“Holiday Music Reverse Parade”
Keller High School Band
Brought on by the need for socially distant performances during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Keller High School Band created a unique “reverse parade” where students performed simple holiday tunes in small ensembles around the school while families and community members drove through to enjoy the music. The campus was decked with thousands of lights and decorations, and there was even a drive-up hot cocoa stand! This performance was a bright highlight during a difficult semester with few opportunities for performance, and the inaugural event ended nearly an hour late due to overwhelming attendance. It has since become an annual favorite.
At the time, with performance opportunities being so limited, this event was a chance for us to showcase the hard work and talent of our students to their families and the community. We needed something that would be compliant with the concurrent health and safety standards, and in the absence of fundraising that semester, we needed an event with low overhead. We expected mainly families to come and support their kids, but were shocked by the overwhelming response from the community at large. Our event ended up being one of the only holiday performances anywhere that season, and we discovered quickly how needed this connection was by families in our community who had spent much of the year in isolation. Now, post-pandemic, we have embraced this idea of community connection and have made this holiday parade an annual event.
This event focuses on families, but is open to anyone. Because this is a drive-through event where the audience stays in their cars, it is perfect for small children, but we had a large cross-section of the community attend. Our families and community are always so supportive, and it was our hope not only to show them the results of their investment in our students but also to give them a little holiday treat.
- Decide date of event, including district and city administration as needed. We aimed for a date close to the holidays but avoiding any conflicts. Begin advertising to families and community. Word of mouth, social media, city publications.
- Recruit decorations and lights from families – they had TONS laying around in garages not being used!
- Hand out music to students (simple flex band holiday trios our middle schools have used forever) and rehearse (sparingly) during classes. Older students just needed to run through while it gave our youngest students something level-appropriate to work on.
- Divide students into small groups (6 to 24 students per group depending on need) with equal ability across each group and equivalent instrumentation to cover all 3 parts of the trios.
- Recruit parent help running the event (boosters, etc.) – walk through entire event and needs.
- Plan route and organize traffic flow (involve city and local PD as necessary). Consider location of outlets for lights.
- Make final arrangements with district/city for the event.
- Collect loaned decorations.
- Finalize music preparations. Establish student leaders who can warm up each ensemble and start each tune.
Afternoon of the event:
- Set up decorations and lights around the school. Be creative! We found that a variety of different decorations at key visibility points around the school worked to set mini-stages for the students performing. Parent volunteers did most of this work.
- Students meet before sunset to go to their designated spots around the school. Students are performing on marching instruments. Set up music stands as needed. Move percussion equipment as needed (we elected to have all percussionists perform together at the start of the parade route).
- Event kicks off as the sun begins setting!
Overview of Planning and Execution
Band directors and key booster personnel – Our program’s 4 directors hatched the idea and did much of the logistical planning for this event. We coordinated with the booster president and a designated event chair to work out the details. It was 10-20 hours of planning for these personnel.
Parent volunteers (ahead of event) – 3-4 members of an event committee to help make arrangements with the district, city, and police department. Occasional evenings over the course of the month.
Parent volunteers (decorations) – Loaned items dropped off ahead of event and picked up the day after. Limited time commitment.
Parent volunteers (day of the event) – Set up decorations, help manage traffic flow, collect any donations, run cocoa stand, run any other vendor stands (spirit wear, santa photos, food, etc. as arranged – all optional). Tear down at end of event. 12 hours but able to be accomplished in shifts.
Students – Prepare music during classes and perform on the day of the event. Limited obligations outside of the school day other than the date of the performance.
Tools and Resources
In an effort to keep overhead low, we relied heavily on what we already had “in house” to accomplish this event. Families loaned 100% of the lights and decorations and volunteered their time. Students provided 100% of the live entertainment. Props were repurposed from the fall marching show to use as backdrops. We used music that was already in the district’s library. The event committee solicited support from other vendors in the community. The only costs were associated with paying off-duty hours for security personnel and hot cocoa. Electricity was provided by the district for this on-campus event. The temperate weather was provided by Texas.
Marketing and Promotion
Social media was the primary tool used. We created digital fliers that we sent out through a variety of means (facebook, instagram, twitter, etc.) to emphasize this free community event. We also relied on word-of-mouth advertising by our students and parents who helped drum up interest in the community. The event itself also seemed to draw a crowd once the lights went on and the line of cars started.
Expenses were very limited and unfortunately we don’t have an exact record – With donations during the event, these costs were negated. To our recollection the only expenses have been associated with hiring security personnel (school district security off-duty hours) and purchasing cocoa to be made/sold at the event. Overhead is negligible and most was donated.
- Overwhelming community support resulting in challenging traffic flow considerations – We had to reroute the parade into multiple lanes to get the cars past the gate for the end of the event. During the event, the line of cars wrapped around nearly an entire city block. We have managed this better in the years since by advertising a clear end time to the event and advising volunteers to help keep traffic moving in a friendly fashion.
- Since our inaugural event, we have rethought the size and positioning of our performing groups (post-COVID, we were able to make the groups larger and space them further apart from each other to avoid sound bleed-over). This has also helped keep traffic moving.
- Once the sun goes down, it gets pretty dark other than the holiday lights. We have had to find ways to light the areas that students are in both for safety and visibility.
VERY effective. Each year we see 400+ cars drive through (some more than once!), demonstrating a high level of community engagement and support. Though not intended as a fundraiser, donations reached approximately $5000 our first year (approximately 2% of our annual budget).
It has become a memorable annual “feel-good” favorite during the holidays. This holiday “parade” is a unique and low-cost way for students to be recognized and supported, and for the community to see the amazing impact of fine arts education. Additionally, it fosters a sense of connection among the students, families, district, and city during the holidays.
Advice for others?
Keep your focus on connecting with the community rather than fundraising. Keep the focus on the delight of performing – the community’s takeaway from this event is always “wow, the kids sound so good” rather than worrying about a trophy, score, or placement.