VNPAC: Sometimes People Are Better

In about another two hours I head to the airport again in order to attend as much as I possibly can of the national conferences of two service organizations happening simultaneously in Atlanta: the League of American Orchestras and Chorus America. I haven’t even been back home 48 hours, having just returned from the 2010 conference of the International Association of Music Information Centres in Dublin. That was an amazingly thought-provocative three days of panels and conversations which resulted in me averaging only about four hours of sleep per night and not really experiencing what looked like a wonderful city—so I will have to return on my own time one of these days.

But why, you may ask, all this jet hopping in an age when we can interact with each other so much more easily online. Indeed, since the other three national service organizations that convened together in Denver two years ago along with the League and Chorus America have scheduled their 2010 conferences in other cities—Dance USA in Washington, D.C., Theatre Communications Group in Chicago, and OPERA America in Los Angeles—we’re using the Chatter pages of NewMusicBox as a pulpit for local composers in each of those cities to address the greater new music community. If you were visiting NewMusicBox last week, it would have been extremely difficult to miss the comprehensive coverage of the OPERA America conference from Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum and Anne LeBaron, and we’ve got composer-bloggers-in-residence in place and waiting for the action to start in D.C., Chicago, and Atlanta. And our team is part of an even larger initiative involving organizations in the performing arts sector to create a virtual platform where our constituencies can engage in conversations across disciplinary and geographic boundaries. And if all of this works, it might result in even more people feeling somehow connected to these events than if we had the resources to bring only a finite group of people together in one physical place to have such conversations.

While all of this is true, we probably can never completely replace the actual corporeal experience of someone or something. And those actual corporeal experiences are the ones that can result in the most profound kinds of connectivity, or even just some cool ephemeral serendipity. Here’s a case in point. En route to Ireland and attempting to check in automatically, which saves lots of time, I found that I couldn’t since there was a slight glitch on my ticketing information and the computer could not discern that FRANK J. OTERI and FRANKJ OTERI are the same person. But having a conversation with a human being at check in, while the line is longer, is often delightful. In fact, going through immigration upon leaving Dublin, I struck up a wonderful conversation with the Immigration Officer. After he asked me about why I was there and I responded, he started telling me about a wonderful Irish musician who performed with Philip Glass last year. Despite Amazon’s You-Liked-This/You’ll-Like-That technology, try getting a machine to actually be enthusiastic.

Of course, everything we’re doing to create a Virtual National Performing Arts Convention involves people and not algorithms. Still, I want to be there and actually feel what’s going on at least in Atlanta—I figured going to two conferences in one city trumped going to D.C. or Chicago for only one, and since I was in Dublin last week I couldn’t be in L.A. But Friday morning there will be important new music sessions at both Atlanta conferences and the two hotels are over 30 minutes away by light rail, so complete corporeal immersion will be a challenge. Stay tuned.

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