So You Want To Attend a Conference? by Mark A. Nelson
There are many major music conferences held each year around the world. Our own International Tuba and Euphonium Conference (ITEC) will soon be held in Canada this year. With the ITEC 2000 conference not far off, a few tips based on personal experience and common sense can help make the most of one’s conference attendance.
The format of this article focuses on strategies to maximize pre-conference planning, conference attendance, and follow up after the conference is concluded. Most conferences begin to advertise anywhere from one to two or more years in advance. This allows time for sponsors to be courted, facilities to be obtained, major presenters to be invited, and plenty of time to solicit attendance for the conference. Traditionally, the ITEC conferences have been scheduled around school semesters and/or seasonal considerations of the host site. This allows for most of our constituents to realistically consider attending the conference. One of the first obvious things to do when planning to attend a conference is to determine if the dates are viable with your calendar! Allow for potential travel time on each side of the conference as well. Sometimes distance and time of year are prohibitive for some unless some sort of reduction of expenses can be accommodated. With all ITEC conferences, arrangements for attendance and expenses are the responsibility of the participant. Consider the following ideas that may help bring costs down to a manageable level, especially when traveling great distances.
Financial help is nothing new when attending conferences. College students and university professors can often tap into school resources to help fund conference attendance. Be sure to contact appropriate administrators for details and application deadlines. Many colleges and universities have undergraduate and graduate research travel money specifically for students. Think about auditioning to perform with the allstar tuba-euphonium ensemble or entering a competition as part of the grant process. Perhaps you can work with your applied teacher to jointly submit a proposal for a lecture/panel discussion or a lecture/recital to the conference planning committee. Some constituents, like our amateur players and secondary students, do not have as many options. However, with some creative planning, money for attendance is to be had. Talk with local and state arts councils, school administrators, music stores, and other potential philanthropic organizations in town to see if there is sponsorship money available. Tapping into your own family and extended family can also help defray costs if several family members chip in to reduce costs. Fund-raising is a viable option too. One of my former students at Millikin University sold chocolate bars in the faculty/staff lounge for months and funded her trip with the choir to the Dominican Republic!
Sometimes school administrators can recommend a promising secondary student or teacher to attend a conference through discretionary travel budgets or district level conference budgeting. One of my colleagues in the Scottsdale School District was able to get a grant and additional absence days to travel with a professional jazz ensemble touring Japan for two weeks by outlining an educational proposal he would accomplish while there in addition to his performance duties. Local clubs and organizations like the Elks, Lions, Rotary Club, and other organizations often have venues for financial support. Sometimes in-kind support may be available such as hotel discounts or reduced air fares or housing at a sister organization. Young professionals who are not yet major artists with secured sponsorships may also find financial support through local music stores and businesses. Hustle and a good presentation are key aspects of obtaining financial support.
When your financial situation allows for conference attendance, additional planning is crucial. Is there a host web site for details on housing, meals, and major travel points? Is there transportation to and from the airport? Are there shuttle buses from lodgings? How convenient and acceptable are the recommended housing locations? Major conferences often send out a preconference program booklet that contains maps, alternative housing, local sight-seeing opportunities, and a list of recommended restaurants. Check out the location using your own research by using a travel agent, AAA, travel web sites, and friends and relatives who may have visited or lived near the conference location for advice on accommodations and meals. Usually the conference discount on the official housing sites is substantial but do not be afraid to do your own research which may result in even a better deal, especially if you have access to discounts though credit cards, travel clubs, or other national and international discount agencies. Youth hostels are a good economical way for students to travel cheaply. Another economical accommodations plan is to work with your local church to link to a sister church near the conference that may have a family or clergy you can stay with.
Once the customary planning for transportation, housing, and meals is worked out, other considerations are useful to maximize your time at the conference. Sometimes lessons can be scheduled with major artists with enough advance notice. Conferences like the Tuba Mania Conference and the Rafael Mendez Brass Conference publish a procedure and pricing guideline for private lessons. If nothing is published, you should contact your favorite artist directly through e-mail, phone, or mail. Give a little background about yourself and ask whether lessons are available, at what cost, and when. Give the artist time to respond by planning early. Often they travel between events and are not present for the entire conference or may have other rehearsals or events not published in the conference schedule. If you are planning to study at a particular university or be close to a particular artist you would like to study with, try to arrange for an appointment during the conference. This is the time when connections can be made, auditions can be heard, and a personal relationship started.
Other planning that needs consideration includes mapping out what events you would like to attend, who you would like to see at the conference, how much time to visit exhibits, time to practice your instrument, and free time to explore outside | the conference venue. Having a few alternate expectations is advisable in case of I artist cancellations or changing travel plans I or seeing more than one desired event scheduled simultaneously. Realize that once : a conference starts, your best-laid plans could go awry at any time for a variety of reasons. If you have a reasonable set of expectations with some free time built into your planning, you will be able to modify your plans once you arrive without sacrificing| your expectations. Make sure to bring a camera to help document your experiences. Some of the most productive moments of a conference can be hallway conversations with an artist, sharing a meal with friends orl new acquaintances, or unexpectedly getting j a free sample of merchandise because you were the last person to visit an exhibit as the vendor was packing up.
Once you are at the conference, visiting exhibits and gathering program notes and other information deserves special consideration. Students and professionals alike often judge the worth of a conference by what they were able to take away from it j in a tangible way. Having a large selection of| merchandise for sale such as instruments and j accessories, recordings, music, T-shirts and other memorabilia are essential elements of a successful conference. Sitting down to try out the latest horn or listening to a hot new CD or discovering that one piece of music you have been looking for are prized moments at the exhibit area. Taking away program notes or handouts from presentations are also essential practices when attending a conference. The key element is making a connection. In addition to merchandise, load up your bag with business cards, web addresses, phone numbers, mail addresses, contact names, and the names of professional players and teachers. You can spend productive time following up on your leads when the conference is over. At large conventions like the National MENC convention or the Mid- West Band and Orchestra Conference, there can be hundreds or even thousands of vendors present. Often there are free samples or catalogues of products. Take them all! Whether you are a student, a young professional beginning a career, or a seasoned veteran attempting to keep up with current material, there is always technical reading and listening to catch up on. Program notes and handouts from presentations can be valuable sources of information to improve your own performance skills or teaching and may lead to purchasing additional resources such as CD recordings or sheet music that were discovered at a recital you heard at the conference. Everything has potential value. If there are multiple events going on simultaneously, work out a schedule with friends to share information by attending different events.
Once the conference is concluded and you have made your way home, it is not over yet! You may want to write thank-you notes to an artist who gave you a lesson. You should follow up on catalogues, e-mail addresses, web sites, and toll-free phone numbers you discovered at the conference. Organize your new collection of business cards for handy reference. If you signed up on mailing lists, you will soon have mail. You have listening time to commit to for your new CDs; you have new techniques to try in your daily practice; you have presentations to give if you received aid from local or national agencies requiring follow-up documentation. You also have pictures to develop and friends and teachers to see to describe what a wonderful time you had. You also have to find time to catch up on much needed sleep after days of spending every waking moment on the go! In conclusion, you have the satisfaction of knowing you created this fabulous opportunity with careful and considerate planning before you attended your conference.
About the Author:
Dr. Mark A. Nelson is Chair of Performing Arts and Director of Orchestras at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale Arizona and an active free-lance tubist in the Phoenix area. He was a college professor for 14 years and played tuba for several symphony orchestras and brass quintets. He has two solo tuba CD recordings and numerous articles and reviews published. He recently held the position of TUBA Secretary and is serving in his tenth year as the Editor of New Materials for the TUBA Journal.