Thoughts from the Road at ACDA National Convention

SBO Staff • ChoralMarch 2017The Practical Conductor • March 20, 2017

By Brody McDonald

This is not the first article I’ve done from the road. Life experiences are inspiring, and few experiences are as inspiring as an American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) National Convention!

The first thing I must say is that if you have not ever attended an ACDA National Convention, you should. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it is time off work. There are challenges. However, it is well worth the sacrifice. If you can’t go soon, make it a plan for 4 or 6 years from now. The performances are mind-blowing and the sessions are top-notch. The networking is astounding. The ability to be around so many people who do what you do is affirming in and of itself . It is everything you hoped it would be. But let’s consider your year without conventions.

How often do we hear those great quotes like “If I had five minutes to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first three sharpening my axe,” or “if you don’t refill your pitcher you can’t fill anyone else’s cup?” they aren’t just trite sayings… they are truth. If you are anything like me, your schedule is jam-packed. You work hard to do a great job, and you fill your calendar with extras for your students. Maybe you have kids of your own at home, side interests, and other things that keep you busy. Conventions are the time we set aside to watch great concerts, learn new things, and catch up with colleagues. You know… the things we don’t have time for in our busy lives.

One of the concerts I attended at this convention was a performance of Carmina Burana. It was fantastic. I was so musically inspired and refreshed. The students who were with me felt musically awakened. As we walked back to the hotel after the concert, I felt a sharp stab of remorse. The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra had performed Carmina earlier this year and I didn’t go. Not only did I not take any students, I failed to promote it and I personally failed to go. I failed.

Coming to convention is great for refilling my pitcher, but it isn’t often enough. I realize that I rely on convention because someone else has done all the work for me. They have set the calendar, they have arranged the speakers, and they have produced the concerts. What are some things you can do at home to get pieces of that conference rejuvenation and keep your axe sharp all year long?

Check the concert schedule of your nearest local orchestra. Sometimes they will allow schools to attend a dress rehearsal at a discount if money is a factor.

  • Keep tabs on area collegiate ensembles… they might not publicize outside the campus, but those concerts are usually free and a great way to expose your students to advanced singing.
  • Set up buddy concerts with neighboring schools.
  • Arrange a professional development day to job shadow another director in your area. You’ll learn a few tricks but also see that you are not alone in terms of day-to-day problems.
  • Arrange a monthly “happy hour” for area directors. Much of the learning at convention comes from relaxed conversation with colleagues.
  • Use online forums to share ideas and ask for help. Facebook has many groups like “I’m a choir director” and “music teachers” in addition to the more formal channels like ACDA.
  • Consider a scheduled Google hangout with teachers from around the state/country you have met at convention. Keep things going!
  • Check your local movie theater to see if they host the live performances from the Metropolitan Opera/Broadway. That’s an easy one for yourself or to take students for an accessible and social, musical experience.
  • Hire a guest clinician. If Mohammed can’t go to the mountain…
  • Use your area colleagues as “fun Uncles.” I have a great relationship with J. D. Frizzell, as do our groups, Eleventh Hour and OneVoice. J. D. spent 15 minutes with my kids before our ACDA sound check, and that outside voice gave them a real shot in the arm. All year long I play Dad, and “fun Uncle J. D.” was able to lift spirits in a moment. On other occasions, it is refreshing/rejuvenating change for me to be “fun Uncle Brody” for a time.

There’s nothing new in this article, and perhaps you are better about these things than am I. However, if you are like me, take some time to get ahead of the curve. Look at your calendar and those of the choirs in your area to forecast a calendar of regular opportunities for yourself. Be the catalyst to build community with your colleagues. Set aside time to fill your pitcher.

Brody McDonald is the director of choirs at Kettering Fairmont High School. Under his leadership, his curricular choirs have consistently earned the highest ratings at state level contest and have been featured at numerous conventions. He is at the forefront of the a cappella movement, serving as a founding member and the vice president of the A Cappella Education Association. His a cappella ensemble, Eleventh Hour, was the first high school group ever to compete on NBC’s The Sing-Off. Brody is also the author of A Cappella Pop: A Complete Guide to Contemporary A Cappella Singing. Brody has recently joined the faculty at Wright State University as director of a cappella studies. For more information, please visit

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