The Year Round Conference Season!

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This weekend is my first weekend in a month that wasn’t spent at a conference for one organization or another. It started at the end of February with the New Jersey Music Educators Conference, followed by the Massachusetts state conference, and then the College Band Directors National Association Eastern Division Conference. Each was its own unique event. I thought I would write about what, if anything, I took away from each of these events.

I was excited to present a session at both the NJ and MA conferences based on an article I had written for a number of state journals. The article talks about ways to give your students more responsibility in a rehearsal setting, and is available online on the Kansas Music Review. I am most definitely not a public speaker so it was an interesting experience doing these sessions. I am grateful for my friends who convinced me I had something to say, and that people wouldn’t run from my sessions crying or resigning from teaching.

The first conference in NJ was a great experience, and my first run with the session I had prepared. It was a good crowd and I almost ran out of handouts, which I had made for both conferences! People asked good questions, and shared their experiences, which made the session even better. A session where someone just reads their projected slides is never a good thing, but happens far too often in any professional setting. I took notes on what the teachers talked about and learned from them in my own session. Mission accomplished! And then I spent a few days going to other sessions and seeing old friends and meeting new friends.

There were some great sessions on a wide variety of topics at NJMEA, but one comment floored me in a positive way, and gave me hope for our future and some pride in the profession. At a session on a similar topic to mine the presenter admitted that at this point, his band isn’t as technically “good” as they were a few years earlier, when he began his journey of giving the students more responsibility for their learning. But the students were becoming better musicians, and building on their knowledge, instead of just getting ready for a concert, contest, or festival. And they will be back at the same level and then move way beyond it because they are learning! They are not just parroting their teacher. They are becoming musicians!

And then after a few days of teaching it was on the road to Boston for the state music education conference, and flooding, and lots of storm fun! I was able to do my session twice at the conference and had good crowds at both. Again, it was nice to come away from presenting a session learning things. In between sessions I was able to spend time with some great friends and teachers, take in a few sessions, and listen to the Mass All State Band rehearse. To me there is no greater learning lab than a live rehearsal. I could watch conductors work all day and feel I am becoming a better conductor and teacher. We all need to do this more!

Then it was on to the CBDNA Eastern Division Conference at Yale University to be a part of a panel on small college recruiting and watch my students rehearse and perform with the Intercollegiate Band. Thanks to yet another blizzard, I had to call in for my session, like most of the other panelists. It was a good panel despite the technical glitches, and I learned that in Google Talk, they go to the person making sound, so everyone gathered watched me pour coffee. I didn’t want to miss out on anything! The take away from the panel for me was that recruiting is an issue that we all deal with, at any academic level, on a daily basis. Be bold and experiment in how you recruit! And not everything will work in every situation, but keep trying. Without good recruiting, you won’t have a program! Without good recruiting, you won’t have a job! The obstacles will always be there, and there are always excuses to justify bad recruiting, but at the end of the day, it is on us to keep interest going in band and music. Reach out to others in the profession to see what has worked, or not worked, for them. Look to strong, growing programs, and ask what has helped them get that way. Don’t just rest on your excuses and blame everyone else. I could do a whole blog post on this next time, but there will always be obstacles. Don’t make those obstacles your justification to accept bad.

CBDNA is an organization I have belonged to for years, that I will admit hasn’t done a whole lot for me, and it is mostly my fault it hasn’t! This was my first eastern division conference. I had been to the West/Northwest Division conference when I taught out west and it was a great experience. It was good to see more small program directors at the conference, and very good to see an effort being made to make small programs a bigger part of the organization. It is the small programs that are the real backbone of music education. This is probably another long blog that I will get to at another time, when I am more caffeinated and focused.

The Intercollegiate Band was great to watch rehearse. Just like in Massachusetts, the opportunity to watch a great conductor work with students is the best education we can get. And the ensemble performed very well, and was the highlight performance for me from the whole conference. There were some great performances, and some of the performing ensembles did a great job of integrating technology and video. My friend Andy Pease, the Director of Bands at Hartwick College does a great job on his blog talking about the conference and the music presented: Wind Band Literature, and I encourage you to take a look and read about it all!

The take away from all of this conferencing is that I am blown away by the work of my colleagues and friends, and know that our future is bright. But another take away, is that change is hard. There is, and always will be, resistance to changing how we do things. But we need to remain more than just relevant. We need to be forward thinking and ahead of the game in the change department. But we also need to not just change something just to say we changed something. There needs to be a concrete reason for the change. And at the end of the day, take some chances. Win some battles, and lose some battles, and learn from both experiences. And go to conferences! Go learn from others who are fighting the same battle you are. Maybe apply to present, so you can share your own experiences with others. We all have a voice, and we all have things to share.

For me conference season will not be over until August. Two more stops at the NH Music Educators Association Conference, where I will be presenting a session on helping us understand how we can be sabotaging our ensembles without even knowing it, and then on to the New York State Band Directors Association Summer Conference for a session.

I will admit I am a bit conferenced out at this point, and with Spring Break starting, I can reflect a little more on what I really took away from the last few weeks. I need to go through the pages of notes I took and absorb it all. That can happen between the clinics and large group festival judging taking place this week. It is obvious I don’t know how to properly spring break.

I have begun the next round of session proposals for various conferences in the never ending, year round, conference season. Let’s see where this all goes.


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