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by Jim Meredith, Director of Bands, Sandusky Middle School, Lynchburg, Virginia

In the film Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, acts on a voice he hears and builds a baseball field in a cornfield in Iowa. As a result, all of his baseball heroes from the past come back and play baseball for him on that field.

I have taught middle school band for 37 years and this past week I had a professional experience that has inspired and motivated me to be a better teacher. No, I did not hear any voices, but I did attend The 64th Annual Midwest Clinic in Chicago. You should plan right now to attend the next clinic in December and here is why. I always enjoy the Virginia MEA In-Service Conference with its exhibitors and outstanding performing groups from across the state. We usually have around 100 vendors in the exhibition hall at the VMEA event. The Midwest Clinic offers 400+ vendors. Don’t misread this. By no means am I downplaying state conferences. We should all support VMEA because it is inspirational by itself. But just imagine this state conference multiplied 5 times with performing groups and clinicians from all over the world!

If you go to Chicago you will have many opportunities to commune with teachers, professional players, composers, conductors, and with vendors from the business industry that supports our profession. For instance, on Thursday of The 2010 Midwest Clinic, I ran into Jay Friedman, principal trombone of the Chicago Symphony, in the exhibit hall. We shook hands and I thanked him for his leadership in the trombone world and for all those wonderful recordings with the Chicago Symphony. Here is a man who has played under some of the great conductors of the world like Sir Georg Solti, Leonard Bernstein, Fritz Reiner, Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, and others giving me his time. Later that same day the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass presented a concert for us featuring the music of Gabrieli and Grainger to name a few. To those of you who know brass, is there anything better than the CSO Brass? After that concert I got to personally greet Dale Clevenger, one of the great symphonic horn players in the world. Both he and Friedman were gracious and appreciative of the role of school band directors.

Back in the exhibit hall, I was talking with a baton maker when I felt a gentle punch to my shoulder by a passerby. It was composer Sam Hazo whom I had met at our state conference in November. He remembered me. The list of contacts goes on and on.

Like me, in the past year you may have gone to and watched the incredible Seika Girls High School Band from Fukoka City, Japan with their wonderful director Yoshihisa Fujishige. When I saw that they were one of the featured groups at The Midwest Clinic there was no question that I would attend just to see this group if nothing else. After making my travel arrangements, I realized that their performance was on Saturday morning just two hours before my return flight. There was no way for me to hear their performance and get to O’Hare Airport without paying an exorbitant fee to change flights. I was very disappointed. On Friday morning I found out that the Seika Girls High School Band was rehearsing that night from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in McCormick Place. About 5:00 p.m., I stepped into the rehearsal room, which was empty, and sat down. I had no idea if it was permissible for me to be there. There were just a few chairs for observers, most likely for parents and guests. I feared that someone might enter and tell me that this rehearsal was closed and that I would have to leave. It would have been very disappointing to travel all the way to Chicago and not to have heard this great band.

The first person that came into the room was Chief Warrant Officer Stephen Giove, conductor of the Marine Band of Okinawa, followed by Yoshihisa Fujishige. They immediately walked over to me. CWO Giove asked me my name and introduced me to Mr. Fujishige, who bowed and handed me one of his cards. He was “honored” to have me sit in on his rehearsal. For the next three hours, I watched this little man work his magic with an energy and non-stop activity that reminded me of Mick Jagger onstage. I sat just 20 feet from the podium and took it all in. And then the Boston Brass entered the room, stationed themselves between me and the Seika Band, and for the next half hour rehearsed their piece with the girls. There I sat in the same room with two of the great ensembles of the world – great artists working together within an arms reach. And then, composer Philip Sparke came in to work them on one of his pieces. Next, composer Julie Giroux came in and observed them playing one of her latest works, offering them some comments at the end. After the rehearsal, Mr. Fujishige graciously had his photo taken with me. No, I did not get to hear the Seika Girls High School Band in concert but I got something better. I spent three hours with one of the world’s great bands and great high school conductors, and now I am in email communication with Mr. Fujishige. Where else but at The Midwest Clinic could this have happened? I felt like Ray Kinsella.

My comments have been band-oriented because I am a band director. But those same experiences await other directors. I have talked with other music educators who have had separate but similar adventures. The organization of the clinic is superb.

If you want to experience an environment where instrumental music educators are valued and appreciated for what we do then The Midwest Clinic is for you. You will get recharged and come home so pumped up that you can’t wait to get back to school. But the single greatest aspect of The Midwest Clinic experience is the accessibility of these great musicians. The gracious nature of the composers, conductors, and world class players is genuine, inspiring, and it is nonstop. Like the baseball field in the cornfield in Iowa, for instrumental music educators The Midwest Clinic is where dreams come true.

Jim Meredith is the Director of Bands at Sandusky Middle School in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Sandusky Middle School Band performed under his direction at The 1990 Midwest Clinic. Meredith was recently honored by the Virginia Music Educators Association, which named him “2010 Virginia Music Educator of the Year.”

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