Six years after attending my first CMN Annual International Conference, I was excited to be back in Hyannis, Massachusetts to celebrate friendship and our shared interest in making music with children. As a member of CMN’s Board of Directors, I arrived on Thursday to dig into the work we do behind the scenes. While on stage and with children, I am energetic and confident; at parties and with large groups of adults, I tend to retreat to the sides and observe. Getting involved on the CMN Board has afforded me opportunities to share more of myself, and in turn learn more about the wonderful people in this organization.
Rich discussions were led by our Board Presidents, David Heitler-Klevans and Katherine Dines. I was excited to hear updates from Conference Chairs Kim Wallach and Diana Kane, and loved participating in the discussions about marketing and membership led by Alice Burba and Lisa Heintz, respectively. I was nervous to lead the report from our fundraising team of Susan Salidor, Val Smalkin, Jenny Murphy, and Wiley Rankin. The participation of our Advisory Board gave us all renewed energy as we finished up the final preparations for the weekend and moved to conference setup.
The conference, for me, is all the little moments: setting up the stage and putting up the quilts with Katherine, Susan, Sally Rogers, and Andy Zamenes; the time thinking about the history of CMN and being part of the present and future; a conversation after the setup with Andy and Alina Celeste about the pathways we’ve taken as individuals, and the shared experiences we have working in our own communities.
Dinner, followed by community dancing, was a great way to kick off the weekend. Switching partners on the fly and having small but important moments with each other is uplifting. As participants moved through that long snakelike spiral led by dance caller Robin McGalliard Nelson, dancers interacted with and welcomed each other face to face. We danced in small groups, circles, and up and down the line. It was fun sharing a dance with Katy Rydell, and another with Alex, and bantering a little with Tom Pease along the way.
Friday night singing started late and ended later. I was in the background again listening, smiling, and enjoying being on the periphery. A song about giants, “Don’t Fence Me In,” and some Cat Stevens late into the night were among my favorites. I left the conference center at 1:00 am and drove down the street to the quiet vacation home of a friend.
Saturday morning was full and fulfilling. I attended the back-to-back workshops of Patricia Shih and Alina Celeste to learn more about how to upgrade my online presence. Both workshops provided me with inspiration for my own business plan and future projects. Models of success are an important part of the learning process and it was wonderful to see the work of Patricia and Alina, and other artists the presenters highlighted. I spent my third workshop with Nancy Remkus, learning new songs and techniques for the elementary classroom, and came away with a few new tricks for my back pocket and a host of good resources. It was great to sing and learn in this more intimate workshop.
On to the keynote. Ken Whiteley spoke to me on several different levels. I am in the process of recording my second children’s music album. His stories about finding the right musicians and recording the best possible performance from each individual were right on the money. I also started thinking about my own role as a father, teacher, and CMN Board member in the same light. It is important, to me, to help others find and share the best parts of who they are as individuals. Halfway through Ken’s keynote, I took out my phone and started writing notes for a new song. Perhaps it will show up on a future album. After all, two of the songs on my 2017 album, “On a Roll” and “To Be Kind,” are songs that I began writing at the 2015 conference in Zion, Illinois!
I truly enjoy seeing everyone up on stage at the Round-Robin. The performance styles and variations of our membership make the venue a highlight. For my own song, I get more nervous performing for my peers than I do for a crowd of children and their caregivers, and I’ve heard others speak the same truth. I missed not having my son Luke at my side this year. We had planned to sing a song we had worked on together. However, half an hour before the evening started, Oren Rosenthal asked me if I was interested in adding a violin accompaniment. Without a blink, I said yes and was excited to share “Like a Dinosaur.” I have lots of fun singing it in my preschool classroom, but it was even more exciting to have the extra energy that a violin provides.
On Sunday morning, I joined Amy Conley’s “Stay Strong Children” song swap that focused on songs to empower children. The songs were equally varied and allowed us all to think about the messages we can share when up on stage, in the classroom, or leading others in song. It was just the kind of intimate opportunity I was looking for on a Sunday morning after all the events that have been swarming in our heads this past year. It was clear others were looking for a similar experience. It is also nice to get a chance to do a little more singing before the Magic Penny ceremony.
I was thrilled to learn more about Sally Rogers through the voices of our membership as well as her community’s tributes. Her songs share such clear messages. I am uplifted by the work that so many of our members do back in their own hometowns. The Magic Penny is an annual reminder of the impact of what one person can do. And collectively, it is a reminder of the positive energy music creates. I loved singing the round Sally led us in at the end.
I am invigorated by every conference I attend, but it is the closing ceremony that makes me realize that I am in the right place, doing the right thing. I love that it has a consistent framework. There is time to recognize those who have worked hard to put the event together. There is time to highlight a few of our newest conference attendees. This year we got to listen a second time to a sweet song from Margot Bevington, laugh to a rousing Halloween story from Zak Morgan, and rise to our feet for one final dance as Mr. and Mrs. G shared their energetic performance.
After the conference, there is, finally, time to reflect on both the event and our membership, so full of intelligent and thoughtful people doing the kind of work I love to do. We are a long time away from gathering together in Sandusky, Ohio, but in between I will stay connected through local gatherings, our regional conference, and the vibrant online conversations. Perhaps I will venture out of New England and see a few friends on the road. I’ve got more to write and more to sing. Thanks to all in the Children’s Music Network for being an important part of my life.
Conference photos by Kayte Deioma