As Music Director for a high-school summer music program in Massachusetts, “contingency planning” typically means having a wide variety of repertoire ready for the start of the festival in order to best meet the needs of our students. With an outdoor rehearsal and performance space, our most challenging contingency planning during my nine-year tenure as music director has dealt with planning for extreme weather during our concert performances (side note: the thunderstorm and flickering lights just prior to the climactic moment during our performance of Wagner’s Trauermusik remains as memorable as it was haunting in the moment).
Enter Spring 2020.
During a time when we are usually busy listening to placement auditions, finalizing repertoire, and engaging guest artists, the programmatic and artistic staff have been engaged in over a month of contingency planning in preparation of the summer 2020 festival. As we now approach the date where we will publicly announce a decision about programming for the summer, I have taken some time to reflect on the last couple of months and some of the lessons I have learned through the process:
A Path Through Uncertainty
Each summer, the Festival brings over 100 wind and percussion students to campus for three weeks. The current situation has called into question the viability of the Festival to run in the short-term. While the challenges we face seemed insurmountable at the outset, our process of collaboratively developing a set of principles to guide our decision making, soliciting detailed feedback from all Festival stakeholders, creating timelines, triggers, and frameworks for decision making, and crafting meaningful programming that ensures the safety of all involved, has offered a sense of clarity in such uncertain times. Having a detailed process, and trusting the process, has allowed us to address questions that don’t yet have answers.
Strengthening the Community
One of our guiding principles for navigating the current situation is that “transparency and communication are key; all festival stakeholders, including administration, faculty, students, and families, should be involved in our planning and be kept well informed throughout the process.” It has been reaffirming and inspiring to connect with our faculty and families to collect their feedback and hear what they value most about about our programming. To have a ‘team’ of experts engaged in the process has helped us navigate this process with humble confidence. I believe that our community has become closer and more committed to the Festival, even as we have physically never been farther apart.
Confronting our Core Values
A tenet of our early conversations surrounding what the summer may or may not look like often centered around how potential programmatic shifts related to the core values of the Festival. While there were compelling arguments and visions for what the festival should look like, what we didn’t have was an articulated set of core values—what had been implied for years needed to be articulated. To that end, part of our contingency planning for summer 2020 was to first identify what defines the Festival experience. These core values provided both a guiding light and a spring board to consider programmatic decisions for the future. I believe that our festival will emerge from the current situation more relevant and effective because of this process.
Time and Decisions
The amount of time and bandwidth required to navigate the current situation has been significant. Further, the last nine-weeks have been filled with the most difficult conversations and difficult decisions I’ve experienced in my role as music director. As we transition to enacting one of our contingencies, our first “guiding principle” for this process holds true now more than ever–where we started is where we end: “As a community arts school, we have a fundamental responsibility to provide compelling and meaningful programming to the students we serve, even in these unprecedented times.” The time we have invested and the decisions we have made, will enable us to offer high-quality and meaningful programming as part of our summer 2020 festival.
The Path Ahead
In closing, the last month is a process I never wanted to go through and hope we never have to go through again. That said, the process has clarified our organization’s mission, strengthened our community, and improved the quality, relevance, and compelling nature of our programming. In a time when it is hard to move beyond the day-to-day struggles of our new reality, it has been inspiring to look to the future and work collaboratively to provide high-quality music education programs to our students.
Learn more about best practices for contingency planning HERE.