It had been a while since I’ve presented at a State Music Conference. Truth be told, they’re not my favorite venue. There’s a lot of workshops for high school band, choir, orchestra and bless their hearts, it’s all worthy work. But it’s not my scene. I’m not likely to go to the workshops titled:
• Creating a Performance-based Assessment to Accumulate Meaningful Data
• Make Your Software Sing! Best Technology for the Choral Classroom
• De-Mystifying the Mouthpiece
• Will I have Enough Money to Retire?
There’s usually some “general music” elementary presentations and occasionally, Orff Schulwerk is represented. And that’s where I fit in. My workshop titles are more down home and this time, mostly named for my book titles— Teach Like It’s Music/ Play Sing and Dance: An Intro. to Orff Schulwerk/ Now’s the Time: Teaching Jazz to All Ages and Children’s Games (this last a thought for my next book). I shoo away the technicians asking me about my Powerpoint and microphone needs. Not that I wouldn’t mind showing a couple of great short videos of the kids, but the sessions are shorter than usual (60 minutes instead of 75 or 90) and there’s so much for us to do! We begin in a circle and get right down to it— playing, singing, dancing, the way that I do for 20 minutes or more without talking— and there it is: the instant community of adults having fun like kids and then some short reflections afterward to show how serious the fun is.
My first three sessions were scheduled at user-unfriendly times and ranged from 10 to 30 people, but my last session at 10:45 in the morning had some 65 people. I’m painfully aware of trying to justify my carbon footprint with numbers, but on another level, if one person has an “a-ha!“ moment and a door-opening experience that changes the game, I think it’s worth it.
After the workshop, I had 5 hours free before the return flight to San Francisco and spent a little time browsing the Conference booklet to see what’s on the menu these days in American music educator venues. Out of some 75 workshops, 20 were tech-based, all about things like “performing to gather data” or “making your software sing” (see above), always depressing topics and yet more so when there’s still so much screen time after two years in Zoom jail. Some were about the details of the craft (de-mystifying the mouthpiece) and a fair number about diversity and inclusion.
All well and good as far as they go. But for my money, too much about data, software, mouthpieces, de-colonizing material and not enough about the children themselves— what they actually need and how we can re-train ourselves to give it to them. Of course, there’s room for all, but especially in post-pandemic times, we need to do some triage and deeply consider what needs the most attention. Has always needed the most attention (the children) but more than ever as the stakes are higher.
Still, I’m grateful to have participated and thank all the teachers who prepared presentations and all those who took the time to come. It’s a high bar to expect that everyone’s life be changed after each workshop, but I hope those practices find their place on the menu and the waiters bring them to the table. That delicious and nutritious meal we all need.