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GUEST BLOG: "Conference Reflections: Miami" by Paul Carey

You can still sign up to attend the 2013 ACDA National Conference in Dallas- get off that fence and join the fun and excitement of world class music and the amazing fellowship which choral music brings to us all.
Today I am going to relate personally memorable experiences I had at the great conference in Miami in 2007 (a continuation from last week's guest blog about ACDA LA/2005). Believe it or not, this was my first time visiting the state of Florida. New adventures awaited me, and that was obvious in the first hour after getting off the plane from Chicago. I got in a mini-van taxi full of fellow Midwesterners heading from the airport out to Miami Beach. Everyone seemed tired and silent - it was quite eery that no one had anything to say to each other. I sort of settled into this silence, but as we wound our way through the streets of South Beach and started dropping folks off to their hotels I saw an Adonis of a young man with blonde dreadlocks, wearing the tiniest of shorts and nothing else, and with a LARGE albino boa constrictor wrapped around his body. This fellow was just strolling down the street doing his thing, he seemingly wasn't trying to be a Times Square street performer. I finally broke the silence and said deadpan, “Well there's something you don't see in Iowa”, and the whole van erupted into laughter and soon everyone was talking. I felt proud of myself for breaking down the barriers of these folks and I think we all realized that we were in for some fun out South Beach way.
My fellow composer friend Reg Unterseher and I took a chance on a very affordable, vintage South Beach hotel with, however, terrible reviews but a great location, about two blocks from the main conference performing venue and a block from the beach. The hotel was really just fine and everyone was ultra-jealous of our location. Reg and I often have fun rolling the dice in these situations. We'd rather have some adventure and embrace the unknown than wind up at a Sheraton or Hilton.
Reg and I knew we had already hit the jackpot when within the first hours of the conference, we heard The Swingle Singers live for the first time. As they finished their early morning set we looked at each other and said, “Yeah, this is why we are here”. Their beatbox version of  Dido's Lament by Purcell was on the program. Yes, I said they beatboxed Purcell.
Other listening experiences awaited us; Mike Scheibe's University of Miami choir was the best university choir I have ever heard (though Kent Hatteberg's choir at the University of Louisville ranks right up there with them, as I have heard them now a few times in recent years; AND, you can hear them in Dallas!). To read my blog from Fall 2011 about the University of Louisville Cardinal Choir, go here.
A truly mind-blowing experience was hearing the intentional choirs, especially the young singers of Cordana, the Indonesian Children and Youth Choir directed by the absolutely brilliant Aida Swenson (and if I recall correctly, accompanied by adult percussionists). They sang the most wonderful folk music from their country and the electric moment that seared joy into my mind was when they sat on the front edge of the stage and sang a tune called “Rampai Aceh” (see clip below) with the most mesmerizing singing/body motion/hand motion/clapping/tapping on the stage floor acrobatics you will ever see in your lifetime. These amazing body and hand motions were at lightning speed and daredevil in execution, and of course all perfectly synched from performer to performer. Cordana completely brought down the house- everyone there in the audience was delirious with joy. Aida Swenson has graciously given me background material on the singing and dancing. Here is the background info on the latter part of the piece:
The Seudati dance is a name of a dance originating from the province of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. The dance developed in Aceh over hundreds of years and, originally, did not have any connection to Islam. When the Islamic religion came to Aceh, the Seudati dance became a way of popularizing the teaching of Islam.
The Saman dance is often referred to as the dance with a Thousand Hands. The Saman is, by far, the most well-known  Acehness dance. The number of dancers can vary between eight and twenty. The dance is performed by kneeling in a row and then making various kinds of movements, accompanied by songs and the clapping of hands, slapping of chests ,different part of the body and the slapping of hands on the floor. The songs used with the dance are praises or prayers to Allah. The tempo of the songs and dances begin relatively slowly but gradually increases in speed until they come to a sudden stop.
Next Wednesday I will re-run this blog post on my own personal blog and I will include far more of the background on this piece, for those who are interested in knowing more.
I was also blessed to be invited to the Walton Music 50th anniversary reception hosted by the ever-gracious owner Gunilla Luboff. Even though I have pieces published by Walton, including a best seller, I still felt a bit out of place. Everywhere I looked in the room was a famous conductor or composer from one generation or another. I wound up having a very long conversation with Paul Salamunovich there and also got to meet and begin a friendship with Elena Sharkova that night. I was also fortunate to be invited to the University of Miami reception hosted by Mike Scheibe, held aways away at the Coral Gables campus. There was great food and drink and a jazz trio and the reception didn’t shut down until 2 or 3 AM, at which point Mike had a bus take all of us back to our individual hotels; we weren’t expecting that nice touch.
Everyone at this conference enjoyed the mild Miami spring weather and did their best to find an outdoor cafe to enjoy either big meals or quick bites to eat, and we were all trying out Cuban dishes and other local food and beverages.
I think you can tell that I had a great time in Miami, both professionally and personally. Professional and personal development and creating great memories and choral kinship are what our conferences are about- please join us in Dallas so that years from now you can say you were there!
Paul Carey
P.S. The following news from last from incoming president Karen Fulmer: " The military choruses are rehearsing in Washington DC with Craig Jessop on the Steven Stucky Brock Commission and JFK Remembrance production. Program Chair Stan McGill is there and reports that the joint choirs and music are absolutely amazing. Don't miss this once in a lifetime national conference!"