5 Ways to Make Your MEA Conference Fun and Productive

Saxophones at MEA Conference

It’s tough for educators to get away from their classrooms for any reason, and that goes double for music educators. Attending a conference means lost rehearsal time, the problem of non-music subs, and scheduling problems in general. To minimize difficulties, many music teachers only attend one conference each year – their state music educator’s association conference. It’s vital that they make the most of this time.

As someone who’s been to music conferences as a student performer, a teacher, an exhibitor, and a speaker, I’d like to share some insider’s tips for making your conference experience productive – and fun.

Plan ahead

This starts with the basics: you need a sub, you need a hotel room, and you need a badge. Making travel plans can be more complicated if you live in a large state, but conferences are planned far in advance, giving you plenty of time to shop for deals, find a roommate, and iron out the details.

When packing, learn from my mistakes! Here are the three things I’ve regretted forgetting:

  • A water bottle. You will need this. You will want this. I promise.
  • A portable wall/USB phone charger. There will come a time during the conference when this becomes even more important than the water.
  • A bag that’s big enough to hold the day’s necessities and also comfortable to tote around. Gentlemen, you can’t fit handouts from clinics, business cards, your phone/wallet/keys, a phone charger and a water bottle in your pants pockets. Trust me. Ladies, while fashion reigns supreme at MEA conferences, make sure your bag is comfortable. If the strap digs into your shoulder in a way that makes you grit your teeth, go with a different bag.

Attend Clinics

Clinics are the whole point! Music educators’ associations spend a lot of time, energy, and money getting passionate, knowledgeable clinicians to speak. Take advantage of their expertise and learn from them! I recommend looking at the schedule ahead of time and choosing some clinics that will address:

  • Your primary instrument. There’s always something new to learn.
  • An instrument you dread teaching. Yes, many MEAs offer bassoon clinics.
  • Ensemble skills for your discipline (band/orchestra/choir). This could be about sight-reading, conducting, or something else.
  • “Educator skills” – classroom management, working with administration, mentoring student teachers, working in Title I schools, etc.

I would also suggest you pick a topic that would surprise your peers. For example, if you’re a band director, consider attending a choir clinic. Speaking as a former band director, I LOVE choir clinics. They’re incredibly hands-on. You might spend half the time singing with other educators and experience a wonderful “Kumbaya” moment.

Attend “Non-Clinics”

Getting value from MEA conferences doesn’t mean only going to clinics. They also offer an opportunity to be inspired by great performances. This doesn’t mean one token appearance at the All-State concert! Instead, look for a program you admire – or aspire to be like – and attend their performance. You’ll get a much more realistic view of what a great ensemble sounds like.

Some conferences also include awards luncheons, associated organizations (like TI:ME), and other opportunities to learn without needing to sit in a clinic. Participating in a warm-up session, for example, can be a great way to mix it up while also staying engaged. My favorite “non-clinic?” The Baylor alumni meetup at the Texas Music Educators Association conference every February.

Meet People

Networking can mean more than stiff people in business suits trading info on LinkedIn. See your friends, enjoy each other’s company, and have fun. Reconnecting with college classmates, old colleagues, and meeting new people definitely qualifies as networking. You’re actually guaranteed to be standing next to another music educator, so there should be lots to talk about. We all know how much music nerds love talking about music.

Say Hi to MakeMusic!

Come on, you didn’t think I’d leave this one out, did you? It’s the SmartMusic blog! We’re at a lot of MEA conferences – you can see the whole list here – and we’d love it if you said hi!

In fact, we want you to come to our clinics so badly that we’ll bribe you.  We give away free software at the end of every clinic. Yes, our clinics typically revolve around our products, but they aren’t infomercials. Instead of presentations by sales staff, we have current and former music educators offer tips for how you can get the most out of SmartMusic. MEA conferences are designed to support teachers, and that’s our goal too.

You can also see the latest and greatest features at our booth.

Of course, if you need help with SmartMusic (or Finale), you don’t have to wait until the conference! You can always reach our support team via bit.ly/MakeMusichelp. You can also get in touch with us via social media (actually, with me – I’m the guy who reads your tweets).

Enjoy your MEA conferences this year!

Ryan-SargentMakeMusic’s social media manager, Ryan Sargent, has attended music conferences as a student performer, an educator, a speaker, and an exhibitor. He knows that no matter how many conference exhibit halls he goes to, there will always be a trumpet player trying (and failing) to hit a double C on every horn. As a result, Ryan spends his conference evenings at the hotel bar (where he’d love to meet you and chat about ways music educators use social media).

When he isn’t attending conferences, tweeting, or Facebooking on MakeMusic’s behalf, Ryan is an active funk and jazz trombone player in the Denver area and teaches music history at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

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