How to Plan an Elementary Music Concert/Program

Whether you are a first year teacher or a seasoned veteran, planning concerts is a lot of work.  A holiday concert can be an event that brings school and community together.  When you ask adults what they remember most about elementary school, it's rarely the math classes - it's the events that they connected with emotionally, and most often they remember the year they were a snowman in the Christmas play far better than they remember learning the times tables.  Too often though, the responsibility for the holiday concert falls on the shoulders of the music teacher.  Since this is a school event, it is really necessary for the entire staff to be involved.  This newsletter is coming early this year (I've usually published this in Dec) as you really need it NOW - not in December.

Things to Consider when planning

What are my strengths?

Choral conducting? Choreography? Orff ensemble? What kind of concert can I organize that will show my strengths and the student's strengths?

What are the community expectations?

Are they used to a musical with tracks or are they used to informances? If you're new to the community, I'd suggest doing what they expect in your first year, then gradually making changes

Will parents bring students back for an evening performance?  

In some communities YES and in some communities, sadly no. If your community won't or can't bring students back for an evening concert, have your program in the afternoon during school hours. Take video of the concert for parents who can't get time off work.

What does the school administration want? AND How much support will they give you? 

Will they give you time to rehearse the whole school?

What is the budget for the concert?

Costumes cost money. Music costs money. Sound equipment and lights cost money.  Who is going to pay for it? Parent council? School? Renting a venue is expensive. Definitely NOT the music teacher! 

Who performs? 

Grade level program or whole school?  This is linked to the next question.

Where will you perform? 

School gym, nearby church, or an actual theatre?
How many people does the venue seat safely? (following fire code). If you have 200 children in a grade level, and the venue only seats 400, you won't be able to do a whole school venue. For every child, you should count on at least 2 people being in the audience to watch them.  If you have a small venue and a large school, you might have to have a program for each grade.

Venue Questions:

-Concert in school or another location.
-Fire code numbers – how many people can be in the venue?
-Chairs – rent or borrow more if needed.
-Stage or do you need to rent one? Risers?
-Measure stage – know how much space you have for rehearsal time. (Mark out stage in classroom)

How large is your stage or your riser capacity?  

Will all your students be on-stage for the whole concert?  Or will you bring classes on and off.  I read a post recently on FB from a new teacher who was trying to work out the logistics of bringing 180 children on and off stage - and was going to do this for 5 or 6 grades.  NO!!!!  Line up 180 kids and time how long it takes to get them onto risers.  It absolutely isn't feasible.   It will be noisy, chaotic, and will take 10-15 minutes - which for an audience is not entertaining.

What is the curricular value in putting on a concert?

Consider it a summative assessment of student performance skills.
They will be demonstrating how well they watch the conductor, how well they sing or play, and how well they can move or do choreography.  I've found that the excitement of the performance is a motivator for many students.  I've also found that some students who were not singing in tune, really improved pitch matching by practicing their concert music over a period of weeks.

Musical, Revue, or Themed concert?

Musicals require more work coaching speaking and acting.  You can do it in a simpler way by doing it kind of like a "reader's theatre" - set up 2 microphones and have students read parts.  The musical provides the theme and the outline of the script - so you don't have to do as much writing. And - you can adapt your concerts as needed. (add songs, change script). You have permissions from Musicplay and JJ&Me to make changes as needed.

Revues or Themed Concert

For holiday concerts, this allows you more flexibility in song choice, but in some ways creates work for you in finding songs and creating script.  If you go with a theme, choose a theme that is broad and where you already have many song ideas - Holiday Lights, Holidays Around the World


Equipment needed for a concert - what do you have?  What do you need to rent or borrow?

  • Stage and Risers - essential!  
    • Parents want to see and hear their child.
  • Sound System
    • Does your school or venue have a quality system available to use.  (Stacy’s rental – 2 stand up microphones, 6 choir microphones, sound board, 2 speakers, 2 monitors, different equipment is needed if instruments are used.)
  • Lights
    • Do you need a lighting system or rental? (Stacy’s Rental – lighting board, 4 sets of 4 lights and stands.)
  • Backdrop
    • Digital or have parents/teachers/students assist in making something to display.  Digital is a whole lot easier!

Planning and Delegating Responsibility: 

At a staff meeting early in the fall, discuss how the holiday concert will be handled. Administration should make it clear to staff that this is a school event - not the music teachers big show. All staff should be expected to help with planning, and all should be expected to attend. A coordinator for the concert is required - usually the music teacher - , but if the school is supportive, the music teacher in the school isn’t burdened with doing everything. 
The following tasks could be delegated:

