I’m still catching up on sleep after my return from the Music Teachers National Association Conference in Chicago. Attending dynamic sessions, and intense meetings, hanging with favorite peeps from around the nation, meeting Facebook friends in person and of course enjoying scrumptious meals took their toll on my sleep patterns. At the same time, what I absorbed will provide that much needed energy to reinvigorate my teaching.
Before I share more about my unique experience and the reason behind the title of this blog, here’s a couple of things I wish to mention.
Music Teachers Helper at MTNA
First, Music Teachers Helper should be proud and pleased with Yiyi Ku’s presentation on the terrific features of MusicTeachersHelper.com. This important tool has become irreplaceable to me. I’m sure those who attended Yiyi’s session learned what they were missing and signed up thanks to her comprehensive coverage of this online, savvy assistant.
The Full Scoop at MTNA
Next, as much as I love to blog, my note taking at conferences has gone down the tubes since I’ve become more involved with planning, presenting and exhibiting at conferences. Below are links to bloggers who took copious notes or at least some notes for the benefit of us all!
Please chime in if you are willing to share yours!
Improvisation Saturday at MTNA
I was privileged to be part of an extremely exciting pre-conference event called Improvisation Saturday. My notes are sparse about the day but I did manage to capture a few pics AND some priceless videos. Let me fill you in. With a dream team headed by George Litterst and MTNA Jazz/Pop Track Chair Bradley Sowash, Saturday was a day of HUGE, HISTORICAL firsts for conference goers and MTNA.
Three simultaneous streams of sessions within the improvisation track led by world-class improvisation experts made it mighty tricky for attendees to choose. As I obviously could not attend all of them, let’s hope others who attended will share what they learned.
The FIRST Historical Event at MTNA 2014 Conference
I do not claim to be an expert improviser as are the other presenters slated for the day but yes, I do improvise and compose and teach those skills as well. As part of the leadership team for this unique track, George L and Bradley S invited me to speak as a teacher who creatively teaches creativity. I was honored to share my thoughts and ideas for group improvisation on and off the bench. The highlight was seeing a room full of teachers dancing, yes, grooving to Pharrell Williams’ Happy.
Piano Teachers Movin’ and Groovin’? Yes. My Strategy in a Nutshell
As an introduction, I defined improvisation as creativity and stressed that creativity is essential to education and self-expression. These arguments were coupled with a hilarious scene from the movie Hitch featuring Will Smith as a cranky love coach suppressing Kevin James’ “expert” dance moves. With this combination, it was pretty easy to talk everyone into standing up and moving large motor muscles with a “one-note” body improv before moving to the fine motor tasks at the keyboard.
To best understand my logic and persuasive tactics it may have been better for you to be at the session in person but I have proof my efforts worked:
Fact #1 even the illustrious Wendy Stevens of ComposeCreate.com who claims she does NOT dance was up and grooving.
Fact #2 the video below featuring participating attendees.
(The handout for this session can be found by clicking here.)
The SECOND Historical Event at MTNA 2014 Conference
Attendees Improvising with the Presenters? Yes. Here’s the Innovative Plan
The intent of the Improvisation Saturday was to provide attendees with hands-on experiences through interactive sessions. Thanks to both Yamaha and Kawai, two rooms were well-equipped with top-of-the line digital keyboards. To top off the day, it was decided to host a jam session where participants could not only see expert improvisers in action but, in addition, try his/her hand at improvising right along with them.
To my knowledge of past MTNA conferences (which is limited) there has not been an event quite like what you will witness in the videos below. Dr. Sam Holland had this to say about the day:
“As a veteran of MTNA conferences all the way back to 1983, I can verify that Improvisation Saturday–and everything that happened during it–was a milestone, an extraordinary day. Great music. Great teaching. Great fun!” – Dr. Samuel Holland , Interim Dean of Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University
What you will find in the videos:
1) Attendees simultaneously creating music with session leaders beyond the page–Brian Chung, Christopher Norton, Richard Grayson, Forrest Kinney and more.
2) A fusion of Yamaha and Kawai reps throwing down riffs with utter abandon.
Make sure to watch both–you do NOT want to miss a minute of either!
“O When the Saints” led by Bradley Sowash
“Let it Be” led by Philip Keveren
Is MTNA Ahead Of or Behind the Times?
Getting back to the title of this post, I’m curious, did MTNA 2014 lead the way of future conferences by devoting a track to improvisation? Or, is MTNA painfully behind the times in updating their traditional-based, read-only, competitive-natured slate of programs? In other words, is this a milestone for the world of music education and creativity or just a milestone for MTNA? As I’ve never attended a conference outside the US, I’m unaware of conference trends in other parts of the world. Please leave your comments below.
Regardless, the good news: the Queen Mary of traditional music education in the US is shifting (ever so slowly) to a more well-balanced, eye/ear approach. It was delightful to be a participant and witness this turn at MTNA 2014.