Nova Scotia Music Educators' Association (NSMEA)

Conference Reflections

As the leaves turn colour and fall from the trees, I have turned the calendar page from September to October and I see a blank space on the calendar where the letters “NSMEA” are scrawled in bold red marker. The Nova Scotia Music Educators' Association provincial conference has been a part of my life since the early 1980s when I was studying to be a music educator at Acadia University (Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada). It was a time to meet with other music educators, a time to search out (and find!) new teaching materials and resources. Reading sessions helped fill the vacant spots in tenuous Christmas concert plans and also introduced us to musical gems for future performance planning.

Donna Rhodenizer

The NSMEA conference marked the end of turkeys, pumpkins and poppy songs and ushered in the serious business of preparing for the school Christmas (or winter) concert. Conference meant that if you had not figured out the concert program, you had better get to it – pronto! Just 6 or so weeks from conference, parents and community members would be pouring into the school gymnasium to see and hear what you, the music teacher, were capable of doing with your collection of pupils. Conference was the swing point in my planning process. I knew that following the conference I would be dealing with Halloween and Remembrance Day and then I had better be ready to roll out and start my concert material.

Fall in the school system

Our MEA Conference was always there to help fill the last spot in the concert program with a new song or idea. Seasoned music teachers know that the fall season involves many performing expectations.

Young teachers in their first year in the music classroom may realize with some anxiety that they are expected to put on a dazzling display of musical achievement early in December. 

Never mind that you haven’t yet mastered all the names of the students you have met for the first time just two months ago. Forget the fact that you still don’t know who that kid is in the third row standing next to the liveliest child in that class. Suffice it to say, the calm student is there to preserve the stability of the line, regardless of his or her name. 

Word of Advice:  start creating your line-ups early in the process so personality clashes and areas of friction can be identified and adjusted.

Student Feet on Risers

There is also the issue of which of the four Meghans you teach is in grade 3 and to try once and for all to get it right when writing down the name of Cody or Colby or was that Cordell?  Also, by the time Christmas concert rolls around you have done an entire set of report cards and a parent teacher interview session. (Oh, the horrors of meeting Meghan’s parents face to face and not being able to remember which Meghan she is, or even if you remember her at all!)

Choosing repertoire is difficult when you are not sure if that is the class that can actually sing, or if a choreographed scarf number might work better for this year. I have always said to my students that they were in the “sweet spot” with regards to concert performances. If they did well, parents would comment on how well the children did. If they did poorly, the commentary would turn to the incompetence of the music teacher in being able to teach them. Nonetheless, planning for Christmas concert must be done and our Music Educators' Association Conference was a valuable part of finding material to use in that highlight event of the school year.

Our conference had much more lasting effects than concert program repertoire. It was a time to attend sessions that provided teaching strategies and lesson plan ideas. It was a lifeline for me as a young, first-year music teacher holding a curriculum guide in one hand and trying to sift and sort through a bookcase of music resources that were left behind by the previous teacher. I well remember the day I had the epiphany that I didn’t need to use every song in every book on that shelf and that I could pick and choose only the best ones to use with my students. Then all I had to do was to go through all of those books and choose the best songs. It was a daunting task and there was no one else in the building to ask or to use as a sounding board when making decisions for my music classes.

With my Peeps...

Conference provided collegial connection with other teachers who thought and taught like I did. It was a time to compare schedules, rooms, principals and students. We commiserated with those who had a worse schedule and were quietly (or not quietly) envious of those who seemed to have achieved the best teaching situation imaginable. Questions were welcomed and answered by the collective wisdom

from seasoned teachers with many years of teaching experience. Those who were ahead could reach back and encourage those who were struggling. Advice was given for everything and anything;  from handling the administration to handling the students, repertoire that always worked and what to avoid, how to deal with that one child who always….. and how to deal with parents. Unsure of where to send your alto xylophone for repair? Someone would happily supply that information. What kind of paint stays on the floor when creating a circle in the classroom? What to do about a horrible carpet? What kind of chairs, or no chairs at all? 

Someone was always there to give support, opinions and advice. Finally we were in a room full of other professionals who understood the day-to-day challenges of multiple classes, seeing large numbers of students every day, lesson plannning for 5 different grade levels with few planning periods (if any) in the day, opening the door to usher out one class while greeting the next, and trying to be just as pleasant and enthusiastic for class #7 as we were at the beginning of the day. The bottom line was that conference provided the support of our community, our musical family, our “peeps”.

