This summer I had one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I’ve had as a music educator. My partner Shelley and I attended the Modern Band Summit in Fort Collins, Colorado. Their website provides the best description of the conference.
Modern Band Summit convenes music educators, arts administrators, and college and university professors from across the country to advance Modern Band in our schools. This four-day professional development conference includes teacher-led workshops, special guest speakers, and nightly jam sessions that foster creativity and community in a peer network of more than 2,000 Modern Band practitioners nationwide (https://www.littlekidsrock.org/mbsummit).
This summer was the sixth year of the conference. It’s organized by LIttle Kids Rock, a non-profit school music organization that trains music teachers and donates instruments, resources and support so that teachers can teach modern band. The former name of the conference was “Modern Band Rockfest.” This provides an idea of the kind of atmosphere one can experience when attending. It was unlike any other conference I’ve attended.
First of all, many teachers attend the Modern Band Summit with little to no experience teaching modern band. On the first day, all teachers who are new to modern band are enrolled in Modern Band 101. This one-day training provides teachers with resources and pedagogy for teaching modern band. In addition, teachers learn about the music as a second language philosophy on which the pedagogy is built. The conference creates a very welcoming environment for teachers not familiar with modern band because it gives them an opportunity to learn the basics in order to take advantages of the other sessions.
A very important aspect of modern band pedagogy is that it differs significantly from school to school and from teacher to teacher. Because the music used in modern band is connected to the students and community, there is no one prescribed curriculum. This can be refreshing for those wanting to make music relevant to their students’ lives, but a bit uncomfortable for those brand new to modern band and looking for set activities.
Second, there is an immediate observable difference between the Modern Band Summit and other conferences: teachers are walking around with guitars, basses and drumsticks. For most conferences I attend, teachers are only walking around with bags and their conference program. At the Modern Band Summit, teachers attend sessions to improve their instrumental skills and their teaching skills. Guitars are checked out to any attendee who doesn’t have their own guitar. At many sessions, teachers are encouraged to use any instrument they have to contribute to the current activity.
This leads to the third and probably most enjoyable aspect of the Modern Band Summit. It’s an extremely welcoming and supportive environment of teachers passionate about getting “more music to more people, that is relevant to their lives and for more of their lives” (paraphrased from Little Kids Rock founder Dave Wish). Teachers were enthusiastic about sessions and spent much of their time sharing how they teach modern band. During sessions, teachers are encourage each other to participate and learn. Nightly jam sessions are fill with teachers getting on stage and making music for everyone else.
The demographics of the Modern Band Summit is a mix of elementary, middle school and high school music teachers along with administrators, professional musicians and university professors. Attendees come from all over the country including New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Colorado and Southern California. This combination of teachers from all over provides a view of how the modern band movement is growing in the United States.
I said that this experience was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I’ve had as a music educator because I was able to make music with other educators and also share ideas about how to reach more students with music. (Having the conference in Ft. Collin near the foothills of the Rocky Mountain doesn’t hurt). Our National Association for Music Education promotes “Music for Everyone.” (NAfME..org). The Modern Band Summit provided by Little Kids Rock is taking steps toward this goal. This is heartwarming and rewarding to experience in person.
For more information about the Modern Band Summit, go to https://www.littlekidsrock.org/mbsummit/