Concert Assignments

Your Singer MISSED the Concert….What do we do? – Use the 5 “E”s

Your Singer MISSED The Concert….What do we do? – Use the 5 “E”s

It can be quite frustrating when we have prepared for months, have a perfect balance, exact riser alignment and then students don’t show up to the concert. Sometimes we are provided with advanced notice and other times we find out the day of, or they just don’t even show up.It’s so easy to get angry when this happens! We need to ensure this doesn’t become an epidemic.   Using the 5 “E’s” we can turn these situations around:

explainempathize, excuse (or not), educate, and evaluate

The first goal is to prevent these situations from occurring as frequently as possible. Next, we need to find a way to address these concert absentees in a way that is most beneficial for their success within our program. If our goal is to punish the missing students (and their parents), we will have missed a valuable teaching opportunity.  

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Here is a successful approach to handling CONCERT ABSENCES – USING the 5 “E”s:


Most absences are avoidable. If we prepare appropriately from the first day of school, we will minimize the number of potential situations that may occur. This comes from clarity on our part: a clear explanation on why the concert is important, and a clear plan as to ensure that the student and their parents are aware the concert is a requirement.  

How to prevent students from missing the concert:

  1. On the first day of class, hand out a contract with the concert date and have it signed by each student AND their parent.
  2. Give a handbook quiz that is limited to the most important information, including the concert date and academic value of the concert, and have it signed by the parents.
  3. Provide a clear academic value for the concert that can be enforceable. “Failing the students for not attending, or 25 points off of their average is either an empty threat, or a consequence that will most likely be overturned. Counting the value of a concert as a unit test is a grade that would be deemed acceptable.  
Once we’ve made a concerted effort to prevent students from missing the concert, we still have to deal with absentee situations, as some may still arise. When these situations do occur, we need to:
Dreidel (SATB) – Caroling Version


  Most students want to come to the concert, but other situations have gotten in the way. Students could get sick right after school and be unable to attend. Their parents could be taking them away on vacation just before a vacation and as a result miss the concert.  They could have a family engagement totally out of their control, a extra-curricular or religious event that conflicts. They could have totally forgotten.In most cases, whether we are informed beforehand (family vacation, conflicting engagement) last minute (illness), or after the fact (absentmindedness), we must still remember these students most likely didn’t want to blow off the concert.Our most effective response is to separate any potential penalty from our ability to connect with the student and understand the emotions behind their action. Our gut response should be of understanding. We must envision how it must feel if we missed the concert that we worked hard to prepare for.

3) EXCUSE (or not)

Sort through and separate the reasons why they aren’t attending/didn’t attend the concert. We need to look at each situation with individuality. From there, we need to evaluate the validity of their excuses, academically speaking.  Here are some excuses that may come up.There are students who know in advance that they cannot attend. Their reasons may or may not be acceptable. A) Parent’s Planned a Conflicting event – Frequently, the unacceptable reasons stem from parent choice. One example would be parents taking their child away just before the vacation due to 1/2 price airfare, and therefore missing the concert. A situation such as this may not be avoidable at the time it is presented and it’s important to realize it isn’t the student who created this conflict.B) School-Related/Extra-Curricular Event – Sometimes students have conflicts such as an athletic event. My hierarchy of importance states that a concert (academic) takes priority over a game (extra-curricular), but sometimes there is an exception. If a student has been selected for an all-county or all-state competition, it’s sheer accomplishment might excuse the student from the concert. The same could be said about a state or national competition in an extra-curricular club. The same could be said about a religious retreat.C) Last minute concert absence – Inevitably, a student can get really sick. I’ve had my most dedicated, anchor students miss the final concert of their senior year.  These things happen. If they are sick, they are probably pretty upset that they missed the concert.D) The no-show  – This is when students forget, or couldn’t get a ride, etc.  It could also be a parent choice to avoid the concert. These excuses are the ones that may deserve penalization*, depending on the circumstance. * in any of most excuses listed above, there will be an “alternative concert assignment”; a penalization will create a deduction from the total possible score on the alternative assignments, discussed later.
Oh Hanukkah (SATB)


Students who have participated in rehearsals for several months and then missed the concert, truly miss out on the culminating experience. This is why it is super important that they are included in a class discussion that focuses on the many aspects of concert that they missed.Ryan Guth, the Choir Ninja from Choir Nation, presents a wonderful podcast on how to have a great post-concert discussion. We are the facilitators, and should be helping the students to dig deeply into all aspects of the experience. By having an engaging discussion, the students who missed the concert will become embedded in the overall concert experience. This is far more important than just watching a video of the performance.
Sight-Singing Developmental Rubric



Students who missed the major concert missed the equivalent of a unit test. While I have been known to excuse students who are sick, I tend to provide an alternative concert assignment for students who missed the concert for parent-controlled reasons, no-shows, and additional school-related/religious-related conflicts. This assignment is not a punishment; it is an opportunity for a student who missed our concert to learn from watching and assessing a similar performance. When we give an assignment such as researching the history of one composer, it does not connect to the choral experience that they missed. Should we believe the backstory of the composer is truly important, we should be teaching this in class to all students, not the few that missed the concert.If we structure an alternative concert assignment correctly, students will find value in their assignment, the entire class (as well as the director) can benefit, and students will be excited about attending their next performance, rather than be fearful of the repercussions for missing it.