New teachers often ask the same kinds of questions I did as a beginning teacher. They also have a lot more things to juggle and balance in today’s teaching climate so it is a good chance for those of us who are older to also ask questions and be supported by the younger generation!

Our MEA Conference in the early days was a three-day event. Things began on Thursday evening and ended on Saturday at noon. Conference planners made sure we had reading sessions (Thursday evening), meaningful session options all day Friday, concerts or social events to attend in the evening on Friday, and one final session and some shopping time on Saturday before winding things up at noon. It was almost a vacation to be away in a hotel for two nights and to spend the days with others who were, or at least, understood, that mysterious person called a “music teacher.” Thursday evening was a special part of the conference as we would meet and greet friends and colleagues. First year teachers would catch up with classmates that they had not seen since graduating in the spring. More seasoned teachers enjoyed meeting friends and colleagues from many years of conferences. Another part of Thursday evenings at conference included reading sessions for choral, band and string players. This was a chance to sing through samples of music that might make it into my own music programs, choirs and concerts. Even if the music were not suitable for our own teaching situations, it was a highlight to be able to experience the sound of singing in a room full of musicians. It was a joy to sing SATB songs with all parts being covered and sung well and SSA songs with soaring descants that actually soared when not dependent on our (my) alto vocal offerings.

As the years have progressed and I have gained more experience, it has been my turn to step up to the plate and share my expertise at conference sessions. I have presented my own original music, recorder teaching method I developed for my students, concert planning 101 and I have also enjoyed leading choral reading sessions with my colleagues. It doesn’t matter on which side of the music stand I end up, the choral reading sessions have always been a highlight of conference for me.

NSMEA - 3 Reading session

Thursday evening also provided the opportunity to get started on the shopping. In the early years conference offered an entire gym of vendors: publishers, music stores and vendors of all things music teachers would hope and dream of owning. I remember at least three or four music publishers with tables loaded down with printed music for every imaginable choral configuration. There would be a similar number of vendors for band music as well. It was a challenge to sift through all that music in the allotted “shopping times” or during breaks in the conference session schedule. These days (2020) there are fewer publishers even creating printed music and online offerings are so prevalent that the big publishers don’t make their way to visit Nova Scotia for a one-day conference. It is a loss for all of us on both sides of that equation.

In addition to printed music, teachers could purchase classroom instruments, risers, music novelties, band and orchestra instruments, method books, and all manner of music materials. If you were fortunate, you had money in hand from a benevolent administrator, or, better yet, you had your own music program budget. If you stayed through to Saturday there were often great deals to be had from vendors who didn’t want to pack up the materials they had brought and would offer discounts on those items. More than one xylophone has gone home at a discounted price as a result of those Saturday sales.

Donna Rhodenizer - Composer and Elementary Music Specialist

As a young composer, I had the opportunity to talk to the big publishers in the business about publishing my music. I was a nervous wreck approaching those well-seasoned publishers who were standing behind their vending tables to talk about my own early song-writing offerings.  I didn’t ever publish with them, but they encouraged me to continue writing and made suggestions of publishers who might be able to help me in my pursuit of becoming a published composer. I also received support and encouragement from my fellow music educators as they responded positively to my music. 

NSMEA conferences gave me a forum for presenting my music to “my people” first and gaining the experience and confidence to take it further afield. Conference was (and is) an important part of my music career as a teacher and as a composer.

The daytime sessions on Friday were amazing sources of information. Materials were not only presented, but we had the opportunity to try out games and songs with colleagues, giving us a better understanding of how they worked and what could go wrong. We had had similar sessions during classroom method courses at university, but at that time they were more theoretical. By the time we arrived at conference we had experienced class after class of real children in real learning settings. We were ready to get some answers to the questions that were raised from being in the real world!

Workshop Schedule - a full day !

   (Lots of variety and lots to learn)

NSMEA - Conference Workshop Sessions

In workshop sessions, teaching ideas and strategies were shared freely. Pens scratched furiously to get down all the pertinent information. Handouts were carefully tucked away, as valuable as gold, to be pored over and utilized in classrooms long after conference was over. We could choose sessions presented for choral, band and string programs. Choral stream sessions explored the big methodologies of Kodaly, Orff and Dalcroze; methodologies that existed as part of a dry university course sprang to life when explored with students or fellow teachers in a conference session. There were always more sessions from which to choose than there was time to attend them all: Singing games, How to create 101 lesson plans using only scarves, a bucket and a pencil; handbells; conducting; Mi’kmaq drumming; repertoire; technology; and the list goes on and on.  30 years after receiving handouts from some of those sessions, I would still pull them out and use them in my classroom. Now THAT is good value!

