Surviving Your First Music Festival As a Teacher: What You Need to Know


Surviving Your First Music Festival

Spring is here and if you’re a musician that means one thing: Music Festivals!! Whether you’re a seasoned pro or its your first festival, here are some guidelines to get you through the music festival season.

Your Preparation

Learn from my mistakes: Do not wait until the night or two before festival to gather all the books and things you will need!!!  Chances are it will A) Take way longer than anticipated B)You will be missing a second copy of a book that nobody else in your area has C) It’s too late to do anything about it!!

Find a show on Netflix, grab a coffee, and lets take care of your books:

  • All copies of the books your students need.
  • Number the measures in the adjudicator’s copy
  • Erase all marks from previous students
  • Put a sticky note with the students name on the piece they will be performing
  • Print out a copy of the Music Festival Schedule and highlight your students.  Bonus points of organization if you make a list of exactly which books you need for every day.

Next, find a bag and gather these essentials for music festival week:

  • Money for Season Pass, Parking, Lunches, and COFFEE.
  • Water bottle, because you can’t drink coffee all day.
  • Eraser
  • Pencils and pens
  • Notebook for writing down helpful things the adjudicator says.
  • Sticky notes
  • Snacks
  • Emergency chocolate for if your student has a bad performance.  You don’t have to do this and you won’t often need it, but some of my students feel comforted knowing there is chocolate available if things go wrong.
  • Tissues
  • Present for your accompanist (if using).  Again, you don’t have to do this, but your accompanist works so hard that it is nice to bring some chocolates or take him/her out for lunch one day.

If you are scatterbrained like me, put these things in your car and leave them there, because otherwise they might not come along!!


The schedules for music festival usually are announced two to three weeks before it begins, but some larger festivals hand out schedules to teachers even earlier.  Let your student’s parents know as soon as you get them.

Remind your parents & students of the following:

  • Arrive no later than 30 minutes before your session, warmed up if possible.
  • While space is made available to warm-up, it is not always guaranteed that you will have time or that your accompanist will be available for one last quick practice.
  • Adjudicators are also rarely ever on schedule, so your class may be earlier or later than stated.


Festivals have rules, so it is important as a teacher that you read them. Each festival also has some local rules as well, but here are the big important general ones to keep in mind:

  • No video or photography is allowed at the competition. If the organizers or adjudicator catches you, you may be asked to leave. Photos are welcome however, at the coffee & lunch breaks between sessions.
  • No photocopies are allowed unless permission has been granted from the publisher. This means that your students should not bring your working copies with them!  Provide the adjudicator and accompanist with music, unless the student has their own books.
  • To win an award, a student must be in at least two classes of the same discipline.

There are also many unofficial rules and common courtesies to keep in mind.

  • Never enter the room while another competitor is singing or an adjudication is being given.
  • Absolutely no talking/cellphones/noise while there is singing or an adjudication. If this occurs the festival organizers may ask you to leave the room!!
  • Sit in the front row after you are done singing so that it is easier for the adjudicator to talk to you when the class is over.
  • Say only positive things about other people’s performances in the venue (this goes for parents, teachers & students!) If you have anything negative to say, wait until the car door is closed and you’re on the road, because you never know who is listening.
  • If you are able to use the warm-up/rehearsal space, try to keep it to 5-10 min.
  • Never talk back to an adjudicator. If you don’t understand something, ask me later and I will help you clarify.

Another word on rules and actually reading them: if you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask!  The alternative is breaking them and looking incredibly unprofessional.  People will forgive you for mistakes, but don’t be the teacher who consistently makes the same mistake again and again.

Accompanist (if using)

Encourage parents to pay the accompanist at the first class their child competes in.  Try to set up student rehearsals with the accompanist and yourself 2-4 weeks before the festival.  If you are in a situation where your student can meet with the accompanist on their own time once a week, so much the better!  However, if you’re teaching in a rural area and you don’t live in the same town as the accompanist, this can be quite difficult.  Do the best you can and teach your students how to be independent and respectfully let their accompanist know what they want.

What to wear

Your studio or situation may have different expectations, but this is what I send out in an email to my students parents:

Please wear something similar to my recital expectations: skirts or dresses with tights and dress shoes for girls, and dress pants/shirt and tie for boys. Do not wear sweatpants or jeans, even if they are black!! It is also a good idea to practice singing in your outfit beforehand. For musical theatre, please show me/discuss your costume no later than 2 weeks before festival.

If a student shows up in something other than this, don’t make a huge deal out of it.  There may have been a power struggle with the parents, they forgot to bring their change of clothes (if travelling), or any other number of reasons.  Your student will likely be very aware that they are not following the dress code and will almost always fix it the next time.  If they come in inappropriate clothing a second time, then have a gentle talk with them after the festival.


So after all of that. . . its time for the students to get up on stage and have fun! No matter what happens, know that it’s only one performance out of many.  Remind your parents that it’s also nice to plan some kind of small celebration when the week is over to celebrate and acknowledge all the hard work. A favorite meal at supper, trip for ice cream to Dairy Queen, whatever.  Don’t forget to plan some sort of celebration for yourself too!  You’ve earned it!


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