First Year Music Teachers: The Adventure is Just Beginning

The 2016-17 school year is now or very soon will be underway. Our teenage sons are continually reminding us of this. And not in an enthusiastic way.

With the new year there will be a new wave of music educators, out of college and leaping into their first teaching job. And to any new teachers reading this we say, congratulations...welcome to one of the greatest and most important professions in the world. We've been where you are. Your adventure is only beginning.

Part of our mission here at Festivals of Music is to do all we can to provide helpful resources to teachers--whether new or experienced--in order to make the job somewhat easier and contribute to reversing the trend of shortened teaching lifespans among the music teacher population. Speaking for myself, burnout on the profession is something I know all too well.

Don't get me wrong--I'm very happy with my lives as a performance travel planner and now festival organizer. I've still considered myself an educator in these roles. But there are things I regret not having achieved or experienced during the time I was in the rehearsal room and concert hall.

Well, so far anyway...who knows what the future could bring. I could still be asked to conduct Lincolnshire Posy on a future Eastman Wind Ensemble concert. Admittedly, the only qualifier I have to that possibility is the fact that I'm still taking in oxygen. But there's always hope. 

Because being a resource for music educators is at the core of our philosophy, we have begun partnering with organizations such as the National Band Association to create online resources for music educators to assist not only musically, but with the day to day administrative tasks and challenges. These are the topics for which there is not as much collegiate training and is by nature "on the job" training. And, sadly, often the factors that lead to short tenures in the music education world.

We're tapping into a network of experienced teachers to bring together best practices on a number of topics, and you'll see more of that on our blog in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned.

To jump start that process--we wanted to present some of the blog posts from the past year that might be most helpful to young teachers that are just beginning on their journey. Or, for that matter, experienced teachers just needing to see things through new eyes.

Here they are, at the risk of producing the equivalent of our blog's first "clip show":

  • Upon reflection of 25 years in great professions that can still be stressful, here's some thoughts on self care so that you can make it for the long haul.
  • One of the best things you can do for yourself is recharge at music conferences. For band and orchestra directors, here's some of the great things experienced last year at the Midwest Clinic. Consider attending if you haven't--we would love to see you there.
  • If one of the "to-dos" on your list this year is to take your ensemble on tour, we hope you'll give some thought to why and how this can best benefit your group.
  • If you are going to plan to tour with your group, here's reasons to consider a professional travel provider.
  • If on that tour you are considering a festival performance (and we hope you are!), here are ten reasons it can be the best option for your group. And, here are suggestions on how to get the most out of the experience.

There's more to come, and we look forward to sharing the journey with you. Bon voyage!

The Top 3 Things from the 2015 Midwest Clinic

Happy New Year 2016!

Right before the holidays we were in the midst of the 2015 Midwest Clinic in Chicago, an annual gathering of band and orchestra music educators and the music industry professionals who support the work they do with their student musicians. An earlier post described my first experience at Midwest and this year for me hearkened back to the energizing quality of that initial visit, as my time at the conference was spent in a much different way than before.

What did I feel were the top three things about the Midwest Clinic this year?

1. The Crowds

I'm generally not a fan of crowds. Times Square at Midnight, Wal-Mart on Black Friday, midnight showings of Star Wars...not places you're going to find me. But I love being in the crowd at Midwest and similar conferences. It creates an atmosphere that just feels electric, full of a synergy that can spark incredible opportunities and collaborations.

We kept hearing there were record numbers of attendees, and it showed. What this tells me...especially seeing so many young directors and college students that the heart of music education is strong. However, we need to remember to stay vigilant and support these young professionals in order to combat burnout and keep their vitality present in the field.

2. The App

Yes...there's an app for that. And it's fantastic.

If you're going to Midwest next year and didn't get this for your smartphone, get it. If you are the coordinator of a state music conference, you need to talk to these developers.

I had this app last year, but either I wasn't paying attention in 2014 or they ramped this up by leaps and bounds for 2015. Not only does it list the exhibitors, clinics, concerts, etc.--it allows you to create lists of sessions and exhibitors to visit (and keep notes right in the app), check off who you've visited, manage your schedule, send messages, get alerts, find your way around the hall, connect on social media, etc. There was even a scavenger hunt for the exhibit hall that was managed via the app.

This is a brilliant, convenient tool that I found tremendously helpful. Kudos to the Midwest team for developing this.

3. The Value of Connection

As I said earlier, I spent my days much differently this time around and it was like experiencing the clinic from a new vantage point. This time, rather than confining myself to the booth I spent the vast majority of the days visiting with other exhibitors.

Much of my time was spent talking with the many travel companies with which we collaborate to bring our festival experience to performing ensembles nationwide. We talked about the needs of their clients and what will create the optimal performance and educational opportunities for them. There were also numerous meetings with various organizations in the music education field where we are developing collaborations that we hope will provide helpful resources and new opportunities for music educators and their ensembles. These conversations will lead to some very positive outcomes that you will begin to see us implement in the months and years ahead. It's a very exciting time!

And what was reinforced to me through all those conversations, what I've learned in 15 years being in the industry area of the music education world, is the true nature and passion of most of these businesses and organizations and the people behind them. These are individuals who want to help you make music with your students more effectively, more efficiently, with greater benefits and cherished memories created in the process. They are not just trying to sell you something.

They are often the unsung heroes of music education.

This is why I think the people who avoid the exhibit hall at conferences, the ones who claim they don't want to get bombarded by salespeople, are truly missing out. And so are their programs. When you go to your state conference--and we are poised on the beginning of that season--please take the time to visit these dedicated individuals. The truly great ones are here to serve you, to act as adjunct faculty if you will, and to further your cause. Because we're all in this together.

Best wishes and prosperity in the New Year!

The Midwest Clinic....the OTHER festive thing about December.

I wish I could remember how it started.

No, I don't think I'm having a senior moment. Besides, I'm too young. Mostly.

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 world.

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 and bags.


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 name it, it went in my bag. You'll need this for YOUR FILE they would tell me.

(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 mp3's.....)

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 next.

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 advice....

Good call.

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  opportunity.

As I write this, the Midwest Clinic is a mere two weeks away and I look forward to it once 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 great.