“The Conference Effect”

I just recently was talking to a close friend, who is a graduate student in the Frost School of Music at UM, pursuing a DMA in Instrumental Conducting. She is also a graduate assistant with the marching band, and a TA for the Frost Symphonic Winds and Wind Ensemble. As a future band director, she recently went to the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) convention in Austin, Texas. She came back with a new found inspiration, and attributed it to the experiences she had at CBDNA, which made me think abut my experiences after returning from conferences. I’ve realized that what my friend is experiencing is similar to what we all tend to experience after an event such as CBDNA-something I have come to call “the conference effect.”

On the most basic level, “the conference effect” is the sense of inspiration and excitement for the profession that many people (in this case music educators) tend to feel after spending a day/weekend/week immersing themselves in what they love at a conference. I know the feeling myself, and I know that many of the music educators reading this know it as well. When you return from a conference, you feel revitalized-almost like a new person, and ready to take on whatever challenges may approach you. In my case as a student, conferences are the times when I find myself wishing I could actually be out in the field, teaching, right away. However you react specifically, this heightened level of inspiration motivates us all to be our best in the days and weeks following the conference.

It is important, though, to keep in mind the effect that timing has on this inspiration. I have only ever been to two different music education conferences: the Midwest clinic in Chicago in mid-December, and the FMEA conference in Tampa in early-January. Midwest, while extremely enjoyable, comes just at the end of the semester and the beginning of the holidays, so when the conference is over, I tend to find myself extremely inspired, but with nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs for the rest of December. FMEA, on the other hand, occurs just before the spring semester begins, and I find myself beginning each spring semester with a renewed excitement for what I am doing, in part because of the lasting effects of this inspiration I get from the conference. This was even more obvious this past January, when I had the opportunity to spend the week in between FMEA and the beginning of classes working with a high school band in LaBelle, FL at a school where a close friend (and recent UM alum) teaches. By the time the conference was over and my week of working in a real-life situation was through, I was prepared to do whatever it took to get myself teaching right away.

I’m sure any person who has been to a conference in their field has had experiences like mine, where they have felt a renewed excitement for their profession in the days and weeks following the conference. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s likely that we are more productive in this period than we are in any other, as a result of this excitement. So the real question is-how do we artificially create this “conference effect,” and the productivity that comes with it, when there is not a conference to inspire us? If we can somehow trigger this motivation without actually going to a conference, we can increase the caliber of the work we do throughout the entire year, instead of just for a few select weeks after conferences.

Let’s examine what types of activities take place at these conferences. For music education, specifically, we can narrow it into three main activities: learning, networking, and concert-going. Generally, any music education conference will include each of these three aspects. Attendees go to sessions where they learn about a specific subject, they speak to other professionals in their field and network with them, and they attend concerts put on by performing ensembles over the course of the conference.

So, how can we recreate each of these in our daily lives to artificially create the “concert effect”?

  1. Learning-Now that the Internet has improved the way we share information, there have been tons of blogs set up in which educators share their thoughts and ideas on the field. By subscribing to these blogs and reading the new entries, we can stay informed and continue to learn even when we’re not at a conference. For a great place to start looking for music education blogs to subscribe to, check out the 100 ME Bloggers, organized by Dr. Joseph Pisano.
  2. Networking-You don’t need to read any more about my support of social networking… read my posts on Social Networking and Twitter specifically, where I discuss the merits of networking online and meeting other like-minded people!
  3. Attending Concerts-There’s really not a great techie-answer to this one, but my only suggestion is: go see concerts! Whether it’s a school band in your area, the local community band, or the symphony orchestra in your closest city, continue to expose yourself to music performances, and listen to them critically!

Hopefully these tips will help everyone be able to re-create “the conference effect” in their every day lives. Do you have an experience with this effect? Do you have a great story from a conference you’ve been to? Thoughts on my ideas? Leave a comment!

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