VNPAC: Blogging the Chamber Music America Conference – Day One

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In the exhibition room at the CMA conference.

I admit it. I’m a Chamber Music America conference junkie. I’ve lost count, but I think this is the 13th or 14th of these conferences I’ve attended over the years, starting with my first in 1988, when it was once held in Los Angeles. Obviously, I really enjoy them.

As always, it’s cold in New York over MLK weekend, and for a Southern Californian like me (I heard it was 80 degrees at home today), the snow and the cold are not only daunting but also enticingly exotic. I marvel at people walking outside in slipper-like shoes with no socks, or even hatless or gloveless, when my body says that 19 degrees is actually cold, but it’s fun to be in so different an environment than I am used to.

I always come with various hats on. Primarily, I come representing my own organization, Pacific Serenades, of which I am the founder and artistic director. We’re about to begin our 25th season in a mere two weeks, and part of me thinks I should be home practicing flute (another of my hats). But I managed to have a brief but productive practice session in my room this afternoon and so I’m thinking it’s ok to be here.

This year, Pacific Serenades has an exhibit table at which we are displaying some 40 of the 102 pieces we have commissioned and premiered over the years, so I am also here to let people know about these pieces and to encourage them to perform them. And (my last hat) I happen to be the composer of a handful of those pieces.

For the first bunch of times I came to these conferences, I enjoyed the sessions most of all. I’ve learned a lot about running a performing arts organization from these workshops, even dealt with personal growth issues, and enjoyed hearing and seeing what other people are doing artistically.

And this one was off to an excellent start, with Angela Beeching’s session on project management. I first met Angela at a conference some years back, riding the bus between the hotel and a concert, and we’ve chatted many times since. But this was the first time I have had the opportunity to be the recipient of her excellent teaching. It was pretty wonderful to hear people at the session describe significant projects they are working on and to then hear Angela turn her personal responses into the substance of her presentation, making it applicable to all of us.

It’s always so easy for us artistic types to keep things nebulous and to rely on panic to get things done, and I appreciated her stressing that we focus on what is manageable and what we can keep track of. My favorite takeaway was to make sure that projects are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-specific (yes, SMART!) .

Next was the general session, Across the Generations: A Family Dialogue, a panel moderated by Wayne S. Brown, the NEA’s director of music and opera, and consisting of two generations each of the Clayton and Sirota families. For someone who came from a family highly involved in music, but not in a professional way, it was a trip to hear professional musicians talk about what it was like growing up with parents who are professional musicians. Though I loved many of the stories both the parents and their fathers told, my favorite thoughts that went through my mind were: How cool is it that Robert Sirota was commissioned by his son Jonah’s quartet (The Chiara String Quartet) to write a piece for them?! And How cool is it that the Chiara String Quartet played a piece written by its violist’s father?! Wow!

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Andrew Appel tells us not to be silent.

The networking with people is always fun, especially since, as I have matured, I have become less shy and more confident in what I am doing. Running into old friends and meeting new people was particularly fun today.

I was moved by hearing my old friend and CMA’s new board president, Andy Appel, give an impassioned speech on the necessity of our speaking up about the importance of what we do. “We’ve been quiet and elegant in the past, but we must not be silent!” he said.

His speech reminded me of how many times I have been moved and inspired by the words of keynote speakers and others who have talked at these conferences, and I look forward to hearing Bobby McFerrin talk tomorrow.

Alas, I had to miss the showcase performances, as I had to use that time to practice.

And then there was the adventure of the exhibit. I was grateful to have the help of our young board member (and first-timer at CMA) Garrett Collins, and the sheer volume of people passing by our table made it easy to chat with many and to share what we do.

The way to easy conversation was paved, too, by our having placed our 2nd CD, Border Crossings—pieces we commissioned and premiered by Enrique Gonzalez-Medina, Robert Aldridge, Miguel del Aguila, and me— in the totebags we were all given at registration. Most everyone had taken note of it already, and it was great having a concrete way for people to connect us with our music.

And now that I see it has warmed up from last night’s 19 degrees to 25, it’s time for a brisk stroll in the cold to get me going for tomorrow’s fun.

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