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2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Adam Murray

Adam Murray

Orchestra Director, Music Department Chair
Port Clinton City Schools
Port Clinton, Ohio

Small schools don’t mean weak music programs!

That’s the mantra often repeated by Orchestra Director and Music Department Chair Adam Murray, who teaches at Port Clinton City Schools, a small district with about 85 students in the orchestra program. To maintain and grow enrollment, Murray has found a unique way to includes his high school students in the recruitment process, which includes a recruitment concert and an instrument selection event.

Each spring, Murray does a deep dive with his high school symphony into a different facet of the contemporary music industry, such as film, video games, Broadway, television, pop music, etc. In addition to learning the music, students participate in planning and executing a performance event, which includes program designing, advertising and creating related media like videos and posters. The first half of the unit culminates in a midterm project: a multimedia recruitment concert exclusively for 5th graders.  

Phase two of the event is an “instrument selection party” where the high schoolers work in groups to plan games, playlists, decorate and help facilitate the instrument petting zoo. The Baroque Violin Shop in Cincinnati brings in dozens of instruments for every 5th grader to play and take home once they have made their decision. “Once you select your instrument and get your picture taken in front of our orchestra backdrop, the red rope unlocks, and you get to head into the VIP orchestra party,” Murray exclaims.

These efforts not only bring in new members to the orchestra, but it also retains the ones Murray already has. “Recruitment numbers are important to me but it’s the retention number that really matters,” he says. “It’s rare that I lose a student before graduation. When Port Clinton students pick orchestra, they are investing in it for the long haul.”

During the summer of 2022, Murray worked with administrative staff at the Firelands Symphony to extend its educational outreach program to Port Clinton. This partnership had not previously existed but has since flourished. “We have sectional coaches, access to private teachers, elementary recruitment tools and many other resources that the symphony is generously providing free of cost,” Murray says. “On the horizon, we are hoping to plan a ‘side-by-side’ with the symphony. Firelands also provides free concert tickets for all students, and our program has taken full advantage of the chance to see a professional symphony in action!”

Murray took over the program from a beloved director. “It might have been hubris, but I never had any pretense about being my predecessor,” he says. “Since day one, I have made this program an unapologetic mirror of who I am as an educator and as a performer. I see these kids five days a week from 6th grade until they graduate. We go through a lot of life together. We are energized, we are effective, and we aren’t afraid to take risks.”