Virtual Modern Band Summit: A Music Education Conference for the Moment

Mike Lawson • Modern Band • July 15, 2020

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For the past seven years, Little Kids Rock’s Modern Band Summit conference has been a music educator’s one-stop shop for professional learning—a joyful, celebratory affirmation of the core ethos of teaching, and a hotspot for classroom innovation through modern band. So what happens to a conference built on community and togetherness at a time when physical proximity isn’t possible?

When considering how to bring quality, professional learning and supportive community to teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Little Kids Rock found a remarkable similarity between the obstacles they were encountering, and the ones encountered in “virtual classrooms” every day. “We realized the questions we were asking ourselves about how to implement a conference from a distance were the same ones teachers were asking themselves about how to teach music during the pandemic,” said Little Kids Rock’s director of program operations Miranda Altman. And thus came an idea: hold a virtual conference that can function both as a forum for exploring the unique challenges teachers are facing in the immediate moment and as self-evident proof that technology can provide practical solutions to those challenges.

The new Virtual Modern Band Summit will run from July 15–17. Teachers will be able to enjoy the conference’s three days of professional learning, community building, and music-making from the comfort of their own homes, and for a fraction of the cost. The name Virtual Modern Band Summit does not simply refer to the format of the conference, but also its central topic: This year’s theme is “Music Education in a Time of Digital & Distance Disruption,” a concept that alludes to the particular challenges teachers encounter when they can’t be in the same room as their students—issues such as how to keep students connected and engaged from a distance, how to teach music when students do not own their own instruments, how to navigate and implement the overwhelming bevy of remote learning tools and platforms available, how to prevent the “summer slide” from extending into the school year, and how to reach the more than 9 million U.S. school children who lack internet access at home.

The dozens of teacher-led breakout sessions have always stood as the centerpiece of the Modern Band Summit in years past, and this year’s conference is no exception. “Teachers are on the front lines of innovation in this new world of virtual education, just as they were before the current crisis,” said Altman. At the Virtual Modern Band Summit, more than 30 educators from around the country will present their ideas, lesson plans, and strategies for distance education and demonstrate how attendees can replicate them in their own virtual or “blended learning” classrooms. Breakout sessions will tackle a wide variety of topics, including social-emotional learning, remote implementation of the modern band format, video lesson filming and editing, use of digital music production tools such as Soundtrap, body percussion, and hip-hop teaching for students without instruments at home, as well as a number of social justice topics, including sessions aimed at helping teachers combat prejudice and foster equity in the music classroom.

For newcomers to the key tenets of Little Kids Rock’s philosophy— modern band and Music as a Second Language—the conference will include a virtual version of Little Kids Rock’s Modern Band 101 workshop, a six-hour professional learning session that will help first-time attendees get acquainted with these pedagogical concepts and introduce foundational ideas and best practices for remote teaching and learning. Once teachers have taken the 101 workshops, they’ll become registered Little Kids Rock teachers, giving them free access to more professional learning sessions, Little Kids Rock’s private online community of over 1,500 educators, and partner sites such as the wildly popular Masterclass platform.

In addition to hundreds of educators, administrators, advocates, and thought leaders, the Virtual Modern Band Summit will feature several high-profile artists, who will discuss their careers, music education, and their insider perspectives on the music-making process. Included in the roster for this year are major figures in popular music such as Darryl McDaniels (one half of the iconic hip-hop duo Run DMC), legendary songwriter and producer Linda Perry, and longtime Bruce Springsteen co-writer, E-Street Band staple, Steven Van Zandt. Teachers who attend the Summit this year can look forward to enlightening keynote addresses and intimate discussions with these musical luminaries across the conference’s three days.

In addition to all the curricular and pedagogical knowledge teachers can glean from the sessions mentioned above, community remains an ever-present component of the Virtual Modern Band Summit. From virtual open mic sessions and small group social chats, to games where attendees can win prizes and morning yoga meets, the Summit is designed not only to provide teachers with a sense of camaraderie with fellow attendees that has the potential to last well beyond the conference, but also to act as an example of several ways to reduce student isolation and keep learners engaged with each other through music.

Little Kids Rock has priced conference registration at just $10 for trained Little Kids Rock teachers and $20 for newcomers (which includes access to the 101 workshop). The ease of participation and low cost have precipitated a massive response from teachers already, with initial projections for registration shattered within just a few weeks of the conference’s launch. The rapidly accelerated pace with which students have had to adapt to changes in their school lives cannot be understated and brings a tremendous duty to bear for educators if we are to move forward—to adapt along with them and meet them where they are. It’s imperative that teachers, administrators, districts, and school communities respond to the new set of student needs that have arisen as a result of this tumultuous time. For teachers who are interested in learning new skills, techniques, tools, and ideas to sustain and even improve the quality of music education next school year and beyond, the Virtual Modern Band Summit stands as an exceptional jumping-off point.

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