Music conference brings two days of free concerts

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Embassy Theatre President and CEO Kelly Updike says the Embassy welcomes free concerts as a component of a music educators conference. “Part of our strategic planning and our mission is to be the region’s theater … ” she said.

A celebration of music will draw about 1,000 educators to downtown Fort Wayne from Jan. 11-13. The Indiana Music Education Association Professional Development Conference at the Grand Wayne Center will attract hundreds more guests, performers and spectators as the program spills over into free handbells, chimes, choir and band concerts at the Embassy Theatre, First Presbyterian Church and Allen County Public Library.

“Fort Wayne is fantastic for us,” said Lane Velayo, executive director of the IMEA. “They do a great job of rolling out the red carpet for us and the layout of the meeting and convention facilities in downtown Fort Wayne is just advantageous for our attendees to see each other and to walk and attend sessions, especially in January. And to host events in the Embassy Theatre … it’s just something we can’t find too often in Indiana. We feel like we have a very good opportunity.”

Norwell High School band director Cory Kelley is helping to coordinate the 100-member All-State Honor Band’s Embassy concert for the fourth year.

“It’s a magical opportunity for the kids to be seen on that stage with the home crowd, so to speak,” Kelley said. “We’ve had a number of our students go to the concerts to support our students. I’ve seen that from other schools as well, and it always makes it that much more exciting for our kids.”

“It’s a big honor for us to be one of the big venues for the IMEA,” said Kelly Updike, the Embassy’s president and CEO. “It’s part of our mission and it also boosts the profile of Fort Wayne and our ability to host conferences and events like this. It’s good collaboration between venues and Visit Fort Wayne as well, and I’m always delighted to see the young people of our state and know that this is the perfect setting, we think, to honor their music achievements.

“Part of our strategic planning and our mission is to be the region’s theater, and that means the theater where everyone in the community has been into the building. We are doing more with our educational programming as well as bringing in more entertainers and we have a wide variety of ticket pricing with events that will attract the demographics of the whole region.”

In this case, the free events are accessible to a variety of music interests from the entire state. The IMEA — formerly the Indiana Music Educators Association — has been gathering its educator members, their students and a host of supporters in the Summit City for about 20 years.

“That’s students elementary to college age, parents and community members and music educators from throughout the state,” Velayo said.

“All of our performances are free and open to the public and we definitely invite the public. When universities perform they are welcome to invite their alumni, the students are invited to welcome their grandparents, cousins and aunts and uncles to Fort Wayne for this cultural explosion of our weekend in January, right downtown.”

Norwell’s Kelley said many northeast Indiana schools will be represented in the All-State Honors Band. Kelly and Bedford-North Lawrence band director Jim Jones oversee selection of that honors group. “It’s a pretty big event for them. We have approximately 100 students, from the southern tip of Indiana to up north,” Kelley said. This year’s band will include northeast Indiana students from Adams Central, East Noble, Homestead, Huntington North, Northwood and Norwell high schools.

Applications come from hundreds of students at schools whose staff members hold IMEA memberships. Hundreds of students apply to participate in paid auditions. Those who have won honors in competitions have an advantage. Other criteria include director recommendations and assessments. “We try to get every school represented,” Kelley said.

This marks the 26th year of the honor band. “We start rehearsals Thursday night and we have things planned for them, so it’s not just rehearsal,” Kelley said. “It’s a very well rounded experience for them. Saturday morning we get to rehearse for a little bit in the Embassy. Hopefully there will be flowers and cheers and lots of applause.”

Well-known band composer Robert W. Smith will lead the clinic and conduct the honors band. Smith’s “The Divine Comedy” was central to the Homestead High School marching band’s recent state-champion show. “Every band has played his music,” Kelley said. “It should be a fun-filled weekend for the students.”

Velayo said the Fort Wayne conference draws a good attendance from the northeast corner of the state. “Homestead’s parent booster group performs a lot of the logistics at our registration desk,” he said. The conference also relies on area schools for equipment, risers, percussion equipment and stands. “It’s a really active partnership with area high schools and middle schools, and we appreciate that,” Velayo said.

He said several hundred people from northeast Indiana will attend the conference. “It’s a relatively low-cost opportunity given that ours is the largest music professional development event,” he said.

The 2018 conference will debut the All-State Handbell Choir, and conductor Jeffrey Scott Doebler hopes the innovation will find a permanent place in the IMEA lineup.

“Handbells is an area that continues to grow in the field of music education, and I felt like it was time to move it into a more challenging spotlight for the students,” Doebler said. The IMEA board accepted his proposal and he began issuing invitations and reviewing candidates by way of recommendations.

About 12 students will perform in January. Students perform in school or church handbell choirs. Most come from the Floyd Knobs area north of Louisville or from the Indianapolis area. The choir might expand in future years, Doebler said; live auditions might be held.

“We’re hoping that other states will see this program and adopt similar programs,” he said.

Doebler’s tentative, seven-song repertoire includes a premiere, “Glockenklagen” by Jesse Ayers.

Bishop Dwenger High School band director Don Cochran will lead IMEA-member educators in a program at 11 a.m. Jan. 12 at the Grand Wayne Center. Concerning “My First Job as a Band Director,” Cochran writes: “This program focuses on the challenges I’ve encountered over my career as a band director. From the first moment you get your job, a huge piece of your planning takes place over the summer before school is even in session.” Specifics will range from band budgeting and transportation to “Rewarding students / finding the little successes.”

Homestead High School band director Brad Wadkins will lead his colleagues in a program at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 12. His topic will be “Putting Your Marching Band Show on the Field in Record Time.” In his course description, Wadkins writes, “The ultimate goal is to achieve the highest quality in your final performances of the season.”