A Professional Community

Last week I attended my first MSVMA Summer Workshop in Lansing, MI. It’s a much smaller event (maybe 150 people) than the last few conventions I’ve attended (Michigan Music Conference, ACDA National or Divisional, the old IAJE Conventions). Plus, there were no performing ensembles, only clinics, discussions, and reading sessions. Because of the diminutive nature of the event, I frankly hadn’t been to interested in it in the past — it was this year’s headliner (and former mentor to me and Mandy) Joe Miller who drew me to the workshop.

Joe Miller

Joe’s presentations were, not surprisingly, fabulous. I had sung in his choirs and watched him work many times in the past, but this was my first chance to hear his perspective and methods in depth and I tried to absorb as much as I could.

More importantly in the long and short run, though, was the sense of feeling part of a professional community. The workshop afforded many chances to sit and talk with fellow choral directors – whether at meals, between sessions, or during late night talks. I can’t overestimate the great feeling of having such wonderful colleagues to laugh, complain, and collaborate with. A few of the amazing MSVMA colleagues whom I got to connect with: Shirley Lemon, Doug Armstead, Erich Wangeman, Pat McKinney, Ginny Kerwin, Dennis Blubaugh, Les Rowsey, Brandon Ulrich, Deb Fristad, Kelli Falls, Carrie Hoeksema, Ken Bos…and the list goes on and on! This is a community of AMAZING educators and musicians!

In an episode of Aaron Sorkin’s first tv show, Sports Night, a character laments, “More and more we’ve come to expect less and less of each other.” I think that precisely describes the situation of educators, and maybe humanity in general. That’s why being around people expecting MORE — of their students, of their colleagues, of themselves — is so refreshing. And Joe Miller’s running theme, amid talk of repertoire, teaching strategies, and other nuts and bolts, was really a call-to-arms for teaching THROUGH music as well as teaching music.

One of the things Joe talked about was recharging, or as Julia Cameron says, “refilling the well.” I refill my creative well with family, books, listening, time outdoors, and making time to stoke my general curiosity about the world. After a few weeks of that, though, I really appreciated the specific recharge of those few days. I came home from this workshop so enthused about starting another school year and taking my students to the next level of music-making. And I feel so blessed to be among such a wonderful group of choral directors and music educators. I’ll be back to the MSVMA Summer Workshop (next year, Eph Ehly!) to collaborate, rant, rave, borrow, steal, and get inspired all over again.

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