there is any danger of over-selling the "house," publicity should appear after the concert

Programme Layout

Opening Selection 5 min. • Adults plus either the 2nd year students or an honour group. (Or any of these groups alone.)
(The first 2 selections may be the only numbers which your school board representative stays to hear.)
Welcome to the Parents   • Representative from the Administration or the School Board
2 Ukulele Selections 10 min. • Adults
2 Ukulele Selections 10 min. • 2nd year Ukuleles or Honour group
(There may be some adjustment here - an extra selection / 1 less.)
Contrast Group 15 min. • Choir (the softest or least experiences of your contrast groups
Small Ukulele Group 10 min. • Grade 3's; late start beginners, or Guest Ukulele group.
Contrast Group 15 min. • Stage Band (louder of the two groups).
(This must be a 15 minute block to allow the "Master Tuner" to double check the tuning of the first year groups. If even 1 teacher has tuned to a different pitch, the sound will be terrible and you will have to stop and re-tune during the concert.)
First Year Ukuleles 10 min. • First year ukuleles are always at the end of
2 selections the concert so that the audience stays.
Closing Remarks    
Massed Ukuleles 5 min. • All ukuleles Participate
One Selection
(To move the mass group out of the auditorium have either an audience sing-along or a selection played by the jazz band.)

The ideal Concert is just under 90 minutes. If you plan, using the above form, for 80 to 90 minutes you should be actually clear of the auditorium in 75 to 85 minutes. People will marvel at your organization, and leave wishing there was just a bit more.

Programme Pitfalls

We have had some problems with our organization of concerts in the last seven years. Hopefully, you will be able to learn from our errors.

  • Dead space where nothing is happening musically that interests the audience. This will kill the interest of the parents and attendance will be down the next year.
  • Too much talking is best avoided by not allowing talking once the concert begins. Exceptions are the welcome to the parents and instructions at the end where parents are asked to remain seated until the children are out of the auditorium (at this time second year ukulele students are coming in to join the beginners for the massed number.) If necessary, a guest group may announce its numbers.
  • Concerts that are too short.
  • Concerts that are too long.
  • Concerts that do not begin and end on time.
  • Selling more tickets than there are seats in the auditorium.

1. If there is to be no movement of participants during the evening, you may plan on 3 min. / number and add 10 min. for opening and closing remarks. Back ^

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A veteran ukulele teacher and the founder of the Island Ukuleles ensemble (Victoria, BC), Bonnie holds a Master's Degree in Education from the University of Victoria. She currently specializes in curriculum development and design as well as web design and distributed learning.

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