Perspective: Winter NAMM and the Best Tools for Schools…

Mike Lawson • • March 7, 2016

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I just returned from what I think was my twenty-something trip to Winter National Association of Music Manufacturers (NAMM) tradeshow. Frankly, I stopped counting a few years ago and now sometimes struggle to recall exactly when I first went to the mammoth mega-show of music industry manufacturers.

Among the many things I have to do at the country’s largest music products show is help hand out the “SBO Best Tools for Schools” awards. There seems to be some mystery around how this unfolds each year, because in the months leading up to the NAMM show, I get lots of calls and emails from companies who want to be nominated for the award or just fat out win it. Allow me to shed some light on the process, which I think will add extra value to the honor of garnering a “Best Tools for Schools” award.

First of all, you can’t nominate a company, though you are welcome to call a company to my attention before the show. The reason for this is that I personally don’t have anything to do with choosing the award recipients. This is a juried honor, and for the past two years that I’ve been part of this, I’ve been delighted to have this process chaired by the esteemed Karen Childress-Evans, Ed.D., the retired Director Of Visual and Performing Arts from the San Diego Unified School District and a lifelong violist and musician. She assembles a panel of music educators who scour the booths at the NAMM show for days, looking high and low for products that they believe are the most deserving and innovative for use in music education. I keep myself at a distance from that process, as to not influence their decisions.

On Saturday night after the show is over for the day, they meet in a boardroom at the Anaheim Hilton, where I show up long enough to thank them for their work, hand them the still blank category certificates that Dr. Childress-Evans and I both sign, and then I get out of there. On the table in front of the panel of jurists are stacks of literature from the many companies that were visited, and as I understand it, things can get quite animated as the teachers all pitch their favorites in each category and come to a consensus.

These teachers are selected for their experience, their grade levels from elementary through college level, their expertise in various types of music education topics. They make the selections, they make the arguments to their peers in the room, and they come to the consensus. This is not based on who advertises in SBO. This award has nothing to do with who I know or who knows me. No doubt I have friends at some of the winning companies, you can’t be in the music education and products business as long as I have and not, and I am always delighted when somebody I know at a company I like happens to win.

The bottom line, this is an honor bestowed by music educators just like you, the readers of SBO, which makes it “kind of a big deal” because its not something that can be bought, and its not a popularity contest that can be voted on by fans. When you read our feature this month profling the Best Tools for Schools winners for 2016, know that your peers chose these honors. When you see the winners of this award using the logo for it in their advertising materials, on their websites, and elsewhere, you can depend on that seal of approval and trust that real, hardworking music educators made that decision. This is why companies covet the honor. And this is why I’m proud to be part of giving it, even in the small role I play at the ceremony handing out the certificates as Dr. Childress-Evans and her educator panel announce the recipients and explain how they were chosen. Hope this clears things up for future awards.

If you’re a manufacturer of music products that you think are useful for school music programs, feel free to let me know, and I’ll pass it on as something for them to make sure is on the list, but its up to you to present the product to our jurists, who won’t necessarily tell you what they are up to when they visit your booth and look your products over and ask for literature.


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