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How to create an effective Alternative Concert Assignment:

From my experience, the most effective Alternative Concert Assignment is one where a student who missed their student is expected to attend a concert at a local school that features the age-appropriate equivalent ensemble; to be clear, if this student were to attended that other school, they could be in that same ensemble they are watching. They are given a series of 10-20 questions that will help to guide their experience with specific things to observe and focus on.I have found that students enjoy this assignment, as it gives them the opportunity to express their opinions. The goal is not to test them; it is to teach them to become more aware of the flow of a concert, so they will become move observant in our ensemble. In many cases, the students will want to discuss what they experienced with our choir; with the guided questions that are provided for them, they have a lens through which that can share. I highly encourage you to download a copy of the Alternative Concert Assignment.   In the end, we want those students who missed the concert to still feel part of our choir; the choir shares such a special bond by performing together, and we need to do our best to keep them engaged, especially when they have been left out!  

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Grading: Grading a student who Misses a performance


Thank you to all the directors who responded to my question. Many people
seem to have the same problem and have requested a compilation. I hope this
is as helpful to you as it was for me.

Original Message:

As a high school choral director, I have stressed the fact that our concerts
are to be considered the student's "mid-term" and "final." This is where they
demonstrate everything that we have been working on. In addition to the dress
rehearsals and performance, there is a follow-up written assessment that each
student does rating themselves, the choir, the overall performances, the
experience, etc.

The problem comes with students who do not show up for the performance. There
are some that I know about, and they are excused, but what should be done
with the ones who just "cut"?

I have told the "excused" students that they will have a paper to do instead,
but I haven't come up with the exact assignment yet. What do you suggest?
What do you suggest for the "unexcused" students? Obviously, their self
evaluations would also be incomplete since they didn't participate in the
whole process.

I would appreciate any advice you can share. If the responses warrant it,
I'll share them with the list.

Thank you,
Steve Bell
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I've found that most directors lower final grades by
one or two letters, or in some cases give students a
failing grade if they have an unexcused absence from a
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Here's my solution. All absentees--excused or unexcused, are assigned a
report on a musical personality--your choice. They also have to write a 1
page essay on the importance of teamwork in the choral ensemble. Then, they
are taken to a practice room with a tape recorder, and assigned to sing their
own vocal part on all of the concert literature. It usually stops the
absenteeism after the first time, and they still receive a grade instead of a
zero. They do NOT receive 100.
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I'm a middle school teacher, but I face the same dilemma -- my huge program
has a number of less-than-motivated kids, and they feel no obligation to show
up at concerts. I have them (and legitimate absentees as well) schedule a
"makeup" with me, during which they sing their parts to all the pieces,
alone, while I play the other parts. It's improved attendance somewhat, since
most of the l-t-m kids hate the idea of singing alone, and the makeup is done
during lunch or after school -- precious time for them.
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I was really hard-core on this one. I defined concert absences in this

Excused absences were allowed only for sicknesses, death of family members,
and extreme crisis situations.

Extreme crisis situations did NOT include:Work
Ball games (I scheduled around them)
"Blowing off" the concert (intentionally or by forgetting)
Other activities.

An unexcused absence from a concert was a 30% dock in their grade. They
could pass for the quarter if EVERYTHING else was 100% - then they would get
a D-. I did indeed fail students for the quarter for missing concerts with
unexcused absences.

