Networking: Professional Organizations and Conferences

Like many artists this summer, I’ll be heading to several networking conferences to meet new people and share ideas.  I’ll be attending the National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy (NCPP).  The conference’s main goal is to help establish guidelines for national standards of instrument inventory and to come to a consensus of sorts on various educational issues.  It’s a pretty lofty long-term goal, especially with such a young and constantly changing world of percussion in the schools.

I really enjoy professional conferences and belonging to the organizations that plan them.  They make me feel like I belong to something bigger than myself, and that I am contributing to my field (however small it may be).  In the percussion world, we’re often physically located few and far between, so conferences are the rare occurrences of getting a number of us together.  If you are not a member of a professional organization, then I encourage you to do so.  But do a little digging to find out what you get from the membership, and what you can possibly do for the organization.  Today, most professional group memberships will get you a subscription to some kind of periodical as well as access to print or online resources not available to the public.  In addition, look for ways that the group promotes networking with other professionals.  This can be through online forums as well as conferences.  You basically want to find ways that you can get your name and ideas out there.  This is helping both you and the community grow and from each others contributions.

Often, the culmination of the ideals of the organization are presented annually (sometimes every other year or so) in the form of a conference. When looking at professional conferences, consider what their goal is and to whom they are tailored.  For example, in the percussion world, we have our large national conference, the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (P.A.S.I.C., pronounced like “basic”).  I consider this conference to be tailored more towards the performance aspect of percussion.  There are upwards of 5,000 people in attendance and it usually takes over a convention center in a fairly large city usually in the center of the U.S..  This is certainly not an intimate affair, but the large numbers mean bigger name performers and a very exciting atmosphere.

Crowds!
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The Joys of a large conference

They also try to be centrally located, however, as an “international” conference, it never takes place outside of the country.  There are other events in other continents but are not as large and well attended.  But this is an important detail when looking for professional groups to join.  How many conferences can you financial afford to attend?  I am not an expert, but it seems that conferences held in different countries constantly are smaller and can vary drastically in what is presented.  This of course is not a value, judgment, but certainly something to think about.

On the reverse side of that, the NCPP is much smaller with usually around 50-100 people.  This is also tailored to the educational aspect of percussion and music in general.  There are performances, but mostly there are paper presentations and panel discussions.  I personally benefit in completely different ways at this conference.  The majority of the conference is in actual discussions open to everyone in attendance. The idea is that no one has all the answers, but together we can work through some of the more difficult aspects of teaching percussion and music.  There are quite a few people who are always there and then the others change through the years.  I enjoy the returning people and respect them a lot, but it’s the newcomers that really give the conference a fresh face each year.

I’ll hopefully do a quick write up about NCPP when I get back into town.  For now, just give some thought to national and local organizations that can help you attain your professional and artistic goals.  You are not alone, and surrounding yourself with likeminded people (or people you disagree with entirely) can have a huge impact on keeping you ideas fresh and creative.  It also keeps you from reinventing the wheel, so to speak.  Sometimes we get so engrossed in what we are doing as individuals that we forget that some of these trial-and-errors have already been done and talked about.

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