My Life as a Self-Proclaimed Conference Junkie (Part 1)
As a student and young professional, attending conferences pertaining to your profession is essential for career development. As a student, I was always yearning to learn and experience as much as possible about music education and the clarinet. My clarinet teacher at the time, Karl Kolbeck, suggested that I attend the Oklahoma Clarinet Symposium in 2012. Attending the symposium sparked my craving for the concentrated learning, unmatched experiences, and networking opportunities that many conferences have to offer their attendees.
I am going to make a generalization about most of the music-related conferences that I have attended and say that most of the activities on the schedule fall into one of three categories: masterclasses, lectures, and performances. These categories are fairly self-explanatory, but here are some quick definitions. Masterclasses are sessions where students and young professionals prepare repertoire or excerpts to perform in front of a group of attendees. After the performance, a master teacher works with the performer to improve aspects of his or her playing. During lecture sessions, an expert on a particular subject presents information for a group of attendees. In this category, I am also including panel discussions where a group of experts on a subject take questions from the audience and answer them for the group. Finally, performances are opportunities for musicians to play both standard and new repertoire for the enjoyment of the audience. This is an excellent opportunity for students to witness professionals performing live! This trifecta of learning opportunities makes up the bulk of most conferences. Experiencing a variety of these activities at a conference is crucial for getting the most out of each conference.
Attending a wide variety of conferences, including The NAMM Show, The Midwest Clinic, ClarinetFest, and TMEA, has provided me with some pretty incredible experiences that I would not have had in a traditional classroom. In 2015 at Midwest ClairFest (hosted by Dr. Diane Barger at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln), I had the opportunity to perform during a masterclass with Dr. Frank Kowalsky. Later the same year at the Dallas Clarinet Colloquium (hosted by Dr. Mary Alice Druhan in Dallas, TX), I performed during a masterclass for Dr. Kimberly Cole-Luevano. These were some of the most nerve-wracking, but rewarding performances of my life. I learned so much from putting myself out there and playing for these incredible clarinetists. In 2017, I was selected to serve as an event writer for ClarinetFest in Orlando, Florida. During the conference, I went to sessions, took photos, and wrote about various things that were going on at the conference. My writings and photos were then shared on the International Clarinet Association’s social media platforms and were published in The Clarinet as part of the conference review! My most recent experience at a conference actually happened last month when I served as an intern for the College Music Society during The NAMM Show. As an intern, I worked mostly with the GenNext Program that occurs during the conference as part of NAMM’s educational curriculum. During the sessions, I had the opportunity get involved in the behind the scenes operations of a conference.
The networking opportunities available at conferences are truly unmatched. As a student and young professional, I truly believe that attending conferences is one of the best ways to meet new people that share the same interests as you (and who might be able to help you get a job someday). Effectively networking a skill that I am continually trying to strengthen, but I really enjoy going to conferences in order to practice. However, my networking goals at many of the early conferences I attended were to simply be friendly and introduce myself to as many people as possible. Now, I try to network as much as possible during conferences even while sitting next to someone new as we are waiting for a session to start. If you are new to networking (or are a little shy like me), this is a great place to start. In the future, I am going to do a whole blog post about networking, so I don’t want to spoil too much more now!
Conferences continue to be one of the things I look forward to each year. I have really enjoyed my time traveling the United States meeting new people, participating in new things, and gaining so much additional knowledge about my instrument and profession. If you have never attended a conference, I highly encourage you to take a chance and go! You never know what you may learn, whom you may meet, or what opportunity awaits.