Excuses absences required a written report on a subject of my choosing
(usually a life of a composer). This report was presented to the class,
with musical excerpts. It was made clear to the class that this report and
presentation was a result of an EXCUSED absence. Unexcused absences
couldn't be made up.
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I only teach junior high, so this may be too elementary for your situation,
but here is how I handle this.
On the course syllabus at the beginning of each term, the grading criteria
are clearly outlined. They receive 100 points for each weekly theory
assignment, 10 points per day for behavior/attitude/participation, and 1000
points for participating in the final concert. "Death is an excuse; parties
are not". They & their parents have to sign & return the form (the date of
the concert is there where they sign) so that no one can say they didn't
know. Additionally, for a "final exam", I give them quartet singing tests on
the music we do for the concert as well as individual theory & sightsinging
exams. Some directors I know have them do this on videotape in another room.
Hope this gives you some ideas.
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I have the same problem and have no idea what to do--I had two girls
suspended the day of our concert last week. I also have two other girls who
haven't been to a concert all year and have been getting poor grades as a
result. However their classroom participation and attitudes are excellent and
I hate giving them D's in choir when they are that good in class.
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How do you grade the students? Do they take Choir for credit? When I
taught high school choir, I utilized a point system, and they received a
daily participation grade (automatic "A," unless they lost it through
inattention, goofing off, etc.), occasional theory and sight-singing
quizzes, and concert attendance/participation was a HUGE portion of
their final grade (at least 50%). Usually, a missed concert meant an
"F" for that semester -- unless they did absolutely everything else
right, and then maybe they'd squeak by with a "D." If your choir kids
aren't graded as they are in other classes, I would think it would be
very difficult to enforce attendance, etc.
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I make my students sing the concert during the next
class period in front of everyone who was there. They
are then evaluated by their peers and given a grade by me. Following their
classroom performance, they fill
out a self-evaluation, like you mention. My school
has a policy of letting those who have an excused
absence make up what they missed, so for those folks,
the grade I give them counts. For the others (who
still have to sing), they get a zero. It's harsh, but
I've cut my concert absenteeism to almost zero. (My
first concert at this school had less than half the
singers show up!)
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We are very hard-nosed about this with our high school choral groups. In our
student expectations, a contract passed out the first week of school, which
parents sign and singers don't get their first quarter grades unless we've
received the returned contract, we say that there is no makeup for a
concert, which is required, and there can be no excuse. Parents sometimes
say "but what if there's a funeral, a car accident, strep throat with a
raging fever?" And we smile and say that the student needs to speak with us
after the concert to find out the grade consequences. Sometimes we lower a
quarter grade, sometimes the semester grade. But we never allow a "makeup":
no essay, no paper, no attending another concert. It's helped with the
legalese that some of our students used to get into. I'll never forget how
furious I was when one of my Madrigals left after their set, to be in Act
II of a musical she was in. My colleague couldn't figure out why she wasn't
on the risers for his set (the big choir). Oy vey.
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I always give a written assignment if a concert is missed. Samples include:
the elements of music, breathing or breath support, or the periods of music
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I've used this policy for the last few years, and it seems to work fairly
well. If a student misses a concert for an "excused" reason, then he/she is
to write a 3-5 page paper or do a 10-15 min. class presentation. I give
them a variety of choices (pick a composer, pick a historical period or
musical style, etc.), and they have the option of picking something
themselves as long as they run it by me. It's not truly an equivalent to
the experience of a concert, but it's enough work that I've had students
make the extra effort to be at the concert just so they won't have to write
a report!

As for the "unexcused" students, my policy is that if they miss a concert
for an unexcused reason they fail the quarter automatically. I should add
that I make this policy crystal clear at the beginning of the year with the
students. I include this in the choir handbook which all students and
parents must sign, and I also give a copy to my designated administrator. I
haven't had parents complain about this policy, and if they did, I'd remind
them that they signed a paper saying they understand my policy.
I still end up having too many kids missing from concerts, but this does
seem to have cut down on those absences.
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I do the same thing. If a student misses the performance, they receive a
0. If they bring a note from parents that they missed due to sickness,
then they can do a makeup assignment. No other excuse is allowed for
missing the performance. It is also our district policy that all
performances are mandatory.
If they don't care about coming to the performance, then they don't
deserve to pass.
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Our concerts are midterm/ & final grades. I too have had my students write
eval. of themselves and the choir, but not graded. However, I stress the
attendance of concerts tremendously. If they miss a concert, they need to
provide a doctors note. If they cannot, they fail the semester. If they wish
not to fail the semester, then they are to write a three to five page, 12
font, 1' margin, double spaced, research paper over someone I choose, and I
don't choose the "typical" Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach. If they are sick and
cannot perform, attend the concert if possible they don't have to perform. In
addition, all students must stay for the entire concert if the choirs are not
combining in the end. If they leave, it is counted as an unexcused absence.

In reference to attending to concert and performing, I explain to my
students, "Stand on stage and perform for 20 - 30 min, or do a two week
research paper." It's kind of a "duh" situation for them. I am a first year
teacher, and have had success with this. I had two students write papers last
term, and one this term. Two others turned in their doctors slips.

Hope this helps. I do believe it is somewhat stiff, but I feel if students
are going to be in choir, they knowingly choose to be on stage and perform
and to play by your rules. They are either with you or not.
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I have run into this problem. What I have done is make everything worth
points. Daily Participation, Rehearsals, Rep. Checks, Performances, the
final, and our written component, an outside Concert review-one per semester.
This eliminates excused and unexcused absences. Either they are there or
they're not. They all sign the last page of the syllabus stating that they
understand the grading policies. I do allow them to make up some missed
points by turning in additional concert reviews. As one of my colleagues so
well put it, "they are point whores" and will do anything for the points.
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It's a perennial problem, and I've had to deal with it on the
college level although not at the high school. Basically you have to cover
your butt in advance. I'd suggest a three-part plan:

1. Get your policy on paper, make sure it's clear and unambiguous, and
funny ideas about activities that are classes but have out-of-class
requirements. Some simply don't allow that to happen. They have to be
prepared in advance for parent complaints.
2. Make sure every student and every family knows what your policy is,
right from the beginning of the semester when they could still transfer to
another class.

3. Enforce the policy even handedly and without making a big deal of it,
whatever it turns out to be. Students will accept this, while they will
NOT accept favoritism in any form.