  • Backdrop: 
    • A teacher, (art teachers are your best friend!) or a parent can take responsibility for preparing and putting up the backdrop. Digital backdrops are the easiest!   Simple backdrops are good. You can purchase white tarps from Home Depot. If you make your backdrop somewhat generic, you can recycle them. We painted “Happy Holidays” on half of the white tarp and stapled garland around the edges. The garland probably won’t last forever, but we don’t have to redo the sign each year. If you don’t want the same backdrop every year, create 3-4 different ones and cycle them through. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel each year!
  • Sound System: 
    • One teacher or parent is responsible for locating a good quality sound system, with 4 mikes: 2 for the choir, and at least 2 for soloists. If the school doesn’t have a good sound system, try renting one. If you’re in a rural location without rentals, a local dance band may have a PA system they would loan you or rent to you. Have a backup plan! Borrow a karaoke machine to have on stage so you have a backup in case your sound system crashes in the middle of your concert.
  • Risers: 
    • A teacher, custodian or parent volunteers should be responsible for borrowing and/or setting up risers.
  • Stage Helpers: 
    • A couple of stage hands for the night of the concert should be found. There is always something that needs to be adjusted, and the concert co-ordinator doesn’t have enough hands to do it all. I often have a few responsible fifth graders become my stage hands. Some of the kids that really don’t like speaking parts, make great stage helpers! The stage helpers should remember to bring some emergency supplies in case of accidents:
      • paper towels (vomit, leaky bladders)
      • big garbage can, big garbage bags
      • clorox wipes, rubber gloves (vomit)
      • broom and dustpan (broken flashlight candles)
      • kleenex (bleeding noses, runny noses)
  • Scene Rehearsal: 
    • Even when there is a music specialist every classroom teacher should provide extra rehearsal time for their own classes. The music specialist can make a CD of the class’s song or a YouTube video, for rehearsal purposes so the classroom teachers can help. (Themes & Variations Christmas programs allow you to do this - please check copyright regulations on other publications before copying anything!) 
      Classroom teachers can use music or phys-ed time to rehearse songs and dances. When they have them learned, bring in the concert coordinator to help with entrances, exits and staging. Ask all staff members to prepare the children for the “what if’s” that can happen. If you are the music specialist, allow time to go through this with all
      children who will be in the concert.
      • “What if - you have to puke?” (Get to the garbage can at the side of the stage if you can!)
      •  “What if - you have to go the bathroom?” (Use bathroom before show. Don’t drink soda or pop!)
      • “What if - you feel woozy?” (If you feel woozy when on stage, just sit down and put your head between your knees.) At least they won’t fall off the top riser!
  • Costumes: 
    • Meet with the concert co-ordinator to plan costumes for each group. The co-ordinator or the classroom teacher should determine determine what costumes and props are needed. Decide who will be sending notes home to parents with details of what their child should wear. Keep it simple! The easier the better. Sometimes just a hat or a headband will give the class the look you want.
  • Program: 
    • One teacher or parent should take responsibility for printing the program and for handing it out at the door (or choosing students to do this) at the actual concert. Many schools don't print programs at all and just announce the concert order.
  • Publicity: 
    • Someone needs to take responsibility for sending information home - either in a school newsletter, a school website, or notes home giving the date, time and location of the concert.
  • Supervision Backstage: 
    • The concert coordinator will be in the wings, coordinating entrances and exits. Two teachers will be needed backstage to ensure that groups are ready to go on, on cue. All classroom teachers will be needed to supervise their children off stage. This is probably going to be the toughest hour of the school year. I had 90 children backstage one year. I played Concentration, Stella Ella Olla, and Topnotcher with them and managed to have fun while we waited.Look up the games on Videos don’t work well, unless you have a very large screen and a loud sound system.   Taking children back to their own classroom and playing board games seems to be a good solution also.
  • Concert Setup: 
    • The concert coordinator will need some release time from regular classes to organize the setup of the stage area. Be sure to ask in your newsletter for parent volunteers to help with this. The backdrop needs to be put up, and all student art work that you can display, should be put up. A final check needs to be made that all props are ready to be taken on stage from the wings. There are 2 things that parents hate at a Christmas concert - not being able to see their child, and not being able to hear what is being said and sung. Check and double check your sound system, and use risers so your students are all seen!
  • Photos/Videotaping: 
    • Ask a staff member to find a parent volunteer to take photos and videotape the concert. You might have a staff member that takes great photos and give her the job.
  • Cleanup: 
    • One year I forgot to delegate a clean up crew, so guess who ended up cleaning up? Don’t forget to have teachers and parents who are responsible for taking down the backdrop and art work, loading instruments and props into vans, and returning them to school or to classrooms.

The following slides were created by Stacy Werner. I'll be posting copies of the checklists (and eventually editable checklists) in UNITS-Programs on Musicplayonline. We'll create a new unit called Concert Planning with the checklists and a printable version of this newsletter. I think it's fair to share this with administration - especially those that want concerts but won't provide a budget to put them on.

Backwards Planning Checklist


Concert Planning Guide Before Concert Checklist


Concert Planning Guide During Concert Prep Checklist


Concert Planning Guide Before Concert Week Checklist


Emergency Supplies list


Discuss What If Scenarios


Concert Etiquette rap


Programs Available on Musicplayonline:

Star Bucks

By John Jacobson

Cold Snap

By John Jacobson

Christmas Cookies

By John Jacobson


By John Jacobson

Big Dreams

By John Jacobson

American Song

By John Jacobson

Just Sing

By John Jacobson

Survival Santa

By Denise Gagne

The Best Pet Show Ever

By Denise Gagne

The Smallest Christmas Star

By Denise Gagne

By Denise Gagne

Coming soon: Razz-a-ma-jazz!

