Monday, March 21, 2022

American String Teachers Association National Conference 2022: My Week and Experience

I woke up this morning in my own bed after being out of town for the past week. It is so great to experience the familiarity of my own place: my home, I own stuff, and the comforts of home. While I was staying in a magnificent suite at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta, it is always good to come home. This morning I was looking through Facebook and enjoying all of the moving posts about folks' experiences at the ASTA National Conference last week. The membership of this organization points toward our national conference as somewhat of a Mecca for reconnecting with friends and colleagues from around the country, acquiring new and unique ideas about string teaching and the art we love, and getting that annual reminder that we are not alone. 

My week was a little bit unique this year. Many of you know I have been serving on the National Board of Directors for ASTA for about 6 years as the Chair of the Content Development Committee. This was my last conference in that role. I will be rolling off the board in May and using my time to more fully commit to projects here at NCSSM, specifically opening our new NCSSM campus in Morganton North Carolina. So, as a result my week at the conference was a little different than many years. I didn't have much time to attend sessions, but it was no less meaningful and the work in which I was involved had, hopefully, a great deal of impact. This is my opportunity to chronicle my week a little bit and to give others a small window into that work.

Monday and Tuesday

I left home on Sunday evening to get a small jump on the long drive. It is about a 6-hour drive from Durham NC to Atlanta. I went about halfway and spent the night in Spartanburg SC. I got up early on Monday to finish the drive so that I could be ready for board meetings beginning at noon on Monday. I safely arrived in Atlanta and settled into my room. And after a nice lunch, the Board got to work. The board work on Monday and Tuesday centered around creating a new strategic plan to guide our organization for the next 3 years. I love all of the members of the board and these are opportunities for meaningful and thoughtful conversation about the work of ASTA, our membership, our mission, and how we want to spend our limited resources to make the field of string teaching and the United States a better place. Our conversations this year centered around many of the standard topics of the American String Teachers Association, such as professional development opportunities, and member resources, but wellness and diversity were really front and center as well. We were able to frame an outline and priorities for the new strategic plan through our work. That plan should be finalized by June and I am excited to see it implemented for our organization. For those who don't know, the organization has been through a great deal of transition in the last year as we have said goodbye to one Executive Director, hired an interim for 6 months or so, and welcomed our new Executive Director, Lynn Tuttle, to the organization. Lynn is a thoughtful and intelligent leader and I know she will guide ASTA with integrity and purpose in coming years. Truly, the entire board worked diligently and thoughtfully on this plan. We ended the day on Tuesday with a wonderful Board dinner.  I went back to the hotel fulfilled (and very full) ready to move into the rest of the Conference.


On Wednesday, the Board came together to finalize some of the details of the outline of the strategic plan in the morning. We worked for a couple of hours and then many of us had to move on to our work as facilitators for the Wednesday pre-conference sessions. I was honored to be conducting and guiding the ASTA National Conference Teachers Orchestra on Wednesday. About 23 teachers from around the country registered for this pre-conference session to come together and make music for the afternoon. This was the second time we have put this event together for ASTA.  The Teachers Orchestra was a wonderful success again this year. We came together at noon and rehearsed until 5:00 p.m. The rehearsal included great music-making, many smiles, new friendships, and was an overall fulfilling afternoon. We had a wide variety of repertoire that included an arrangement of the Day of Wrath (Dies Irae) from Verdi's Requiem, arranged by Deborah Baker Monday, works by composers Katie Labrie and Gabriella Frank, and even the winner of the ASTA 75th Anniversary composition contest, Nagyszentmiklos, by Todd Mason, a tricky but amazing work which is basically ah homage to the influence of Bela Bartok. There was plenty to do for the afternoon. Our time together culminated with a informal performance at the opening  reception of the conference at 6:30 that evening. What a pleasure to conduct the group. It was truly a joy to spend the day with these wonderful teachers from around the country. Again, I strongly believe everyone had a great time and enjoyed the process of music making and bringing a short program together throughout the afternoon. I was honored to be part of this. Following the reception, I ran to another dinner with all of the other adjudicators and clinicians for the National Orchestra Festival, which was set to begin on Thursday morning.

 Thursday Friday Saturday 

 As part of the National Conference each year ASTA hosts the American String Teachers Association National Orchestra Festival where student groups from around the country apply and come to our conference to perform for a set of adjudicators and receive educational clinics. This year, I was invited to be one of the clinicians who worked with orchestras following their adjudicated performances. My role in this event was to listen to orchestra performances and then give them a brief educational clinic immediately following their performance. I heard orchestras from Florida, Texas, Colorado, Indiana, and other regions of the country. Truly, all of the performances were magnificent and I was encouraged throughout the festival regarding the level of string teaching and playing that's happening in our country today. Over the course of Thursday and Friday I heard and cliniced 8 different orchestras. In my clinics, I tried to give students the opportunity to reflect on their own performances, consider their successes and areas on which they could improve in their performances, reflect on their trip,  and, I aspired to give them a few small musical nuggets to think about as they move forward in their playing as individuals and ensembles. I truly hope that the instructors walked away from each of my clinics with a little something new to think about. And, obviously, my goal was that each student would feel valued and honored in their efforts. There were also usually many parent chaperones in the room and I always try to make a point to thank them and honor them for the dedication it takes to be part of a music community in a school and to support their children in their orchestral endeavors. Following all of the performances, a National Grand Champion is named and all of the groups are ranked. On Saturday morning, the winners of the middle school and high school divisions were announced at a high energy award ceremony. Later on Saturday afternoon, the Middle School and High School Grand Champions performed as the closing session of the conference. The Grand Champions are Seven Lakes Junior High Chamber Orchestra from Katy, Texas under the direction of Jennifer Gingell and Bethany Hagin and  Eau Gallie High School Chamber Orchestra from Melbourne Florida under the direction of Erik Bryan.  The performances were absolutely stunning. I am also thrilled that my colleague Ryan Ellefson from East Chapel Hill High School in North Carolina took his ensemble to the event and they were awarded second place in the high school division. Sadly, I didn't see their performance because I was clinician another group at that time. But all indications were that they were absolutely spectacular. I know it was a huge weekend for Ryan and for every student and parent who participated in the event. I am so pleased for them!

Following a social gathering on Saturday evening, I got to bed early and set my alarm for 3:30 a.m. I left Atlanta when I woke up at that early hour and drove directly to my youngest son's baseball game in Raleigh. The game was slated to start at noon and I had missed several games being away this week. I didn't want to miss the game on Sunday. I made it to the game on time to see all of his at-bats. I was also so pleased that my middle son, Joe, could come and watch the games with me. He had been in London for the past 2 weeks with a class trip from UNC and just arrived back in Raleigh on Saturday. What a cool way to come home!

So, it was certainly a busy, but fulfilling week. As always, my best memories and takeaways include the friendships old and new, and personal interaction with my colleagues, from around the county.  There is no substitute for the smiles, hugs, conversations over coffee, and well-wishes for and from this like-minded group of folks.  The American String Teachers Association continues to be strong and continues to provide a welcoming community for all in the field.  Thanks to all of you who impacted me over the past week.  I look forward to seeing you all and others at Orlando next year.