NSMEA - Conference Workshop Sessions
Donna Rhodenizer - O Canada HandBell Performance at NSMEA conference

Donna Rhodenizer directing her elementary school handbell choir

Friday evenings often involved concert presentations. Similar to the pressure of creating and presenting a Christmas concert so early in the year, I know it was a lot of work and pressure for the hosting area music teachers to plan and put on a concert for conference attendees. In addition, the audience would not be enthusiastic parents, but rather, a room full of fellow teachers who would know exactly what your performance would demonstrate, be it good, bad or otherwise! I like to think we were a supportive bunch, but the pressure would still be there to make a good impression. What a great experience to be able to see other music professionals in action and the results they were able to accomplish with their young performing ensembles. As a young teacher, seeing and hearing those performances were as valuable as many of the daytime sessions we would have attended.

If a concert were not offered, there would be the opportunity for a social gathering on Friday night. I remember attending dances (and marveling at how many musicians are not great at that endeavor. Perhaps we spend too much time on the playing side of the dance equation). I remember a costume party the year music and drama teachers combined their memberships for conference. There were also trivia nights, wine and cheese meet and greets, and other such events designed to give us a chance to unwind and have some fun.

In the early days, music teachers were one of only a few associations who chose to spread conference activities over three days. These days, our music conference has been reduced to a one-day event. For those with busy schedules this is probably easier to manage. However, we are missing out on a lot of fun things that we were able to experience when we were part of a three-day event. I remain grateful for all the things I was able to learn as a student, as a young teacher and as a seasoned teacher through the opportunities provided by my NSMEA.

Now I attend NSMEA conferences as an exhibitor. I am on the other side of the table when I see the familiar faces of colleagues and we talk about music pedagogy and teaching materials. I marvel at the new circumstances in which our teachers are delivering their musical expertise. I am thrilled to create music resources that allow me to continue to be part of the delivery of music to students in Nova Scotia - and now, to all parts of the globe.

Donna Rhodenizer - Composer and Music Publisher
Donna Rhodenizer - Composer - NSMEA trade-show booth

The NSMEA has been a part of my growth as a professional when I was teaching, it offered encouragement as I entered the forum of composing and it continues to support my creative process and the songs I create. I have been honoured to accept awards and recognition from my NSMEA peers for my efforts. There is a special spot in my heart for the NSMEA and the members with whom I share these memories and these professional opportunities. 

As I glance at my calendar page and see the empty spot on October 23, 2020 I remember over three decades of conferences. These memories have woven their way through my decades of teaching. Maybe I will write NSMEA on my calendar anyway, like I do for birthdays. I look forward to being back at conference again (in person) in the future; until then, we will meet online and via technology. Music teachers have always been a resilient bunch. It will take more than a world pandemic to keep us silent!

NSMEA - Oct 23, 2020 - calendar
Donna Rhodenizer - NSMEA - Lifetime Achievement Award

Keli Brewer, NSMEA President 

Donalda Westcott, CMEA President

presenting the

NSMEA Lifetime Achievement Award

 to Donna Rhodenizer

 October 2019

Composer, Elementary Music Specialist, Performer

Donna Rhodenizer is now retired after a 35+ year career as an elementary music education specialist. In addition to teaching, Donna is an active composer and creator of music resources for use in elementary classrooms and choirs (for singers of all ages) as well as a professional performer and recording artist as part of the singing duo, Donna & Andy.

Donna has been recognized by awards and nominations in all of her pursuits. Donna & Andy recordings of her original music for children have received East Coast Music and Music Nova Scotia awards and nominations, as well as a Juno nomination.

Donna has been recognized for her outstanding contribution to music education in her home province of Nova Scotia receiving the NS Music Educators’ Association Musica Viva Award and has also been awarded the Canadian Music Educators’ Jubilate Award of Merit for her significant contribution to music education in Canada. At the 2019 NSMEA conference she was honoured to receive the NSMEA Lifetime Achievement Award.

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