(You might also want to discuss the question with your athletic coaches,
who have the advantage of not teaching their teams for credit but the
disadvantage of having to abide by their own state association's rules.)

Of course that isn't what you were actually asking, and you may already be
approaching it this way. You might want to consider a tiered set of

A. Excused or unexcused conflicts with performance dates which you are
told about during the first week of classes: have a standard alternative
assignment or work-study duties.

B. Excused absences because of incapacitating illness or injury, danger of
passing on an infection, or genuine family emergency: When this happens,
students need support, not hassles.

C. Excused or unexcused absences about which you have been informed a
month in advance so necessary adjustments can be made: an alternative
assignment (excused) or a reduction in grade (unexcused).

D. Unexcused absences which you are NOT informed about in advance: an F
for midterm or final exam grade. Face it, you do not want someone that
untrustworthy in your class, and your other students would be even madder
than you!

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When our students miss a concert, we offer a make-up assignment for excused
absences. They are to research the music we worked on during that set and
write a paper comparing/contrasting or simply explaining in some detail the
following: composer, musical period, style, voicing, texture, use of
polyphony, homophony, etc. This assignment is worth 200 points, the same
as the concert is worth. The paper should be from 5-7 pages (or whatever
you feel is most appropriate for their 200 points). It's working very
nicely for us! (Students who do not have a valid excuse (I just forgot!)
receive a 0 for the performance.)
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I came up with something that worked like a charm for me a few years ago
when I took a high school job where concert attendance had been a problem.
Realizing that I needed to change the culture, I explained that the concert
was the culminating experience of the semester, much as a final exam, book
report, or project would be for other kinds of classes. The only possible
way to make up for an absence from a performance was to sing the
performance for me in my office. If they had been absent from school the
day of the concert or the day after, and if they brought a note from the
parents with a legitimate excuse, they were permitted to take the make-up

What I found was that absences from the concerts all but disappeared almost
immediately. I really didn't need to hear many make-up exams. Rarely did
people without legitimate excuses come in for tests, so there was no
problem or dispute in them receiving a failing mark. The few that were ill
did come in with parental excuses, (and generally, had their illnesses
documented in the daily school bulletin) would sing a few excerpts from the
concert, and in so doing had their "culminating experience."
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We were always told that if we did not come to concerts we needn't bother
showing to rehearsal the next week. We also had a formal letter of reprimand
added to our file at the school. If the students are seniors you may not be
able to threaten much except to say that you will notify in writing the
college or university they will be attending of their behaviour which again
will be added to their file.
Whatever you decide to do, I believe you should be incredibly strict and
perhaps go a bit overboard on the punishments. A choir can not work if you
are not sure which students will turn up at the concerts. It makes you wonder
why they even bothered to join! Obviously, if choir is a timetabled class
your approach may be different, but if it is extra-curricular it is important
to be sure the singers understand that their presence does make a difference
- and you will notice missing people!
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In response to your missed performance post... If you
have provided them with written confirmation that the
performances are the "final", then follow school code.
If an English student cut his or her final, what does
your school recommend? My school had a procedure that
the final grade could be no lower than a 50, but
otherwise, the students could get a 0 on their final
as long as it didn't' drop their final grade below 50.
So, what I did was tell the kids that EVERY
performance is worth 31 points. Even if we had 4
performances, each were 31 points of a 100 total
grade. During the first semester 3 kids cut
performances and failed choir. After that... I never
had a kid miss without excuse again.
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If you consider your concert performances as the "midterm" or "final", then
you must apply your school's policy or department policy regarding an
unexcused absence on a "midterm" or "final". I have always had small to
medium choirs, so missing a performance is a major event. As a result, on the
first day of class, when I meet the parents at Open House, and weeks before
the performance, my students and their parents know that if they miss the
major performances their grade is automatically an 'F'. My department chair
and my administrators are aware of this policy. There are no surprises and no
compromises. I enforce the policy.
I can literally count the times I have had to enforce this policy on one hand
in over fifteen years of teaching in various economic settings and in public
and independent high schools. I started the policy by sending home a
"permission slip" for the concert which discussed extra rehearsals, dress,
performance call, and audience expectations. This was a habit that I
maintained from teaching in elementary schools. Parents were reminded of the
policy and they signed and returned the slip. Not returning the slip meant no
participation because I wanted everyone to deal in good faith. I have not had
to use the slip for a few years now, but if I thought it were an issue for
me, or if I were new in a situation, I'd go back to it without thought or
question. Establish a clear policy and enforce it.
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What happens to a student who misses a major exam without notice? They
usually get an 'F' for that exam, which is calculated into their grade.
As to term paper topics, they can write about a composer who was featured on
your concert program, or write about vocal techniques; this will make them
learn about something related to the performance but it has the disadvantage
of making learning about music seem like a punishment, or at best, a
consolation prize. You might also have them make up the time by working in
your choral library.
Quite simply, if someone failed to show for a performance and did not have a
good reason (i.e., sudden emergency backed by a parent's or doctor's note)
I'd fail them. Even with said notes, they should have to do something to earn
some sort of grade.
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I feel in these instances that you need to be strict because of the fact
that the concert is what their main goal. In any performance group
attendance is a must. I would say for missed performances to lower their
grade either one letter or maybe even two letter grades. I also think that
you should have some type of award program if you do not have students
coming to everything. My choir used to have a potluck after every concert.
The people who were not involved in the concert can go sit somewhere else
and not enjoy the food. I think you should also check with your
administration on this problem and have them take some action as well.
Choral is about attendance. Nothing else to it!!
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Sounds to me like you just want the verification to do what you know you
need to already do. You have only one option, and that is to give a
failing grade. If you don't, you are NOT helping the kids to learn
anything. When they go out in the real world, get a job and decide not
to show up without telling their boss, what do you think is going to
You need to let the axe fall now while the consequences are minimal,
rather than have them receive a terrible eye-opener when they hit the
real world. Remember, as a high school teacher, you're not just teaching
them music, you're (in part) preparing them for life! >I have told the
"excused" students that they will have a paper to do instead,
>but I haven't come up with the exact assignment yet. What do you suggest?
Depending on the pieces you had them sing, I would suggest a multi-page
paper on one of the composers. If the piece is taken from the Mass, have
them write about the formation of the Mass, what it's all about, etc.
Other ideas: 1) musical forms, 2) renaissance dance styles in music, 3)
the English carol, 4) Minnesingers and Meistersingers, 5) emergence
and/or history of opera, 6) Gregorian chant, 7) folk music of a certain
country and certain era.

