Music educators of Montana are a tight-knit bunch.
“We frequently refer to this conference as the family reunion,” John Combs said in the days before the 77th annual Montana Music Educators Association conference in Missoula.
“I mean, here we are in Missoula and we’ll have people coming here from Malta and Sidney. Wherever we have this there’s just a consistently high level of learning that goes on for music educators, and that’s why we get so many returnees.”
Combs, supervisor of fine arts for Missoula County Public Schools, is president of the MMEA and chairman of this week’s conference, which begins Wednesday at Hellgate High School.
It runs full steam through Friday night, with an MMEA executive board meeting set for Saturday morning at the Holiday Inn.
It’s a week of convergence. Nearly 1,000 high-school music instructors and students will be in town for activities at Hellgate and the University of Montana, joining the 2,500 or so educators at the separate Montana Education Association/Montana Federation of Teachers at Sentinel High and the Missoula College.
The music conference comes to Missoula every four years; the MEA/MFT convention each third year. Every 12 years, they coincide.
The music association is made up of five affiliated groups representing bandmasters; choir, strings and general music teachers, and collegiates — music majors from universities and colleges across the state. For the first time the latter group has chosen to start Wednesday afternoon with four sessions of its own, freeing participants to join the other clinics on Thursday and Friday.
Many of the music teachers will be keeping close tabs on their own students — standout high school musicians selected for the Montana High School Association’s all-state music festival up the street at UM. Those students will spend two days rehearsing for a combined band, choir and orchestra concert Friday night that’s the traditional end to the convention/festival week. It’s slated for 7 p.m. at the Dennison Theater on campus.
The all-staters will be directed by three esteemed conductors: Joe Miller, Westminster Choir conductor at Rider University in New Jersey (choir); Rafael Jimenez of Oberlin College of Ohio (orchestra), and Kevin Sedatole of Michigan State University (band).
Combs said the MMEA conference is known for its quality headliners, which makes it “probably one of the best conferences in the Northwest for our size.”
“The general music teachers have their person lined up five years in advance to make sure they get some of the top-notch folks,” he said.
One of those, world-renowned composer David Maslanka, lives here in Missoula. He’ll be conducting a clinic Friday afternoon called “On This Bright Morning.” On Thursday, Giselle Wyers of the University of Washington will introduce and train conductors to the Laban movement, while Artie Almeida, a general music specialist from Florida, discusses the Big Bang Theory and “Movin’ and Groovin.’” Brenda Brenner of Indiana University will work with strings instructors in sessions called “Setting Up for Success” and “From Proof to Portato: A Sequence of Bow Strokes.”
Tim Lautzenhiser, an adjunct faculty member at three Indiana universities and a well-known motivational speaker, will work his magic at the MMEA general session Thursday morning in the Hellgate auditorium. Lautzenhiser’s keynote address is titled “Music Learning Life Learning.”
“He just really hits at the heart of what we do in music and why,” Combs said. “He re-energizes teachers. There are times when you just feel like you’re in a slugfest, and he goes in and reminds you of how important you are in the lives of kids.”