Dr. Paul Head is President Elect of the Eastern Division of ACDA, becoming President in July of 2016. His biggest duty as President is to organize the 2018 ACDA Eastern Division Conference and I have accepted his invitation to be the Conference Chair. Together, we will be forming a committee and going about the massive process of constructing a major northeast conference for choral musicians.
I attended the 2016 Boston Conference with a desire to answer this question: Why does one attend a conference and is it worth the expense? In Hartford 2008 and Philadelphia 2010 I was the Auditioned Choirs Chair and was busy hosting choirs selected to sing at the conference. You might remember Philadelphia, which enjoyed 20 inches of snow on the opening day of the conference! In Providence 2012 and Baltimore 2014 I was the Interest Session Chair busy hosting choral leaders as they passed along their knowledge and experience to attendees. At the National Conference in Dallas 2013 I was a site-manager for all of the choral performances, and in Salt Lake City 2015 I was the Assistant Interest Session Chair. As you can imagine, enjoying a regular conference attendee experience has been impossible. Though I presided at several events, this year in Boston I was able to attend concerts, interest sessions, rehearsals and masterclasses like a regular attendee.
Was it worth it? Resoundingly, Yes. Here's why...
- I heard fifteen outstanding choirs, including girl choirs, jazz choirs, avant garde choirs, middle school, high school, collegiate, international and church choirs. In my capacity as a choral adjudicator for a music festival company and student teacher supervisor for UD, I hear plenty of choirs in our Eastern Division - some good, some still emerging. Anyone attending a conference will inevitably ponder these questions: "What about that choir makes them so good?", "How do they raise the bar so high?", "What steps do I need to take to improve the quality of my own choir?" Whether we work with children, teens, young adults, or life-long singers, we hopefully strive to develop the skills that will make our choirs the best they can be. High quality choral singing is an essential goal. Low quality choral singing is torture.
- When many choir directors gather, a synergy occurs and fascinating things happen. Collaborations are forged, ideas are exchanged, information is shared, personal and professional relationships are strengthened. Choir directors frequently carry out their duties in somewhat of a vacuum. Collective fellowship helps to affirm and/or heighten awareness about how we're doing in our respective positions.
- Expert choral leaders gather to share their knowledge. Two examples from Boston: First, I had the pleasure of presiding (hosting) Rollo Dilworth's Interest Session. Many of you will know that Rollo is an internationally known composer and conductor. On this occasion he was discussing the methods and virtues of directors forging collaborations with community organizations - a fascinating concept that helps choir directors escape ruts and add validity and meaning to the choral experience. Something to think about. Second, I attended a conducting masterclass in which well-known conducting teacher Ann Howard Jones was working with underclass and graduate conductors discussing and improving choral gestures. I was asking myself the questions: "How would I handle that?", "Do I agree with her?", "Could I incorporate that idea into my conducting?" I believe that I am a better conductor after observing that session
- As a composer, I'm always looking for projects. Recently frustrated with trying to find a fitting piece for Palm Sunday at church, I was thrilled to discover that my friend, Mark Boyle, is a poet. We decided to combine our talents to develop a new piece for the occasion.
- There is beauty in gathering with friends for a mutual purpose. I enjoyed meals and drinks with my old New Jersey choral friends, my old conference committee friends, and my new Delaware choral friends. I was thrilled that pretty much everyone I spoke with was excited about the 2018 conference and volunteered to help make the conference happen, in any capacity needed. This is a testimony to their belief in the value of the conferences.
- The 30-some choirs that performed at the conference include well over a thousand singers of all ages, coming together to share their gifts and talents. Choral singing is a thrill, and performing for hundreds of choral directors who love choral music is a peak experience. The exhilaration is palpable. After the Rutgers performance, a former student of mine, Steve Saharic, came up and gave me a big hug and thanked me for helping lead him to a life of music making.
- For those of you who are school educators, you have found that scheduled professional development activities within your district rarely apply to choral music. This is professional development at its finest, with up to about 40 hours of activities dedicated specifically to your selected profession.
Singing well in a good choir is a thrill with no equal. We, the choir directors, know this thrill and the meaning it give us in our lives, and we want to share this with others. Yes, there is an expense, and if your school or church can help - all the better. Those who have never been to a conference do not know that these conferences can be a transformative experience. In this case, ignorance is not bliss.
Start planning now - The next ACDA Eastern Division Conference will be in Pittsburgh from March 7-10, 2018. Where will you be? Will you be on the conference committee working to make this an outstanding experience for all? Will you be attending concerts and sessions and learning and growing and experiencing? Or will you be going to work, as you did yesterday, and tomorrow, and know that you may have missed something very special?