I've been home from Colorado for over a week, and it's been two weeks since the conference started, but I'm finally getting around the writing a recap of my experiences.
For those who don't know (read: most folks), the Association for Popular Music Education was formed in its nascent state in 2010 to advance the aims of popular music education in all levels of education in the US (and abroad!).
The Association holds an annual conference inside Mount Rushmore...I mean, at a location congruent with a university that has a strong popular music program. This year, it was held in Denver, Colorado, on the campus of the University of Colorado - Denver, where there is a strong popular music curriculum present. Previous sites have included Boston (Berklee) and Miami (University of Miami).
Surely by now you are wondering what we discussed at this particular gathering. In reality, I further question what we did not discuss. Presentations ranged from the extremely hands on (and indescribably useful!!!) to the more esoteric, regarding transforming habitus and other research topics in popular music education. I learned about starting a refugee choir that sings pop songs and about data sets (taken from Florida counties!) that try to understand why students of specific demographics leave music programs. I gained a completely new & different respect for DJ culture and started to learn about Braille music notation. I saw student ensembles performing popular music and adult/faculty ensembles performing popular music.
Suffice to say, it was pretty amazing.
Not only that, but I genuinely felt like I'd found the Island of Misfit Toys (just without any crying) at this conference. I had been pretty anxious going into the trip. I'd never been to Denver before. I was travelling by myself. I did not know a single soul who was attending other than me, only knowing my friend Seth had attended the year before & had good things to say about it. As a contrast, my regular conference is the Florida Music Educators Association conference in January, where I hug a long unseen classmate or colleague on average every 15 minutes for three days. But at APME I found a group of people who, while they're still delineating their purpose & mission, were incredibly welcoming and so helpful. I got so much information and feedback from so many people that it was overwhelming. And so much of it was brand new, things I'd never even considered before and definitely not discussed at conferences before.
In all honesty, sometimes in other music education organizations, I feel like a peon, even ten years into my career. Maybe I haven't made the right friends or professional contacts or gotten the desired results from my ensembles, and that's why I feel that way.
But APME? It was a conference full of unicorns, gathering in one place to talk about the unusual stuff that we do, and having an absolute blast doing so. I never felt unwelcome or unworthy.
I got to hear from John, who does amazing work with the SoundTrap software in Michigan, and met Meredith, who is a SoundTrap ambassador. I heard about amazing programs around the country that I plan on using as a model. I learned about how Bjork's Biophilia is being used as an educational tool in schools around the world. (Y'all, that particular Bjork album came with lesson plans. No joke.) I met Jessica and other amazing singers who specialize in vocal health outside of the classical idiom. I got a lot more information about the genesis of #HipHopEd and met Jarritt, with whom I share many friends, and Mark, a DJ turned educator in Harlem. I heard DJ Manik explain how exactly his art form works and I will say, even as someone who has never been any sort of fan of electronic music, he made a believer out of me. I met folks & students from Berklee who were terrific representatives of the field. I attended a session on Punk Pedagogies (and my brain retroactively exploded back in my sophomore year of college). I got a lot more information on Little Kids Rock, an organization that I am hoping my school can partner with, and even got to speak to their Executive Director. Heck, I ended up at dinner with him and a large group of people one evening during the conference.
And initially via Twitter, I met my new friend and conference buddy Megan, who has the most interesting job of anyone I met: she works at a high school for incarcerated youth in North Dakota. Needless to say, she's tough as nails and has stories for years. We even did some social media strategizing before we left, and began the #popmused chat on Twitter, which is already off to a very successful start.
I had an amazing time in Denver, and the best part about this particular conference is that it's just beginning. If you're interested in popular music in the classroom and you want to be around like-minded people, please consider joining the organization. Benefits include PDF access to the Journal of Popular Music Education (first published just this past spring; cue my brain retroactively exploding back in graduate school). The dates and location for the next conference have not yet been announced (despite my constant haranguing), but I hope many more people will join in the discussion next year.