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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 few performances.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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 in person.
  10. 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.