Also, since this is a performing class, they need to "perform" and read
their paper to the rest of the class, which will also (hopefully) learn
from their findings.

DO NOT be too easy on their excuses for missing a performance. Soccer
games, doctors appointments, hot date, etc. are not good enough.
Appointments can be rescheduled and soccer games are very frequent and
missing one won't give them a failing grade! If you accept any old
excuse, you set a terrible precedent for the rest of their lives. Please
do them a favor and be hard on them.
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Missed performance unexcused = an F for that event.

Missed performance excused (and I only excuse in case of personal sickness,
Act Of God (like a fire, car accident, etc) or extreme extenuating
circumstances (brother getting married, etc) ......then they have to do the
paper PLUS sing the entire concert in front of me, by themselves, from memory
for a grade. I find that everyone shows up to the concerts when they find
this out!
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I'm struggling with the same thing this year. Although their contract (signed
by students and parents) clearly states that all concerts are mandatory, some
are genuinely baffled that I want them to take off work. For the true
emergency or other "excused" absence I have them write a paper as well. This
seems to discourage most from missing if at all possible. What I have tried
with some success in the past is to have the "unexcused" also write a paper
(usually a lengthy concert report on a performance they must see on their
own). Most of the student who don't bother to show up to the concerts also
don't bother to follow up with any written work, giving double justification
for a lowered grade. At my husband's school they automatically flunk the
quarter if they miss a concert. this info is in the student handbook and the
choir contract. He has great administrative support. He has only needed to
use this policy one time. Once the word got out, there has been no additional
problems. A friend of mine makes the absent kids sing the concert music for hi
m privately the day they return to school. I have tried this, and it is
usually more work for me than the kids, but my friend swears by it.
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Here is my policy regarding performances. I got much of it from a friend of
mine who uses a similar policy.

Concert/Performance Attendance Policy
1. Prior Commitment - The director must receive a note from a
parent/guardian at least 4 weeks before the concert/performance. The
student will sing the concert music for the director outside of class. The
student's performance must be at a satisfactory level to earn full credit.
2. Illness/Family Emergency - Parents/Guardians must call and notify
the director of the situation as soon as possible and as well as provide a
written excuse. The student will sing the concert music for the director
outside of class. The student's performance must be at a satisfactory level
to earn full credit.
3. No Advance Warning/Unacceptable Excuse/Failure to do make-up work -
Loss of credit for the concert/performance.

Work is not an excuse to miss a concert/performance!!

I have this information in our choir handbook. The students know that
performances are 30% of their choir grade. To this point, all students that
have missed a performance have made up the points or lost them. I will be
adding that "it must be made up within one week of the performance" for next
year's handbook. For an evaluation, I have had students critique a "choral
recording" instead of their private performance for me.

I have had no problems with this policy. This is my first year in this
position and to my knowledge there was previously no policy in place. With
that, I have been more lenient this year than I plan to be in the future
regarding the 4 week prior notification. (I give them a concert/reh.
schedule for the year and tell them they're responsible for all the dates.)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I am a middle school director, but students who have an excused absence must
listen to 3 or 4 songs from a MS or HS performance and critique it using the
same form we use at contest.

