For composers and conductors who are involved in the wind band genre, there are few events like the Midwest Clinic. Occurring annually during the week before Christmas in Chicago, Midwest has been a staple destination for anyone interested in writing for wind band for the simple reason that there are so many conductors in one place at one time. Works that get performed there by public school and collegiate ensembles get heard by band directors from all over the country. There are hundreds of exhibit booths where all of the major publishers and retailers display their latest catalogs as well, chatting in the halls and trying to gauge where tastes are headed. All in all, thousands of pre-college and college students, educators, and professionals create a massive scrum of lanyards, tote bags, free CD’s, fried food, and—most importantly for composers—networking opportunities.
It’s been interesting over the years to witness a great many viewpoints on the idea of networking—some composers take to it like fish to water, while others see it as a necessary evil and others still cringe at the very mention of the word. Attitudes toward intentional social interaction between professional colleagues in order to create mutually beneficial opportunities to collaborate seem to be often based both on the individual’s comfort level with socializing and the perceived value of that interaction; if the composer doesn’t see any benefit from actively engaging with others, they probably won’t want to do so. In addition, there’s the thought that one’s music should speak for itself and the creator shouldn’t be required to actively pursue performances, commissions, or other collaborative activities.
While online communities such as Facebook and Twitter can be an aid in creating and fostering relationships, it is fascinating how those digital connections can become enhanced (or not, as the case may be) at events like the Midwest Clinic through face-to-face meetings. I’ve had many colleagues describe their experiences meeting people with whom they have interacted on a weekly or daily basis for years and finally get to meet in person; once that real connection is made, usually the chance for strong collaboration increases dramatically. For as much as we think we know one another via online profiles or personas, most of us tend to wait to begin to have close professional partnerships with people until after we’re able to meet and interact with them in the same room.
The thing about networking that needs to be pointed out is that it is but one ingredient in a composer’s career or life (the two are not necessarily the same thing). There are plenty—plenty!—of examples of composers who quietly write amazing works that may only get a few performances, but those works and performances are recognized and praised nonetheless. Neither a vast collegial network nor the creation of an incredible piece of music are in and of themselves guarantors of success, but finding one’s own place in the world and the right methods with which one interacts with that world should be a goal for us all.