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Reports | Spring 2016

Reflections on the 2015 CMN Gathering

Love Continues to Grow

I have been reminded that one of the surest ways to experience the essence and immediacy of the Children’s Music Network and the profound benefits of CMN membership is to attend an International Conference. It’s a time to steep oneself in the power of song, the pleasure of musical friendships, and the joy of being part of a learning community. At Zion, in the accommodating Conference Center, surrounded by dunes and ridges, oak savannas, and sand prairies on the southern shores of Lake Michigan, I was also reminded that attending CMN conferences is an entryway into a sense of place, a discovery of America, and in this case, an immersion into the Midwest with all of its sensibilities. At Zion, one feels shored up in the country’s interior, yet opened up into the expansiveness of America’s “fourth coast”—for as far as the eye can see, there are only the waters of Lake Michigan that appear to go on forever.

Any CMN gathering typically attracts its largest pool of attendees from its own environs, and 2015 was no exception. Having attended such gatherings only intermittently in recent years, I found the strength, organization, collegiality, and generosity of CMN in the Midwest a pleasant and unexpected surprise. It was impossible not to feel moved by the inclusiveness in the air and the friendly welcome extended by members who greeted those of us who’d traveled from afar.

While it’s easy at Zion to remain completely within the intimate world of CMN, we shared the Conference Center with others. On several occasions, I found myself in the company of a couple from Spain (in the lobby and on the trails) who had opted to stay at the facility while touring Chicago to see the city from the vantage point of its natural surroundings. I struck up several conversations with them, my halting Spanish notwithstanding, and eventually found myself inviting them to join us for our Saturday evening round-robin.

Sitting near the front, singing along with all my heart, I noticed them quietly enter the back of the room. As the evening unfolded, with the children—some in pajamas—eagerly participating, and the love unfolding through song after song, I could tell they were visibly moved. For the rest of the night, I felt as if I were experiencing each moment twice: once for myself, and a second time as if perceiving each song through their eyes and ears. During a break, Suni Paz and I went back to speak with them. “Our friends can’t understand why we come here,” they told us. “They have negative opinions of Americans. But for us, a community like this is the legacy of the 1960s. These are the children carrying on that hopeful moment into the world. It’s why we keep coming back here.”

“Here” changes each year, but the spirit of the gatherings does not. At Zion I was reminded that CMN members come together to be inspired, connect with like-minded peers, and come home with new ideas. Innovations introduced at conferences—mentoring as a tool for advancing the work, informal counseling for first-time attendees, and a new Code of Ethics—combined with an ardently utilized and well-archived listserv and in-depth contributions to children’s music literacy as codified in Pass It On! all bring CMN closer to the vanguard of community building, professional development, emotional intelligence, and music education.

I was reminded that as CMN turns inward to gather in international community—year after year in a spirit of learning—the ripple effects extend outward, the organization is renewed, and the love continues to grow.