Students who just "cut" have their final quarter grade reduced by two
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You are so nice!!! My students don't get a choice whether to be in a
concert or not. If they are not at the dress rehearsal, they don't perform
and of course that is a '0'. If they come to the practice and don't make the
concert, for what ever reason, they have a '0'. They don't like '0's because
they make for very bad grades at the end of the semester and they are not at
the top of the list for choir for the next year.
There aren't any make-up anything. You cannot possibly make up a concert
if you did a ton of papers.
Sorry to be so blunt but really, choir is so wonderful for the soul that
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I have just given them the F for missing that important performance, The
ones who missed last semester, stopped doing that on this semester when they
saw their grades. It is the only and fair way. Let them pay for it. If they
are not happy with it, then they should not sign for Promusica next
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We have a departmental policy regarding missed concerts (the only
acceptable excuses being illness with a doctor's note or death in the
family) - an F for the marking period grade. End of discussion.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
When I was teaching choral and instrumental music classes in Detroit, I
faced the same dilemma you describe. When the principal of my school would
not support the idea that students had to be present for the concerts, which
were tantamount to final exams, I actually changed schools. The new
principal was supportive of my philosophy, and asked me to put my
expectations into the class syllabus for each class. It said that missing a
final concert (Christmas or Spring) would result in the student failing that
class for that semester. The student's parent had to sign and return the
paper which I then kept on file. I used that to "motivate" the student to
attend each concert for which we spent an enormous amount of time and energy
preparing. A few times a parent would question the failing grade and
requested a conference with me. When they came to the school, I'd have the
student present with the parent and me, haul out the signed syllabus----end
of sentence, period.

Of course there are extenuating circumstances: death in the family, serious
illness, hospitalization etc., but because the parent had to go bowling was
not accepted as a valid reason for the child to fail the class.
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When I taught at a private school which had a "no letter grade" policy for
the arts, I would give a student a "4" which meant "unsatisfactory" if they
missed a concert without a serious excuse (family trip...illness). At this
school it was a Big Deal to be on the Effort Honor Roll, and a "4" naturally
prevented that. I endured a battle with a 9th grade student's parent over
one of these 4s that almost came to blows, but I defended my position and
the headmaster backed me up.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I would approach those you did not excuse prior to the concert and ask them
what happened. You never know ... could have been something
serious/warranted. You could ask for additional information and/or

If ultimately someone does not have a justifiable answer, you owe it to their
growth and need to accept responsibility and consequences for their actions
to give them an F. Two caveats:

1. I would clear this with your superintendent/supervisor, whoever. There
will be outraged parents and you want to make certain you will be supported
when the stuff hits the fan.

2. In previous years - what were the consequences? If in the past students
skipped the concert and there were no serious consequences - I would not
recommend a sudden change. That is the first argument the students/parents
will make. If you are going to implement a stricter policy than in the past,
you need to be more flexible this year, lower their grade and warn the
students that next year/concert you will not be as lenient. Issue a written
memo in the beginning of the next year/concert rehearsals stating in clear
terms the consequences of skipping a concert. Then - follow through.
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The nature of a performing ensemble is to perform. Of course, the learning
process--sight reading, singing with an ensemble, and building community--are
important as well. But, if a student simply "cuts" a performance because they
had something better to do, the group suffers and the music suffers. My
position: these students who "cut" should fail the semester and be removed
from the group, especially if it is an auditioned choir. I know this sounds
tough, but what if ten students, or twenty students, decided to cut the same
performance for no particular reason? The director would be in a world of

As a lover of writing and literature, I would not--and do not--use writing as
punishment. For my money, giving the students that miss the concert a writing
assignment teaches them to hate writing, which is a dying art anyway. For
those that miss for legitimate reasons--illness, family emergency, etc.--I
don't have an answer; that is a hard one.

This may sound a little harsh, but I grade my students (always have) based on
attendance, participation and contribution in rehearsals and performances.
The bottom line: if the students are not there, they cannot participate and
contribute, whether the reason is legitimate or not. (I take extended illness
into account, however).

Perhaps you could meet with the students that have chronic performance
attendance problems and find out why. It could be that their heart is not in
the program in the first place.

Rest assured, I had similar problems teaching high school, and I still have
them in college. But I have found that the higher I make the expectations,
the better the students respond in rehearsal and in performance.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dear colleagues,

MANY THANKS to those who responded to my post regarding MS concert
attendance. I have decided to create a “make-up” singing exam for each
student who misses the concert. I will adapt my current policy and make
the appropriate changes for next school year. I appreciate your
comments, suggestions and “well-wishes”. Below is an edited compilation
of responses.

Gina Lehman
Valley View Middle School (PA)

1. I work at a middle school. Our policy is that performances count
as 40% of the term grade. I record the concert and students need to make
up the concert either before or after school by singing along with the
recording. They must also be in "concert attire". Of course, there are
situations where a child is extremely ill and/or may have a doctors
note. On those occasions, I either give them a MD (medical) on their
report card or a modified grade comment (this would only be for a student
who you know would get an A for a grade anyway). Parents sign a choral
contract where this is spelled out before the student is accepted to the
group. Do parents sometimes object? Sure, but they signed the
contract. As you can imagine, students would try to attend since they
don't want to sing in front of me by themselves.
2. If a student misses a performance and it is out of their control-
force them on vacation, funeral, illness, etc., then I award the
grade "ex"
in the column. My grading program ignores that column, and their grade is
based on all
other activities except those which are "ex".

