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How Do You Plan a Music Festival?

By April 12, 2024News

Inside the Longy Course Handing Students the Reins to a Real Festival 

April 12, 2024 

Longy faculty member Sarah Whitney is leading students through the ultimate project-based learning experience.  

In one of her courses, Whitney’s students take a music festival from concept to reality, managing every aspect of the creative process including curation, planning, marketing, production, and execution.

The final product is Longy’s annual, student-run music festival; this year, it’s themed around the Longy artistic season theme, “It’s Personal.” 

We sat down with Whitney to get more details about what the course is really like and how her students are approaching this year’s festival.  Don’t miss the “It’s Personal” Music Festival on Friday, May 10, 2024, at 2:00 p.m. You can reserve tickets at

Photo by Alex Fedorov


Q: What is the “It’s Personal” Music Festival? 

Sarah Whitney: The “It’s Personal” Music Festival is a student-run festival that happens every spring, and it is part of a class that I lead as a professor. I walk the students through the curation, planning, marketing, production, and execution of a music festival. 

This course is unique to Longy because it gives students a chance to not only learn how to organize a festival but also put it into action. One of my favorite things about Longy is we are very project-based, so students are getting hands-on experience, which is helpful for them in the real world.  

Q: How many years have you been running this course? 

SW: This is my second year running the course, and it is honestly one of my favorite things to do.  

As a performer active in the world—I am a violinist and run a concert series in the Boston area—it has been so valuable to have these skills. 

I think we have all been to concerts where there is a bit of mystery about how that show went from an idea to reality. What I get to do is help students connect those dots so they feel confident that they could pull off something similar if they wanted to.  

Q: How much control do students have over the creative process, and how often are faculty and staff involved in giving input? 

SW: My goal is to give students as much freedom as I can. We have a few parameters around location and timing, but other than that, they get to think about the structure they want. They get to think about who they want to have play. Do they want to invite people? Do they want to have people apply or send in proposals? 

We do structure the festival around the artistic theme that Longy has each year, but students get to interpret that theme. 

This year, the theme is “It’s Personal,” and the students have related it to storytelling. To them, “It’s Personal” is really about everyone having their own voice and sharing their stories. I want them to be in charge as much as possible when it comes to creative decisions. 

Q: Which stage of the festival planning process are the students in now?  

SW: A couple of weeks ago, we put out a call for proposals. The students wanted to see who was interested in the festival and to curate this storytelling theme. 

We asked whoever submitted proposals to also explain how their idea related to the festival theme, so we have been collecting those. 

We do not have a final lineup quite yet, but I am hoping we can figure out who the performers will be very soon. 

We are at the point where we are also working on some of the logistics beyond the performance. We are looking at nonmusical elements, like: Are we going to have interactive elements in the lobby? What kind of food should we have? How will that work into the festival? 

Q: What has been the most enjoyable part of working with these students? 

SW: I have to say, I love teaching this class, and there are so many things I love about it. 

The students’ ideas are amazing. With the amount of freedom that I am able to give them in curating and planning, I can just let them dream. We talk about all the things they would love to do, and it is fun because you get to see them dreaming without parameters. 

I also love helping students connect the dots between an idea and reality. I went to music school many years ago, but nobody told me how these events happened. 

For so many students, it is a big mystery. Honestly, in my professional life, I had to figure it out on my own. I did not have a class that taught me how to plan a performance, so I love being able to help them and give them confidence. It makes them feel better equipped for the real world, being able to be the artist they want to be and having the tools to do it.