Back to a Better Normal

Thomas Palmatier • InServiceJune 2021 • June 12, 2021

As progress in vaccinating Americans continues and more of us return to in-person music instruction, there is talk in all walks of life about getting “back to normal.” However, why should we turn the clock back to 2019 when we have learned so much in the past year?

I do a lot of teaching to the west of Denver where a major snow event can happen at any time. The development of remote and hybrid learning has allowed our schools to not miss time for snow days. When students miss school because of illness, or even better, to take advantage of a great educational experience, they can keep up with their classmates through remote learning. Our districts/schools will continue to offer remote learning even when full in-person instruction returns in the fall. We’ve made the investments and learned many lessons. Why go back to “normal?”

The Conn-Selmer Division of Education (DoE) [] previously had a robust program to provide in-service training to music educators through its summertime Conn-Selmer Institute (CSI) and by paying the expenses to allow their Conn-Selmer Educational Clinicians (I am one, BTW) to appear at numerous events each year. During 2020, all of those activities stopped. This led the Conn-Selmer DoE team to reimagine how they could better serve music educators using the currently available technologies. This led them to conclude they could come back with a “Better Normal” availing many more educators to the benefits from their programs, especially in less well-resourced schools.

I recently chatted with Erin Cole Steele, their director of educational programs, and Elisa Janson Jones, director of operations for the Conn-Selmer Institute. It was clear to me Conn-Selmer’s new approach to serving music educators was not: “We were forced to do this by the pandemic,” but rather, “The pandemic revealed some better ways of doing things.” I have attended and presented at CSI numerous times. It’s a fantastic event and the in-person connections and camaraderie are wonderful. However, it “sold out” very quickly because of the limited capacity; the bulk of the attendees were from schools that could afford to send their teachers. In other words, a huge number of music educators who perhaps needed help the most, would never be able to attend. CSI Connect can accommodate an unlimited number of attendees. They can elect to “attend” the entire event at a cost less than one quarter of the tuition for the in-person CSI (and no travel expenses!) or they can pay for individual days ala carte. The in-person CSI offered attendees various tracks (Band, Strings, New Teachers, Collegiate, Administrators). CSI Connect will do the same, but all sessions will be recorded so attendees can later “attend” sessions (through later replay) outside of their track. They are also adding marching arts, student leadership, and parent booster sessions. An entire day will be devoted to social emotional learning, diversity, equity, inclusion, recruitment and retention, technology resources and teacher longevity/motivation/wellness.

CSI Connect will feature a world-class faculty. The CSI Connect presenters will not only number far beyond what was possible for the in-person CSI, they will represent the wonderful diversity of America.

The previous model for deployment of the Conn-Selmer Educational Clinicians was, a school or district would put together an event and then ask C-S to subsidize the clinician’s fee. I did many of these and they were great! However, they tended to be primarily in the schools with adequate funding and staffing to put these events together; again, rarely serving the music educators that needed the help the most. In the future, the Educational Clinicians will be invited to prepare clinic videos the DoE will provide to educators at a minimal expense. Schools with limited funding can take advantage of a variety of clinics throughout the year from world-class clinicians.

In addition to these two major DoE programs (CSI Connect and Clinicians), there will be continuing major investments in online teacher resources, event management, contests and festivals and “communities.” The communities are designed to support music educators, students, and parents through monthly webinars. Currently, marching arts, music administration collaborative, parent booster, student leadership and HBCU are presently active communities with others on the way.

One may look at the way Conn-Selmer DoE intends to support music education in the future as losing the in-person connections enjoyed at CSI and at live/in person clinics. The past year has taught us personal connections can be made online. We can teach music remotely. By using these tools, we can reach music educators and students in schools throughout the nation regardless of their location or resourcing. As that wise educator Mr. Spock said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Congratulations to the many organizations, like Conn-Selmer, who aren’t going back to “normal,” but instead are advancing to a “better normal.”

When asked to comment for this article, Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, Conn-Selmer’s vice president of education said, “Kudos to Colonel Palmatier for his many kind thoughts concerning the Conn-Selmer Division of Education. He continues to serve our profession by sharing his many valuable tried-and-true insights with the music education community. We are proud to have him with us as a key member of the C-S family of outstanding clinicians.”


Conn-Selmer is offering SBO readers a 20% discount for CSI Connect. Visit and use the code: csieducators20


Next month will be Edition 7 of Colonel’s Book Club and we’ll review Understanding How We Learn. Please send me ideas for future articles!


The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!