3. I have a similar situation at my MS. 20% of a student's grade is
attendance and participation at the concert. Since I cannot technically
reduce a student's grade if they are not in school the day of the event,
I simply tell the kids and parents that I must have prior notification
that they will not be attending the concert, unless it is an extenuating
circumstance. Tickets to shows, family trips, family functions all have
come up as possible excuses. If parents let them off the hook by
communicating with me ahead of time, there is not much I can do. I do
let it be known that if a student does not show up to a concert/after
school rehearsal without prior notification, their grade will be lowered.


When students miss a concert, it is either excused or unexcused. If it
is unexcused, they are not allowed to make up the points. If it is
excused, they are.
In order to obtain an excused absence, a student would have to bring a
note at least a week ahead of time, or have a parent or guardian call.
That alone doesn't excuse the absence. I have to deem that it is an
excuse I will allow. For instance, a parent cannot send a note a week
ahead of time saying that Johnny won't be at the concert because he has a
basketball practice. :) I will not excuse that absence.
Also, if a student is sick from school the day of the concert or the day
after the concert, I will excuse it and they can make up the points.

I believe a concert is like a test. I never totally excuse the absence.
If they miss it, they have to make it up, just like a math test. BUT, I
don't think my administrators would allow me to say that they can't make
up the missed work. Also, I do understand that some things are more
important than a concert (not many though :)

My administrators have always been very supportive of this policy. I do
understand your idea about "make up", as nothing can take the place of

5. I give a make-up "test." They have to either sing for me all the
songs at a
scheduled time after school, or I also have some written assignments as
well. They may have to write an essay on what they have learned in
or what they fell they need to work on to improve, or identify some
terms, like "legato," staccato," etc., or sometimes I even make them
the CD of the concert, and analyze it. They have to rate the dynamics,
quality, intonation, etc. The most important thing is that even though
is a pain for you because it is extra time, you MUST be consistent and
each kid who misses the concert do it no matter what! I have a chorus
handbook that I give out in the beginning of the year which explains
and the kids have to sign it as well as their parents. The concert dates
are listed in BOLD letters as well!!!

6. I have a similar situation at my school (we can't legally
penalize a student
for missing an evening activity), and have come up with a solution that,
while far from perfect, does keep the accountability with the child. If a
student misses a concert for any reason, they are required to make an
appointment with me to sing their part of the concert program for me,
That way I can be sure that they have mastered the music, and I have
something for which to give credit. It does not recreate the concert
experience, but it doesn't penalize a child who was ill or had a
excuse for absence. What it does fairly well is keep the "casual"
coming to concerts, because they tend to dislike singing alone. (I have
told by reluctant singers that it's not fair that they have to sing alone,
but I always reply, "You had the option of coming to the concert.") The
policy is posted on the school's website, so no one gets an unpleasant

With this policy, I no longer have to collect excuse notes or harass
students about attendance. I just "keep score" and let the students and
their families make their own decisions.

7. If you have a music supervisor in your county, I would defer to
him. Also, I would find out what the other Middle Schools do in your
county. I would definitely question my principal, that's for sure.
Reason with him that one would never allow a sports team member to play
in a game if he missed the game, make sure he understands that when an
ensemble member is missing it affects everyone around them because their
unique sound and contributions to the group are missing.
If there is no way out of that, then I think even though you are
absolutely right, there is no true 'make-up' for performances, I would
come up with REALLY ANNOYING make-up work, like pages of theory homework,
a written report, etc....

Also, for the future, if your principal insists on not requiring evening
attendance, then maybe you should let him know that you would only be
doing day time performances with whole groups.
Only have evening performances for 'after-school', auditioned groups who
you can count on attending, or will be kicked out.
This is how I combat that problem. The students are graded on their day
time performance and I only require my auditioned and recess-based groups
to come back at night.

Unfortunately, it is our job to not only educate the students about
performance responsibility, but the parents, teachers and administrators,

8. Have you considered awarding points for the concert? For example,
student completes a book report. He earns 90/100 possible points. A
student attends your concert. He earns 90/100 points. If the student
doesn't attend, he earns 0/100 points. It becomes his responsibility to
attend. You are not really penalizing the student. Rather, the student
has chosen not to complete the assignment.

Or, consider a make-up assignment. Let's see...your concert is about
60-90 minutes, therefore, the make-up assignment should be about 60 -90
minutes. It sounds punitive, but it really is pretty logical. You want
to motivate all students to attend, rather than doing some kind of
make-up work, right?

