As a first time attendee at a Pennsylvania Music Educators Conference, my only frame of reference was a past experience exhibiting at the Texas Music Educators Convention. I expected to observe differences but not to this extent. First, the states are different in size - that's obvious. Whereas both the TMEA February convention and the combined TBA/TCDA/TODA summer conference are held in the San Antonio Convention Center with about 5,000 attendees if I'm not mistaken [Correction: there were approx. 15,000 attendees], the PMEA summer conference fit easily into a budget hotel with conference facilities. A significant part of the TMEA experience is the prominence given exhibitors - ranging from music publishers to music schools and from instrument sellers to any and every possible fundraising item you could imagine - but the PMEA conference had no space allotted to exhibitors. I'll have to admit I did not partake of many conference sessions in Texas other than a few student ensemble performances. A significant reason for this was that the conference program listings (with advertising) came to 212 pages - enough to overwhelm any first-timer without the benefit of a network of contacts whose presentations you knew about beforehand. In contrast, the PMEA offerings were on a much smaller scale, but without exception they were at a very high standard in terms of quality of presentation and usefulness for educators.
Scott C. Schuler as immediate past president of the National Association for Music Education provided the keynote address. He presented an engaging in-depth summary of the new National Arts Education standards and also involved the attendees in a variety of activities related to these standards and the kinds of assessments that will be necessary to comply. In the afternoon breakout sessions I attended a very informative presentation on incorporating music technology into the classroom given by Rich Fisherowski of DuBois ASD. He went through a range of programs, interfaces and apps that he uses with students in K-6 classes. He discussed specific software and allowed for a lively exchange of suggestions and comments. Then I managed to catch a few selections by the wind ensemble reading group led by Kris Laird and Scott Sheehan of Hollidaysburg ASD. Though my knowledge of wind repertoire isn't extensive, it was clear that the teacher participants were interested in the commissioning projects the two directors described and the repertoire examples that they read through. The day ended with an Advocacy Report by Shannon Kelly, also of NAfME. She took us through the content available on the new NAfME advocacy website, www.broaderminded.com, and pointed us to specific tools and language to use when interacting with non-arts administrators as well as policy makers. The new advocacy video is below:
The second day of the conference was devoted to break-out sessions that certain 'tracks' such as Curriculum/Assessment, Instrumental Instruction, Technology, for which participants could then receive a type of credit.
Because I represented the business interests as well as educational interests of Sonic Crossroads at the conference, I was dismayed to see the lack of involvement from the music industry, even though I did take away a lot from the conference as an educator. In contrast, the large exhibit space at TMEA borders on the nonsensical, particularly with the number of ensemble fundraisers touting their products, which are completed unrelated to the experience of learning or performing music. I also wonder how much interest out-of-state schools are able to garner with their exhibits when Texas schools are so aggressive at recruiting within the state. From a neighboring exhibitor to Sonic Crossroads (a promotional T-shirt business) I got at least one assessment - "I don't really do much business here - it's mostly just to pass along information and maintain connections." However, on the opposite side of the exhibit hall, the sheet music vendor with rows and rows of UIL titles was doing booming business with separate cashier stands set-up at one end of what looked like at least six exhibit booth spaces.
Clearly the two entities TMEA and PMEA have very different approaches to organizing their annual conferences. While I was expecting to be disappointed by the small scale of PMEA, I absolutely was not, though I do feel there has to be some sort of meeting point between the two extremes. Perhaps a healthy involvement of the music education industry in the PMEA conferences would help so many districts struggling with funding in Pennsylvania by establishing business partners in addition to the grant funding mentioned by many presenters. I'm not sure what would bring about change to the TMEA model and if there is even any call for it. From regular attendees I know, the 'total experience' seems to be a big part of the draw in attending each year.