January 03, 2022 I Event
Midwest Clinic Buzzes Back
The Midwest Clinic International Band, Orchestra and Music Conference returned live Dec. 15–18, 2021, in Chicago, surviving and thriving despite the then-looming threat of the omicron variant of COVID-19. Attendance was good, as a diverse mix of students and educators mixed with retailers, suppliers, publishers and more. Once one made their way through the giant complex that is McCormick Place they found a trade floor filled with rows upon rows of instruments of all shapes and sizes — and even some pretty outlandish band uniforms.
John Mlynczak, vice president of music education and technology for Hal Leonard, described Midwest enthusiastically. “It’s back,” he said. “I’m seeing educators everywhere, energy, enthusiasm, 800 people in line to see live music-making with kids. It’s phenomenal. I highly respect Midwest for making this work. I’m so happy that they took the necessary precautions for vaccinations and masks and all they’re doing to keep everyone safe.”
The conference required proof of vaccination at entrance and masks were mandatory.
Hal Leonard’s booth was well-stocked with product, but just one copy of each book, so the company was in the enviable position of having to turn down sales. “We’re not here to sell to you,” Mlynczak said.
Elisa Janson Jones, senior product manager with Conn-Selmer, was in the unique position of having never attended Midwest before. “I have been to many music education conferences as a presenter and as an attendee. And this has surpassed my expectations, even with high expectations coming into it, the way that the camaraderie is so almost fresh and new to us after such a long period of separation, which I fortunately haven’t experienced because I connect with everybody online in a very comfortable way for me,” she said, explaining that she has long worked remotely. “But it’s just a renewed gratitude for the 3D experience. You feel that in the air, even with all of us being masked in a having to recognize each other by just our eyeballs.”
Colin Schofield, vice president of sales and marketing at JodyJazz, noted that it was great to see people willing to try out wind instruments again, and that the industry had made great strides to get to this point. “Certainly in terms of the amount of people interested in the products, wanting to try things out, [Midwest] has been very, very successful,” he said. “We weren’t sure how keen people would be to test mouthpieces in the current environment. We’ve made it very clear that we are making a lot of effort to keep everything clean and sterilized and disinfected after every trial. And we found that everybody has really had no hesitation.” Indeed, as we spoke, a student at the booth was enthusiastically trying out a saxophone.
Attendees throughout the show floor were buzzing about the return of music, even the men and women who guard our nation. “People are ready to get back to live music,” said Amanda Simmons, master gunnery sergeant with the United States Marine Corps, there exhibiting the United States Marine Band. “Obviously everybody still has to do a little bit of rebuilding because people haven’t been in concert halls for a while, but our response has been great so far,” she said. “We have an indoor concert season with our band and orchestra coming up, January through May, and we’re looking forward to having audience back.” It wasn’t just the United States Marine Corps — seemingly every branch of the U.S. military was exhibiting at Midwest.
So were associations, of course. Jazz Education Network was on hand at Midwest. Sharon Burch, managing director of JEN, said she was “pleasantly surprised” with the event. “It’s not like 2019 as far as the intensity of people, but I’m really proud there’s a lot of excitement. People are thrilled to be back together again.”
JEN has its own yearly event, and understands all too well what at event like Midwest went through in pandemic. “It was a little scary at first because we were pretty dependent on our own annual conference, which is every January, in person for four days,” Burch said. “Thankfully our organization has never been brick-and-mortar. We’ve always been virtual. So we already had our operating processes online and virtual before the rest of the world did. We all work remotely and always have from inception. So, it was a bit of a pivot, but we were quickly able to serve, the jazz community, the music community.” It polled its membership on what it needed assistance with and was able to help set up online teaching, webinars and more.
Andy Strayer, vice president of sales and marketing for KHS America, also talked through surviving the pandemic. “Well, obviously 2020 was a challenge, especially on the whole educational school thing shut down for the most part, as everybody tried to discover how to run band programs in the public schools,” Stayer said. “However, we have a combo side to our business of drums, harmonica, ukuleles, guitars, which actually came on strong and did very well, which allowed us to survive.”
Craig Denny, vice president, band and orchestra, with St. Louis Music, echoed this. “When the pandemic hit, guitars got hot, which was wonderful and the diversity of St. Louis music [with its] guitars saved our butts,” he said. “B&O had a very tough time. And then we figured out how to mask properly [and] distance properly in a band or an orchestral setting. That was a hurdle that we collectively cleared and then supply chain became the issue. And once we started to see supply chain become a real problem, I just started thinking, ‘OK, what’s the next hurdle gonna be?’ Yeah, haven’t found it yet.” MI