I wish I could remember how it started.
No, I don't think I'm having a senior moment. Besides, I'm too
The best I can imagine, it must have been a conversation I had
with someone. Or an ad I saw in a magazine. Something that communicated a
message that I didn't fully grasp, but knew would be important.
You should go to Midwest.
By then I was a fifth year senior music education major. I had
experienced our state music conference several times, by virtue of the fact
that it was held on campus. Having just completed my student teaching semester,
and sort of "treading water" and picking up a language arts minor to
get me to May when there would be good jobs, perhaps it was a need to take a
leap out of my comfort zone and see what was out there in the bigger band
Chicago. I'd never been there before. Being a small town Iowa
kid, it simultaneously summoned up alluring mystique and sheer terror at the
same time. Are you crazy? People get killed there. You spent all that
time practicing the Mozart Concerto...don't throw that all away now.
Somehow I quelled the paranoia and convinced myself this was the
thing to do. I wasn't exactly sure why, but I knew something good would come of
this experience. And, when two weeks before departing I had a vivid dream of
getting mugged in an alleyway, there was the good fortune of the airline ticket
being non-refundable at that point. So in mid-December, after only my fourth
time on an airplane in my life and really no clear idea what I was about to encounter,
I found myself on Michigan Avenue...alone and in the big city.
The sheer size and magnitude was what probably struck me first.
That moment of we're not in Kansas anymore when you're standing at the
entrance of the exhibit hall. The moment couldn't last very long however,
before you were ushered forward by the Hilton and Towers staff or swept forward
by the mass of humanity. And like any boat in a raging torrent, human nature
propels us to a port of familiarity.
Mine was Bands of America. I had spent the past four summers with
them at UW-Whitewater on their camp SWAG staff. They became "home
base" for me as I ventured out into this uncharted territory. And I was
grateful to have those familiar faces, not to mention a place to stash my coat
For four solid days I took it all in. I was always at a concert,
or a session, or walking the enormity of the exhibit hall. Someone had given me
the sage advice of grabbing any information I could from exhibitors. Uniform
catalogs, fundraising companies, 10-day concert tours to Bulgaria....you name
it, it went in my bag. You'll need this for YOUR FILE they would tell
(Editors Note: in the old days, before flash drives and the
internets, if you needed to have information about something you had to refer
pieces of paper. Which you kept in large, heavy filing cabinets. And actually
never looked at.)
It was probably the music publishers I took advantage of most. I
was really getting on my repertoire kick at the time, and had no idea that you
could get cassettes FULL of band recordings...FOR FREE. AND SAMPLE SCORES.
Boom, in the bag.
(Additional Editor's Note: in the old days, before we had
Perhaps the "geekiest" thing I did? I literally kept a
written down list of all the famous people I saw...I'm still not sure why.
Alfred Reed, David Holsinger, Francis McBeth, Warren Benson....all those names
from the upper right corner of so many pieces of music, there in real life.
Frederick Fennell--the guy whose photo under the giant word LISTEN that had
stared back at me from my music folder every day since middle school--there on
the podium conducting.
The concerts were like nothing I had ever heard before. Back at
my college, I was playing in a great band...but this....THIS...was a whole new
level. Never before had I heard a military band, or high schoolers that could
have played circles around me. The musicianship was simultaneously inspiring
and humbling. I felt guilty when one night was spent going out for pizza--my
first experience with Chicago deep dish, the only REAL pizza--with some of my
SWAG camp colleagues. What am I doing? I should be at a concert.
When it was all over, exhausted and with 30 additional pounds in
my luggage but new perspective in my brain, I returned home for three weeks of
break to drink it all in, and figure out where the experience would take me
In retrospect, the take away from this....the one thing I would
say to my college music education self if I could go back and give myself
As a music education major, or someone just starting out in the
field, attending a conference--whether it be your state conference or a major
event like Midwest, ASTA or ACDA--is one of the single greatest things you can
do to broaden your perspective, challenge what you may think, or simply see
just how big this world is in which you live, work and teach.
Because viewing the experience through fresh eyes can truly be an
energizing and life-changing
As I write this, the Midwest
Clinic is a mere two weeks away and I look forward to it once again...it
has over time become one of the highlights of my year. It has become a
family reunion of sorts for me, as well as for most who attend. As I
mentioned in an earlier post, my wife and I got engaged there--so it will always hold a special memory for us.
As I attend conferences now, I see more and more music education
majors stopping by the booth....and it encourages me. I love taking the time to
talk with them....finding out their goals, their frustrations, their worries
about the future and what's important to them. And I always try to assure them
of the same thing.
You're here. You're off to a tremendous start. You're gonna be