Watch our webinar HERE FOR FREE! 

Additional Resources published by Themes & Variations

These are available as downloads (or print/ship) at

All are affordably priced ($20-40) and include perf/acc mp3s, piano/vocal scores, and musicals or reviews include scripts.

These include permissions to perform, and permissions to reproduce vocal scores or lyrics for your students.

Celebrate Around the World Cover Art

Celebrate Around the World
This collection includes traditional and composed songs from many different cultures. You could use this as your winter concert, or you could teach the songs any time of year as part of a multicultural study


Festivals and Holidays

Festival and Holidays

Festivals and Holidays is a musical revue exploring celebrations around the world. The songs are unison or easy two-part suitable for classroom or choir, and staging is simple.



Snowtastic Cover Art


This is a fantastic musical about our favourite season!  Includes lyrics, script, performance/accompaniment tracks, and PDF to project. Use it as your holiday concert 



Is Santa Smarter Cover Art

Is Santa Smarter?

Is Santa smarter than the kids in your school? It’s a Christmas musical/revue featuring your school’s fifth graders on a game show with Santa as a celebrity contestant trying to win enough money to pay for the high cost of gas to power his sleigh. 


The Best Gift Ever Cover Art

The Best Gift Ever

The Buymore Shopping Mall has a contest - tell what the best Christmas gift is, and WIN that gift! The shoppers have many unique gift ideas - toys, candy, new teeth, slippers, and baking. But it’s the Charity Bell ringer that has the best gift idea - a Christmas meal for the homeless.


Slapshot Santa Cover Art

Slapshot Santa Scores Again!
Santa dreams that he’s scored a goal in the NHL and decides that he’s going to practice hockey until he can play with his favorite hockey star.
Production on the Christmas toys falls further and further behind while Santa is out practicing his slapshot. The elves make some hasty phone calls and Santa’s favorite hockey team flies to the North Pole to have an exhibition game.


Christmas Favorites Cover Art

Christmas Favorites
Thirteen songs for your class or choir that will be sure to be student favorites! The teacher's guide includes the piano/vocal arrangements for 10 songs, choreography suggestions for some, and reproducible student pages for 7 songs.
Includes Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer


The Christmas Concert Idea Book Cover Art

The Christmas Concert Idea Book

Would you like some drama in your Christmas concert without producing a full length musical? The ‘Christmas Concert Idea Book’ is a collection of skits and songs, each of which is suitable for a K-6 class (or choir) to perform at a Christmas concert. 


Kinder Music Christmas Collection

Kinder Christmas Collection

Here is a collection of songs ready for your next Christmas concert! Your students will enjoy performing them, and their parents will love watching! This collection includes traditional favorites and original songs. You'll find something for everyone!


K-3 Christmas Concert Ideas Cover ArtK-3 Christmas Concert Ideas

Do you need an idea for your K-3 class for a Christmas assembly or concert?
Here are 20+ ideas: Songs, plays, poems, reader’s theatre, dances - each of which is suitable for a K-3 class to perform at a Christmas concert.


Happy Holidays Cover Art

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays is a collection of Christmas and Holiday songs. Not only have we given several traditional carols a fresh new sound by weaving together interesting medleys but there are also new carols to help you and your singers rejoice in a festive spirit this holiday season.

Chants de Noël Cover ArtChants de Noël

Each year teachers request music materials for French Immersion classes. This publication has wonderful unison or 2 part arrangements of seven Christmas songs for your French Immersion classes or your English school choir!


Holiday Songs for Guitar and Ukulele Cover Art

Holiday Songs for Guitar and Ukulele

This collection of holiday songs for Guitar and Ukulele includes arrangements of 40 Holiday, Christmas, and Hanukkah songs. Many of the arrangements are given in alternate keys, so they are all playable on both the guitar or ukulele and in appropriate ranges for children’s voices!


We Remember Cover Art

We Remember

Your Remembrance Day/Veterans Day assembly will be easy to plan when you use the songs, poems, and quotes in this collection. The entire collection is beautiful and very singable for young classes or choirs. The songs will be a moving tribute to all veterans. 

Holiday Songs for Recorder Cover ArtHoliday Songs for Recorder

14 traditional and multicultural songs for unison, 2-part and 3-part soprano recorder. Includes 30 reproducible student pages in regular and “kid note” notation. This is an excellent way for you to incorporate recorders into your Christmas or winter concert.


Holiday Orff Source Cover Art

Holiday Orff Source

NEW!!!  The Holiday Orff Source includes 14 lessons using the Orff process and instruments that vary from simple songs for PreK-K-1 to accompany a storybook, to interesting instrumental arrangements for older students. The students will have opportunities in the lessons to sing, play, move, listen and improvise. 


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