From Workshops to Cheesecake
10 Reasons Why College Students Should Attend Conferences
Conferences can seem a little daunting if you have never attended one. Perhaps you will feel out of place, or unqualified to be in attendance. While those feelings are understandable, they are not the case at all! Conferences are great opportunities for music education students to prepare for their classroom careers. As a student myself, I have compiled a list of 10 reasons why I love attending conferences, and why college students should seize any opportunity to attend. Some may be obvious, but there bound to be some surprises!
- Students usually have a discounted rate! It’s true! As a student member of a professional organization, you pay a lesser registration fee. Depending on the conference, it can be a difference as little as $30-50 or as large as $100. College students should seize these opportunities because a) They get the same experience for a cheaper price and b) They are acquiring beneficial professional development that will enhance their future teaching. Thank you, professional organizations, for realizing that college students are so very poor!
- Conferences have great performance programs. In order for an ensemble to perform at a conference, they need to submit recordings and be selected. Only the best of the best will perform! Whether it is local school ensembles, collegiate ensembles, or professional groups, they are bound to impress! At the last SCMEA conference I attended, I heard a middle school choir that completely caught me by surprise! Not only did the choir have great tone quality, but also their soloists were legitimately awesome, for lack of a more technical term. Hearing these kinds of performance can introduce you to new repertoire, as well as inspire new goals and aspirations for your current/future ensembles.
You may meet one of your idols. I had originally labeled this bullet as “great networking opportunities,” but I wanted to relay the fact that you actually may meet one of your music education idols! At the 2011 SCMEA conference I had the privilege of attending two sessions by James Jordan, choral conductor at The Westminster Choir College. You may have also seen his podcast right here at Leading Notes! I had previously read three of his books, and am a huge fan of his style of writing, his teaching ideas, and basically his whole outlook on choral music. I decided to bring one of my books with me just in case I had the chance to accidentally run into him and have him sign it. I took the plunge after one of his sessions to go meet him, and I ended up embarrassingly admitting that all I had asked for Christmas was a new belt, makeup, and his book, The Musician’s Walk. Luckily, that didn’t faze him and he gladly signed my book! So there you go…go to conferences to potentially embarrass yourself in front of conference speakers and have them sign things.
- The exhibit hall is like a music education mini mall. There is nothing more detrimental to your wallet at a music education conference than the distributor booths in the exhibit hall. Book publishers, music distributors, instrument vendors, and music software companies will set up their merchandise for you to peruse and potentially purchase. However, this is not a negative aspect at all! There are a lot of great teaching resources to be had by all! I have peers who will be going into elementary music who have found great books and other materials for their future classrooms at conferences. I recommend bringing some extra cash to conferences because you never know what you will find!
- There might be free cheesecake. Make sure you thoroughly wander your music education mini mall. Schools will set up booths to supply information about their music programs, music publishers or product companies will sell merchandise. Fundraising companies also set up shop here, turning an area of the exhibit hall into something that strongly resembles Costco. That’s right: free samples! Some companies will have samples of their cheesecake, cookies, candy, pizza, coffees, etc., so that you know exactly what product you are selling. First of all, they are usually delicious. Second, it really is a great fundraising idea to keep in mind for the future! After first discovering them at my first conference, I now seek them out intentionally.
- You may get free stuff! One of the best discoveries during a workshop, speaker session, or clinic, is opening your session packet and finding free materials. Recently, I went to a choral clinic session where an awesome college choir that performed earlier that morning would be included in the speaker’s (who was their conductor!) session on choral conducting technique. Once I found my seat, I opened my session packet to find single copies of their repertoire provided by the publisher. There is nothing better than free choral scores!
- The valuable sessions, workshops, and clinics. Conferences are a great way to get a head start in your teaching career. There are always a wide variety of sessions to choose from, covering topics such as pedagogy, teaching techniques, technology, and conducting. My advice is to get the conference schedule and mark any sessions that you would be interested in attending. Then, if sessions overlap, choose the one that you either know the least about or the one that will benefit you most in your future classroom. Be sure to attend as many performances as you can as well!
- The reading sessions. While I’m not sure if the instrumental world has reading sessions, or how they work if they do, they are excellent experiences for choral educators. A reading session is where you are given a (rather lengthy!) packet of literature and the entire session is comprised of everyone singing! Here are the reasons I love reading sessions: 1) You put your sight reading skills to the test. 2) You are intimately exposed to new literature that you may end up purchasing and programming for future concerts. 3) You are instantly making music with complete musician-strangers! They really are a lot of fun, and it is a great way to find new literature.
- You get to explore a new city! It’s always fun to explore a city you haven’t been to, particularly if it’s a city that attracts a lot of tourism. Always check out popular restaurants, stores, and tourist attractions during your free time! If the conference happens to be in the city where you live, consider it a bonus! You probably don’t have to pay for a hotel, and you can act as “city experts” to those are who are visiting!
- You may meet or see people that you follow on Twitter! At this past SCMEA conference I attended the last session with the Keynote speaker without realizing what it was about or who was speaking. I mostly went to hear a college choir perform, and ended up sticking around for the rest. As soon as the speaker was introduced, I thought to myself, “Marcia Neel…why do I know that name?” Once she got to the microphone and started speaking I immediately recognized her from Twitter and #MuseEdChats. I immediately felt cooler than my classmates because I knew who she was and have conversed with her before. You never know who will be at your conferences!
So, there you have it! If you’re looking to get a head start in your career, network with other music educators, want to shop for geeky music items, or if you are just want to grab a snack with fellow music geeks, a music education conference is your place!
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