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Reports | Spring 2015
(photo by Kayte Deioma)

Simple Gifts

The CMN Conference 2014

The 2014 CMN International Conference was held September 19–21 at the labyrinthine National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia. About 150 people attended. The impressions of the conference are offered in a format inspired by Brigid Finucane’s characterization of her conference experiences as gifts.

From Brigid Finucane:
One gift I received was seeing the conference through another’s eyes–those of longtime member Vincent Nunes, who last attended a conference in another century. We sat together frequently, and after one of the songs at the round-robin, he leaned over and whispered, “This isn’t a conference.”

The music started up, ending our discussion. In a post-conference e-mail, he elaborated: “It’s more a reunion of old friends—friends who are connected by their love for music for children. The vibe was far too open and accepting to be a conference. Most of the conferences I attend (as a lawyer) can be visited anonymously. …You can sit in the back row of the room and take notes. The networking is reserved for the optional cocktail hour. Not so at CMN. There is no way you could attend CMN and not be engaged by the community. The conference requires that you get involved, participate, and connect with others. You sing, dance, and play music with strangers. Who become your new friends.”

From Eve Kodiak:
I keep forgetting CMN’s uniqueness until I get there and discover how much love can be in one place.

That love was put to the test at the last conference, because the venue turned out to be a very beautifully appointed bomb shelter. We were negotiating through a concrete fractl; every place looked like every other place, but no place was identifiable, and most of the people I met in the halls were as lost as I was. One time I managed to walk outside to get some real air, only to find myself at a painted sign: Emergency Gathering Place #1.

Perhaps the effort of creating love in that difficult space intensified the love. By the middle of the Magic Penny celebration on Sunday morning, the roof had blown off the building, and the tunnels below were singing. CMN had conditioned the space for joy.

(photos by Kayte Deioma)

Imagine yourself in a place where everyone is welcome, where children are dancing and making noise and nobody minds, where people hug first and introduce themselves later. Where a third of the people have been there forever, and a third are newcomers, and everyone is already a friend. Where events have been carefully organized and orchestrated to create a sense of freedom, and the people in charge are still smiling—genuinely! And where, at any given moment, someone is likely to break into song and suddenly everyone is singing. It’s sort of heaven.

Changing the world is different than it used to be. When I was young, during the civil rights movement, and the peace movement, and the women’s movement, and the environmental movement, and every other movement, we thought we could literally stop war and racism and sexism and pollution and hunger.

I don’t know anyone who thinks that stopping those things is very likely anymore. And yet we still keep singing the same songs, marching, organizing… We shall overcome—but what? And how? How can we sing these same songs with integrity?

I think the songs do the same magic they always did. They change us by making us happy. They make us feel connected to all people, to all living things, including the huge living thing that is our planet. And the results—well, those aren’t in yet.

Wise teachers tell us that all times are now, so I figure that as long as we’re still here, everything comes out all right. When we create enough light, the darkness dissipates.

There is still a lot of darkness out there. But we changed the energy of the bomb shelter simply with our pure intentions activated by song. I am continually amazed at the power of CMN and the people of CMN to be wholly, joyously, in the zone.

When we think about it that way, the answer to world peace is simple. We just do it—and pass it on.

From Stuart Stotts:
It was a weekend filled with information, inspiration, connections, and new directions. Apparently about a third of the attendees were new members, and I appreciated the incoming energy and sense of discovery and revitalization they brought to those of us who’ve been around a while.

The quality of the songs in the round-robin was as good as I’ve ever experienced. I was blown away by Sophia Bereaud’s rendition of Matisyahu’s “One Day,” but there were lots of highlights, including Bill Harley’s masterful family song “Puddy Wiot.”

I confess that I attended only two of the four workshop sections because conversations pulled me away. I think that’s a common experience, as people create their own agenda. However, both workshops I did attend were great.

The keynote [panel session on the changing landscape of children’s music] challenged us to clarify our own intentions and our relationship to the business side of our work. There has always been a tension in CMN between the desire and need to make a living in a business often fraught with egos and grand ambition and the desire to bring quality experiences and values that are intimate, personal, and unique to children. Those two intentions don’t always coexist comfortably, but I appreciate the opportunity to continue the discussion and exploration.

The soul of the CMN conference is embedded in the round-robin and the Magic Penny Award. (See more about the Magic Penny ceremony in this issue.) This year the award couldn’t have gone to someone more central to the spirit of CMN. Ruth Pelham’s work embodies all that we stand for, and I was struck by the sheer great musical quality of her songs as much as by their messages, her attitude, and the work that lies beneath. To honor Ruth is to pay tribute to her amazing work with her Music Mobile and around the world, as well as her pivotal role in CMN’s history. It’s also in some measure to honor the work all of us do cultivating the inner strengths and the outer lives of children.

The late-night jam progressed from the usual assortment of ’50s songs, making it all the way up into the 1970s by the time it was through, close to 3:00 a.m. Will we still be playing these songs so late in twenty years? I hope so.

As always, the weekend was filled with singing: just plain great singing, in groups, as individuals, and with small groups. The sheer power of singing together is unmatched for feeding our collective souls. I believe that our willingness, ability, and desire to pass along the experience of singing together is at the heart of what we want to transmit to the younger generation and the world beyond. Singing feeds us, and we are dedicated to passing it on, a rededication even stronger after such a powerful weekend.

Brigid Finucane names other gifts:

  1. The finely curated workshops; though I wish there had been fewer choices. I would have felt less bad about missing as much! Who knew so many things could be done with ducks? (Thank you, Ms. Hooton!)
  2. The energy, songs, and willingness to pitch in exhibited by new members (photography, opening events, sales tables, workshop, etc.), many of them younger than many of us.
  3. The gift of laughter (“The Headless Chicken” song is still cracking me up) and reflection (“The Story of Nkosi Johnson”), to name only two of the multitude of musical offerings demonstrating the power of song.
  4. The Magic Penny celebration of Ruth Pelham.
  5. The unbelievable energy, grace, and musical omnipresence of Jenny and David Heitler-Klevans, conference co-chairs.
  6. Connecting faces to names seen in the CMN e-mail forum. What a treat to meet and greet so many talented and generous people!
  7. Renewing bonds with old friends.
  8. Relishing the bounty of conversation, goodwill, and farm-to-table cuisine.
  9. And last, but not least: the ice cream machine.

Despite the confusion of “living-learning modules” (guest rooms), color-coded buildings, and the maze of underground tunnels that followed neither form nor function, we came together and did what we do best: We celebrated life, work, community, “the positive power of music in the lives of children,” sang together, and passed it on. Thank you, all.