I recently returned from the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference, hosted by Dr. Amy Schumaker Bliss at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. It was a fantastic four days, full of great performances and presentations. Congratulations and thank-you to the IWBC and Rowan University for hosting a terrific event! While I didn’t attend everything – it simply isn’t possible at these type of conferences – I did make it to multiple concerts and presentations, and also ran an exhibit booth for Mountain Peak Music.
Black Bayou Brass performed on the first day of the conference, and our program of new music for brass trio by women composers was very well received. It was once again our pleasure to perform Gina Gillie’s Scenes from the Bayou, as well as other works by Gillie and Adriana Figueroa Mañas. We shared the recital with a faculty horn/tuba/piano trio from Youngstown State University: Stacie Mickens (horn, and fellow UW-Madison alum), Brian Kiser (tuba), and Caroline Oltmanns (piano). They performed two works by James Wilding, Distill for horn and piano, and Melencolia for horn, tuba, and piano. Both pieces were really interesting, and expertly performed. Wilding’s music was new to me, and it is certainly worthy of further study. On first listening I found his use of various colors in all three instruments particularly noteworthy.
After the brass trio performance, I spent some time setting up the Mountain Peak Music display, and rehearsing with Gina Gillie, Sarah Gillespie, and Stacie Mickens for our Saturday performance of Gina’s Horn Quartet No. 1. This challenging, multi-movement piece is a substantial addition to the repertoire, and is published by Veritas Musica Publications. Check out the YouTube demo recording, you won’t be disappointed!
We put the entire 18-minute work together in only three rehearsals, and the Saturday performance went very well. On a personal note it was great fun getting to rehearse and catch up with my former UW-Madison classmates.
My time on Thursday and Friday was spent in quartet rehearsals, at the exhibit booth, and at presentations and concerts. Here are a few highlights.
New Music: One of my favorite parts of any conference is hearing new music. Although I heard (and performed) several new works at the 2017 IWBC, one that stood out was Imaginings, by Dorothy Gates. This single-movement composition for horn and piano was composed for and premiered by Michelle Baker, recently retired 2nd horn of the Metropolitan Opera. Ms. Baker sounded fantastic, displaying great agility and expressiveness throughout the three-octave range the piece requires. I enjoyed it so much that I bought a copy for myself and am planning to program it on an upcoming recital this fall. Be on the lookout for this work in the future, I think it’s going to get played a lot!
Presentations: There was quite an array of interesting topics at this conference, ranging from practice and teaching strategies to discussions about auditions, gender, and race. I particularly enjoyed Dr. Stacie Mickens’ presentation on “Positive Practice Strategies” and a panel on Entrepreneurship with Mary Bowden (trumpet soloist, founding member of Seraph Brass), Beth Mitchell (freelance tubist and teacher in Los Angeles), Michael Parker (tubist with Monumental Brass Quintet, owner of Parker Mouthpieces), and Anna Skrupky (Director of Rowan Prep program, horn performer and teacher and UW-Madison alum). Dr. Mickens is Associate Professor of Horn at Youngstown State University, and presented some very solid strategies for effective practicing. I was not familiar with one of the sources she referenced, Bruce Kaplan’s Practicing for Artistic Success: The Musician’s Guide to Self-Empowerment, but will definitely be reading it in the future. Kaplan’s book lays out a unique, thorough, and systematic approach to practicing.
The Entrepreneurship panel was equally informative, and each person brought a unique perspective to the topic. Here are some of the common threads I heard in their remarks:
- Don’t be afraid to pursue your artistic and professional goals.
- Stand up for yourself, but be nice! You will continue to run into former colleagues, classmates, etc. throughout your career.
- Familiarize yourself with a variety of technology in order to stay organized and promote your career. These can include: websites, audio/video recording and editing, social media, and more.
Exhibits: I didn’t have the opportunity to visit many of the other exhibits, but based on talking with visitors to the Mountain Peak Music table there were a number of big and small companies represented at the conference. Horn exhibitors included Balu Musik, Siegfried’s Call, Baltimore Brass, Patterson Hornworks, Houghton Horns, and “big-box” companies Conn-Selmer and Yamaha. I really wanted to try the new Geyer model horns from Patterson, but alas I did not get the chance. Maybe next time! One issue that I noticed, and also heard mentioned by other exhibitors, was location. Most of us were tucked away in individual rooms, somewhat removed from the flow of traffic. As I heard one exhibitor put it, conference attendees “did not have to walk past our booth to get to anything.” To some extent this was not entirely within the control of the conference hosts. One generally cannot alter the layout of a building. However, it would have been nice if the exhibits could have been more centrally located. On a positive note, one really great idea was the use of “Gift Coupons” for competition winners. These gift cards were issued by the IWBC to the winners, and could only be used at the exhibit booths. At the end of the conference, the IWBC reimbursed exhibitors for the coupons spent at their booths. This is a fantastic idea because it encourages participation in the competitions, and drives traffic to the exhibit booths – a win for everyone! I have not seen this concept employed at other conferences, but it is something to think about for other similar events.
In closing I think the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference was a great success, and I encourage any and all brass players to consider attending the next one!