So I find myself in beautiful, exotic Fresno, California (that's sarcasm) this weekend for the annual conference for California Music Educators Association. I haven't come to one in well over a decade; actually, I was still in college when I last attended.
That would make this my first conference attended as a professional music teacher, so I do feel rather lofty and awesome walking around with my badge, which advertises that I teach music at GBHS (but not what kind of music, but as Lynn, my colleague, seems to know half the people here, they quickly deduce that I'd be the choral half of things).
I arrived yesterday, after a three-and-a-half hour, hair-raising drive down Highway 99, which is basically Interstate 5's evil step-sister because I've never seen so many nervy-ass truck drivers in all my life. There you are in your small sedan, cruising along at 70 mph, when a Wal-Mart truck with it's giant, obnoxious smiley face cuts you off. Not okay.
But I digress. I made it to Fresno safely, and promptly got to the important stuff--finding the Starbucks in my hotel's parking lot, getting a tea, and utilizing their free Wi-Fi and my new laptop. First time I've taken this baby out of the house and let me tell ya, I LOVE this whole concept of take-it-anywhere-use-it-anytime.
Last night, I met up with Lynn and we had dinner and drinks with some people she has known for years, fellow music educators who have been very welcoming. I mean, we do have a lot in common, all of us being music teachers.
So far today, I've attended one clinic (it had some good info about helping your students overcome performance anxiety, then I went to lunch with Lynn and crew. Now, I'm sitting at Starbucks, loving this whole free Wi-Fi business and catching up on my work email (which I purposely do NOT have access to on my phone, because work-life balance and all that).
But the best part of attending a state-wide conference like this one is not about driving to Fresno, or staying in a hotel, or missing two days of work with my choir (actually, I miss them and feel some guilt that I took two days away when we have Junior High Choir Night next week). The best part is reconnecting with people, as happened this morning at the Chico State table, when I saw one of my music ed professors, Dr. Roby. I haven't seen him in a decade, at least, or Dr. Tevis, the band director. It was great to catch up with them, to brag that I taught in England for a year, that I'm now the choir director at a fantastic high school.
I saw two women I went through the Music Ed program with, and it was nice to catch up for a few minutes and see that they, too, are teaching music and doing what they love.
But the best, by far, was running into my high school music teacher, Mr. Gaesser. Of course, I saw him a few weeks ago at the Folsom Jazz Festival, but today he wasn't quite so hurried and had a moment to chat. First came the customary bear hug, followed by, "How are you doing?"
"I'm busy!!" I laughed, grabbing my laptop bag and hoisting it on my shoulder. "But I love it." I told him how I'm planning an Anaheim trip, and how I love my kids and know they'll have a great time (as will I), "but the planning will kill ya." He just laughed. He knows.
I mentioned how I have a great colleague in Lynn (he knows her through band circles) and he agreed. "I'm so glad you're happy there," he told me, and I suppose that's the best thing any of us teachers can hope for all of our kids--that they are happy. It feels good to know that this man I looked up to and admired as a kid is proud of me. I'm but one of thousands of kids he's taught in a 30-year career, but I know I'm one of the special ones.
Next up this afternoon is a session on building a strong choral program, then dinner at some point--Lynn tells me the local Basque place is spectacular. Tonight we'll go to the All-State Jazz Choir/Band concert (I made that choir as a senior, I'll just brag right here--14 kids from the entire state of California, and I was one of them), maybe have a drink or two, hobnob some more, and get up tomorrow for more clinics.
That's the basic point of these, anyway, the hobnobbing. The clinics have some good info, and the vendors hall is great, but the most valuable part of any of this is the connections (and "re-connections") you make with fellow music teachers from all over the state. It's fantastic to see high school groups performing and realizing that the arts are very much alive in California--despite the endless assaults they have faced by penny-pinching, test-happy measures, both state- and nation-wide.
The arts are alive. You can't kill them. Not so long as music teachers connect, re-connect, and keep breathing life into them.