From the Fall 2002 issue
10 Things I Think I Think
by AL BENNER
Those of you who follow Peter King's column in Sports Illustrated,
will recognize that I "borrowed" the following format and title for
my column. For those of you who do not, King's column is usually
a collection of random thoughts about the sports he covers and the
adventures he has along the way.
I recently attended two very well run conferences-the National CMS/NACUSA/ATMI
conference in Kansas City and the LMTA conference in Baton Rouge.
I am sure that people understand that, to be successful, these conferences
take plenty of planning and coordination by their hosts, but I am
not sure that people understand or appreciate the amount of work put
in by the hosts that enables the conferences to become enjoyable and pleasant
experiences for the attendees.
As one that has attended many conferences
can tell you it is a job I do not wish to undertake. Not only do
you have to plan the conference, the better coordinators also anticipate
problems and have solutions in place in case those problems occur.
You have to juggle rehearsals and practice facilities, arrange for
transportation and a multitude of other chores. There is also the
matter of "downtime," that time between concerts and lectures when
visitors new to a city want something to do other than sit in their
hotel rooms or in the lobby of the conference building. So not only
are you a planner, you have to also be an activities director. And
those activities have to appeal to the majority of your attendees.
Finally, you have to do this with a smile on your face and an abundance
of energy, knowing that the vast majority of people have no idea what
you have endured to pull off the conference and are quick to criticize
if something goes wrong. Any detail overlooked will be a possible
reason for the conference to be unsuccessful.
That said, it is with gratitude and appreciation that I thank Tod
Trimble for the great success of the CMS/NACUSA/ATMI conference and
Jennifer Hayghe for the conference in Baton Rouge. Two more pleasant
people I have yet to meet. Not only did they run the conferences
smoothly, but they also took care of problems that I created. Tod
and his wonderful staff tracked down and retrieved the briefcase I
foolishly left on a bus, and Jennifer graciously helped me in performing
my duties with the guest composer.
A task all the more appreciated by me since I couldn't get to the
conference for the preliminary meetings and activities, so I wasn'
t there for most of the early interaction with the guest composer.
Instead of telling me it was my "job," she found solutions for me.
Both should serve as models at National and State events.
- I really did enjoy myself at Kansas City and am glad I went.
However, my much anticipated meeting with NACUSA people didn't
materialize as I expected. Although some NACUSA people were there,
many of the people with whom I have communicated through the years
via phone, letter, or e-mail didn't attend. For whatever reason,
we certainly were the least represented group behind CMS and ATSI.
In fact, the conference's main speaker never acknowledged NACUSA
in her talk. I think it was a start for NACUSA having a "national"
conference, but one that needs to be analyzed for better ways
to get more NACUSA members involved for future events.
- The works of only twelve composers were performed in Kansas City
and I believe, the majority were not NACUSA members, although
that was not a requirement for performance. However, since we
are a society of composers, I would have thought more of us would
have been represented. Whether it was the expense of this conference,
the lack of timely notification of acceptance for performance (most
of us didn't hear one way or the other until August), or
some other reason, my only disappointment in the event was so
- But, the performances that did occur were first class. I would
find it amazing if any composer were not extremely pleased by
the performance he or she received. What a difference it makes
to hear performers who actually study, learn, and express the
nuances and musicality of a contemporary piece! My hat is off
to the performers.
- I would be remiss if I did not express my deep gratitude to John
and Jeanette Winsor for their performance of my The Carpenter-Wood
Rag. I was one of the lucky ones to get a performance and it
was mainly because John and Jeanette agreed to play. They were
brilliant--one of the best performances I have ever received.
- Even if they had not performed my work, the trip was made worthwhile
for me by getting to meet John and Jeanette Winsor. As you should
know, John is NACUSA's webmaster and does an excellent job for
us in this department. He is also someone that I have communicated
with through the years but have never met. It was a delight meeting
both him and his spouse-two nicer people I cannot imagine.
- Staying at the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City was nice, but I guess
I am just not a $152.50 a night type of person. For $59.95, the
Days Inn or Hampton Suites suits me fine--and I get coffee in
the room and breakfast the next day. Sure I don't have fancy
toiletries, the glasses are plastic instead of crystal, the pillows
aren't as plump, and there is no 20th floor with a view, but I
am a bit afraid of heights so I would have preferred not to have
been that high anyway. I also got the Kansas City Sentinel every
day but I prefer USA Today. One had to go to the mezzanine every
morning for coffee and it was $1.50. I ate a $9.00 hamburger
at the Hyatt and drank a $2.00 can of Dr. Pepper. It was a good
hamburger but $9.00?
- My entire travel budget from LSMSA was used for the Kansas City
trip, and I still had to pay about an additional $250 out of my
pocket. It got me to thinking about who actually attends these
types of events. Most people I spoke with had their trips paid
for either via CMS or their home institutions. I suspect that
is why most composers I met at one of the lecture sessions were
from well-known institutions from the East and West Coasts. They
seemed to not have a problem with getting performances and have
faculties that are more than willing to play their works. They
even talked about how people come to their concerts. Now I don'
t know how many performances they are getting, but I would like
to think they are the exception rather than the rule.
- Can you get a good meal for a reasonable cost at an airport?
At KCI I supposedly got a ham and cheese wrap. For the life of
me I couldn't taste either the ham or the cheese. It was over
$5.00 with tax!
- Communication, communication, communication. For years I have
been looking for an opportunity to meet J. Bunker Clark, the author
of The Sylviad which my company published. I thought that would
take place at a Sonneck Society conference, but the ones I attended
he did not and vice versa. I never thought he would be one of
the exhibitors in Kansas City, but late on Saturday afternoon
I got word he was exhibiting for Harmonie Park Press. By the
time I got to the exhibit, he had already closed for the day and
had gone home to Lawrence. Unfortunately he didn't exhibit on
Sunday or at least for that time in the morning before I had to
leave for the airport. Consequently, I still have never met him
- I have learned that in the past I have spent too much time and
effort bemoaning what hasn't happened to me regarding composition
rather that exulting and being thankful for what has. Being in
Kansas City (and then later in Baton Rouge) reaffirmed that there
are good people out there who are truly good people. You need
to find who these people are and then concentrate your efforts
with them. You will not only get more regarding compositions;
you will get more out of life.