Planning Virtual Events: Thoughts from the National Leadership Assembly

NAfME Leadership Assembly: KMEA Executive Director Report

John  Taylor, KMEA Executive Director

Each year in late June, the 53 Executive Directors from the MEA Affiliates (50 states, District of Columbia, European, and India) hold meetings to discuss pertinent issues.  The meetings were held virtually this year due to the pandemic.  The relationships among the State Executives provides a medium for communication that helps improve service to music education throughout our organization.

Some of the topics discussed this year were related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  These topics included the following.

  1. Virtual Conventions – Several of our MEAs have smaller summer conventions, and their experiences in running virtual sessions were insightful.  Some states with conventions before February 1, 2021, have already decided to hold their meetings virtually.  There are many virtual platforms designed for virtual conventions.  Their advantages (and disadvantages) vary greatly.  Platforms as common as Zoom and Google can be used.  Other platforms have varied options and ease of use, but can be expensive ($10,000-$40,000 or more).  However, these costs are similar to what is paid to rent onsite meeting facilities.
  2. Virtual Auditions – Some state MEAs have started their All-State process already, and have used virtual auditions.  We are fortunate in Kansas that Troy Johnson, KMEA Technology Manager, has developed a virtual audition platform called Festival Scores.  However, this platform does not accommodate sight-reading, which is an issue that needs to be discussed.  There are companies that sell platforms for auditions.
  3. Virtual Honor Ensembles – Providing honor ensembles with virtual performance opportunities is challenging and usually requires adapting the typical performance format.  Wisconsin has a summer camp for their All-State ensembles, then the ensembles perform live in October.  Their camp this summer was virtual and was quite successful.  They included options to communicate with composers, the ensemble conductors actually conducted and the students performed from their homes, and virtual sectionals were held with the sectional coach having the ability to unmute students, listen, and provide feedback.  The students also had virtual social time.  Wisconsin will have virtual concerts in October.  Each ensemble has selected 8 minutes of music to perform, and the remainder of the hour concert will be filled with interviews and other programming.

The Executives also discussed legal issues with a NAfME lawyer related to force majeure cancellations of convention facility and hotel contracts.  It is important to begin negotiations early with personnel in these facilities.  The greatest bargaining chip is that MEAs use these facilities each year, and managers of the facilities are willing to work with the MEA negotiator to assure their business in the future.  Some facility managers are allowing MEAs to transfer their deposits to the next year’s convention so that these funds are not lost.

These discussions led to a Zoom meeting with the Executives in July solely for the discussion of virtual meetings.  During this meeting, two task forces were formed to gather information about virtual convention platforms and virtual audition/concert processes for honor ensembles.

We have an Executive Directors organization here in Kansas which I chair that includes the seven District Executive Directors.  We have meetings in July and February.  Our upcoming meeting on July 24 will include the review of our account books with our KMEA CPA, followed by a discussion about District meetings and auditions for the fall.  It is possible that these auditions and even these meetings would be virtual.  Also, since county Health Departments set the standards for each county, it is possible that some District meetings might be held in person and others will meet virtually.  Currently, we are planning on a face-to-face In-Service Workshop in February, but simultaneously we are having discussions for the logistics of virtual events.