This past fall right before our conference, NAfME hosted the 2019 National Conference which also included the NAfME All National Honor Ensembles. The theme of this year’s conference was Opening Doors for All Students. This idea was woven throughout the conference and one could feel a new sense of change in music education to reach more students with all kinds of music.
The keynote on Friday opened with a remarkable performance by the West Orange High School Bel Canto Choir. Their director, Jeffrey Redding, was interviewed on stage about his approach to music teaching. He emphasized the importance of teaching every student in the classroom. The most inspirational moments were when his students were spontaneously asked to talk about their experiences in the choir and the difference he had made in their lives.
The 2019 National Conference was structured into Day-long Experiential Learning workshops and Two-Day Amplify Strands. The Experiential Learning workshops allowed attendees to take a deep dive into a topic and learn skills they could take back to their classrooms on Monday. These included steel pan, gospel choir, ukulele, social and emotional learning, composition in ensembles, songwriting, liberation drum circles and digital and hybrid music.
I and 40 other educators from around the country participated in the Gospel Choir One-Day Experiential Learning with Jason Thompson of Arizona State University. In just one day, Jason was able to take us through the historical context of gospel choirs, performance practice of modern gospel choirs and rehearse about a dozen gospel songs. The day ended with an Informance Concert of all the Day-long learning workshops which included steel pan, ukulele (lead by our 2019 Keynote speaker Bryan Powell) and our gospel choir. Jason Thompson remarkably invited the whole audience onto the stage to be in a mass gospel choir.
On the second day, I was able to drop in on various Day-long Learning Workshops including songwriting, liberation drum circles and digital music. Without a doubt, the most important thread weaving through all these sessions was creativity. I wasn’t expecting a drum circle to be as creative as it was. We delved into very important issues such as activism and social justice teaching in K-12 settings with Martin Urbach. In the digital music sessions, the biggest takeaway was creativity. It was just as creative as the songwriting sessions.
The remainder of the conference included 2-Day Amplify Stands with 6 sessions each. These strands were Creativity, Student Engagement, Instruction, Access and Community. I attended Jasmine Faulkner’s session of teaching creativity in a modern band classroom. Jasmine teaches modern band K-12 at Polaris School in Ft. Collins, Colorado. She had many useful ideas for allowing students to be musically creative at school. Another memorable session was about diverse learners and teaching for tolerance in the K-5 classroom. Alice Ann Darrow from Florida State University presented ways music educators can make their classrooms welcoming to all students.
One of the highlights of the conference was the Saturday Keynote session featuring Constance McCoy of the University of North Carolina Greensboro and Cliff Madsen of the Florida State University. They both reflected back on the Housewright Symposium and the resulting publication of Vision 2020. Although some of what was predicted has come true, Cliff Madsen reminded the audience there is still a lot more to accomplish. The keynote session included two performances. One by Touch, an all iPad ensemble from the University of South Florida and UnLoCkeD, a musical group from Southwest High School in Minneapolis, MN. Under the direction of Ruth Lemay, UnLoCkeD gave an amazing and inspiring performance. The students in UnLoCkeD have special needs but no one could tell when they were on stage. This performance was historic because it was one of the few performances at a NAfME national conference by a group of students with special needs.
The conference ended with performances by the All-National Honor Ensembles: Guitar, Modern Band, Band, Orchestra and Choir. Each performance was excellent and students were extremely proud of their accomplishment. Iowa was fortunate to have two students who were selected to be in the All-National Honor ensembles. Anna Roodnitsky from Waukee High School played bass clarinet in the All-National Honor Band and Dorothy Junginger from Valley High School played Viola in the All-National Honor Orchestra.
A historic element of the conference was the first ever inclusion of an All-National Modern Band directed by Scott Burstein. Possible music was selected by the students prior to arriving in Orlando, but they didn’t select what to perform until after meeting and rehearsing for a day. Different from the other ensembles, the students in the modern band had almost complete control over what and how they would perform. The performance was extremely high energy and the students on the stage had the time of their life. I asked a student in the group what they thought of the concert and they said it was “Sick!” Compliments don’t get much higher.
The conference was titled Opening Doors for All Students and it delivered the message that our old model of music education for the few is outdated and exclusionary. It seemed that each session and each speaker was dedicated to expanding our mindset of what music is like in the schools. As Jeff Roeding said at the opening session, “We know one thing for sure: music will keep changing. Music education needs to keep changing too.” This conference challenged attendees to keep thinking of how we can expand music education to reach more students. Iowa music educators are extremely dedicated to serving the children in our state and I have no doubt we will be amplifying our music education to reach more students in the near future.