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.

Comments (1) -

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