9. Because of unforeseen circumstances, I do allow children to "make
up" a concert by doing a composer project. However, a friend of mine has
the child come in a sing the entire concert by themselves (only for the
teacher). This discourages missing the concert for any reason other than
one that is completely necessary.
I don't know if either of those help. But you should have some sort of
makeup policy, especially as your concerts are such a big portion of
their grade and if you can't negatively affect the grade for not coming.
10. I would give some kind of make up assignment that requires the
amount of time. They will have to make up work in other classes that
miss. Why should a choir class be any different.
12. What state do you teach in? In Florida, the state adopted course
descriptions state that participation beyond the school day is generally
required. It's a loophole that allows me to grade my students on
performance attendance.
13. My policy for both junior high and high school choirs follows:

If a student is excused from a concert (There are only 3 cases that I
will regularly excuse: death in the immediate family, family is on
vacation out of town and the child has pre-arranged his/her absence
through the office and will be excused from school, or child is ill and
brings a note from parents), then the student is allowed to make up the
points missed by 1) singing the concert for me on his/her own
out-of-school time and 2) writing a review/critique of the concert. If
the child does one or the other, they will receive a set amount of
points and if they do both, they could receive full concert points. If
they do nothing, they get a zero for the concert. I have not officially
brought their grade down because of a concert absence, but because they
have done nothing to earn the points the other children received because
they were at the performance. Since I make it real work for a student to
make up missed concert points, I find most students remember they have a
concert and that they are required to be there. I have had very few
absences since I started using this policy.

Unexcused absences are just that----they are unexcused and the child can
not make up the points. Forgetting, going shopping, work, etc. are not
excused absences. I do usually touch base with my junior high principal
on these special occasions, however, but only if the student makes an
effort to get excused (i.e., filling out the excused absence form I use
or at least bringing a note from home). It is unfair to the students who
make the effort to attend performances to have to put up with classmates
who don't. I give out my phone number to students and I remind them and
their parents the weeks immediately prior to the concert date that they
must arrange their rides if their families can't get them there. I have
picked up students on my way to our concerts if they are unable to
secure a ride otherwise. I figure these kids are the ones who need more
than any to be shown by my actions that they are important and that
their presence and participation are important

14. You didn't list your geographic location, so I will talk about
two states that I know. Texas and California. In both states, a part of
the standards is to perform music in both formal and informal events, and
large and small venues. Because of this in the standards, the evening
formal concert in the large venue is a part of the curriculum and
assessment of such events is a part of the students' grade.

In my program, students are notified of the dates of the events on the
first day of the year. Any conflicts must be handled in the first two
weeks of school.

I would treat your colleagues' students the same way any other student.
Follow the policy of the school on excused absences. Parents can pull
students out of school legally, but it does not count as an excused
absence and the teacher is not required to allow the student to make up
the work. (we usually do, but we are not required for unexcused
absences) I usually assign a lengthy research paper so that they have the
opportunity to make up points missed from excused absences. It's usually
a big pain and they figure it's less work to just be at the performance.

15. Our 6th grade has the same thing - only 2 concerts a year. Do
you have a
district policy for performances? We have established one for all
performance classes in our school district that explains the importance of
performances and states that an unexcused absence can lower a student's
grade up to 2 letter grades. Because all the schools follow it (middle
high school) we don't have trouble enforcing it. We do allow for special
circumstances etc. and I do have a make-up assignment for students that
too sick or had pre-arranged with me. I generally have them research a
composer and write a short paper. It obviously isn't the same as
but when they know they have to do a make-up it eliminates the ones who
to fake a sudden illness! Can you check with other schools in your area
see what their policy is? It might give you some ammo for your principal
because to tell you that you can't include the performance in their grade
really ties your hands - that seems really wrong to me!

16. I've found that this kind of situation must be met
head-on with the administration at the beginning of
the year. It is important that you are on the same
page. Only then can you establish it as "policy" and
publish it in your communications with parents.
Unfortunately, this doesn't help your present
situation. If I were in your shoes, I would probably
bite my tongue and just back off quietly until next

17. In my school district, the course description states that chorus
is a
"performance-based class" and that concert attendance is required. I'm
paraphrasing... Perhaps your course description includes the same
That would be heavy support for your existing concert attendance policy.
With it, you could re-open that discussion with your principal!

If you need it, I'd suggest the following makeup assignment. It is often
enough to discourage kids from missing a concert.

Student will...
1. Make an appointment before/after school with teacher
2. Sing the concert selections alone for a grade
3. Sight-read alone and receive a grade

*Student will receive a final grade for their performance based on this

17. I see the 6th graders one time per 7 day cycle for 40 minutes.
They are
required to sing on two concerts (December and May). The concert is 50%
their grade. I feel your pain....have not had to deal with concert
(other than an acceptable emergency - broken collar bone). I had always
thought I would assign them a written project about a composer or a text
that we were singing, but I have not had to implement. I will be curious
about your responses!
19. I always gave my jr high/sr high students the
opportunity to make up an absence by singing the
concert (or my selected excerpts) in my office
the week after the program. This puts the burden
on the student rather than on the teacher. Those
who had legitimate excuses will probably "make
up" the concert and will probably have a good
grade. Those who don't have legitimate excuses
probably won't appear for the exam, so you are
fully justified in giving a failing mark for that
part of the grade.

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