No, I’m not talking about technology or the Cosa Nostra. I’m asking about your connection to a community of human beings you feel a relationship with, a community that allows you to both give and receive over time, that you learn from and also give back to. I know I’m not the only one reflecting on this after the year and a half we have just lived through, where our most basic sense of community was disrupted. Even yesterday, in her blog post here, long-time membership chair Kathleen Bhat wrote that staying connected to her ACDA family is what kept her going (Where My Heart Lives).
I know that I feel lucky to have experienced a number of valuable communities during my lifetime. As much as we claim to have earned our own way and created our own world, to me it’s clear that not one of us really lives, much less thrives, without the presence and help of many people over time. Some of our connections are givens (like our families); others we fall into or create with intentionality. Some of mine are my family, my loose network of friends here and abroad who I’ve lived parts of my life with, my Unitarian Universalist congregation that is a base for much of my volunteer work, and dear friends and colleagues from churches and nonprofits across Oklahoma City from my organizing work.
The professional communities I’ve been a part of, give me more than just a sense of belonging. They challenge and inspire me to be better at my craft. When I was beginning my professional career in nonprofit work in Boston, eons ago, I found a critical network of professionals who – from their different life experiences and perspectives – helped me understand that some of the assumptions I held as I walked through life were based on a culture that was not a shared by all of us. Their challenges allowed me to reflect on parts of my understanding that were invisible to me before, but eventually started me down a path that has made me a stronger professional, and maybe even a better human being. I’ve continued to treasure communities that allow that growth in me.
Communities, ones in which we all grow, are also places where people have different opinions and experiences, and where there’s space for them to be shared and heard. It’s normal, and even desirable, to have a little tension from time to time. That can produce growth. Fundamental to those healthy spaces is a mutual respect. That is going to look different for different people, but central to that is seeing the humanity in each other and giving others the space to be heard and to be considered.
Each of us, of course, has our own set of experiences and our own path. Professionally, some of us seek refuge in a community of shared experiences and beliefs. Some want a group that provides practical tools and tips, and helps them in their daily work. Some want an organization that can give them the credentials they need for recognition and advancement. Some seek a professional community that keeps them informed of emerging trends and changes that impact their profession. Some want a group that keeps them motivated and inspired to be their best professional selves. Those are just a few examples of what members can search for in their professional associations. Most of us want all, or some combination, of those benefits of community. Because of that, strong professional associations strive to provide resources and to support members in a wide variety of ways. That can include education, mentoring, career resources, and the sharing of best practices and new ideas – inspiration. The foundation of all of that is connection.
For choral conductors in American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), the association works on several levels to provide that professional connection. Most members find some level of community in their ACDA state chapters. It’s much easier to meet in person (when we are not in pandemic times), and there are more shared experiences and realities. It’s often the level when you can experience a more personal touch – the long-time membership chair will remember your name, or another state leader or colleague will know you enough to ask your opinion or for your help in some way. Chapters are also a place where it is easier to volunteer your service, as a Repertoire and Resources chair, or in a state conference capacity. But ACDA regions have also been important in creating outstanding and inspiring events for their members, and they can be important players in creating communities in which members come together and dialogue to grow networks that challenge and support.
Of course, at the national level, where I focus my professional efforts, we work hard every day to understand the challenges our members are facing, the resources and other offerings that can support them professionally, and the priorities our current and future association should have. We are led by a strong and dedicated Executive Committee and National Board, made up entirely of member leaders (take a look at current leadership here). One way the Executive Committee is working right now to listen and lead is via a Membership Survey (live through July 23 – current members received the link via a dedicated email on July 2 and in weekly member emails beginning June 30). That vision and choral knowledge is complemented by a small but mighty team of national office staff with professional expertise in areas like finance, membership, publications, events, communications, and technology (your national office staff are here).
We all – our chapter, region, and national leadership, and the national office staff – work to hear what members want and need, to be strategically smart about responding to those concerns, and when possible, to be proactive about building resources and services that are relevant and inspire. Like almost every organization, the pandemic impacted ACDA in the form of lost event and membership revenue. I am proud of the way, even so, that we were able to respond to that crisis, with lowered student dues; flexibility for chapters to provide limited numbers of free memberships to those in need; dramatically increased communications; free national webinars; an incredible virtual national conference; chapter event listings, targeted activities for composers, church musicians, and K-12 educators; and in general, development of a wealth of resources to help members face new demands and needs. All the while we have continued to shape an association that better allows every member to feel a sense of connection and belonging, where each member can both contribute and benefit. We have work ahead, but I’m convinced that it will be a rewarding and enriching path.
The connection to colleagues is an important part of most professions, including choral conductors. I was struck, when I joined the staff of ACDA almost nine years ago, how many members spoke strongly about way that membership helped them feel connected to colleagues and their art. They shared stories about being a lone choral professional in their school or even their district, and how much they valued being in a community where other members “get” them.
How do you connect? Here are some options for engagement with ACDA:
- If you are not a member of ACDA, join now. With greater membership, we all thrive. Paid choral conductors can join as full Active members. Are you a singer, or a choral enthusiast? Associate membership is a membership that will give you access to our online resources and benefits. Students and retired members can avail themselves of lower dues. (Visit here for more.)
- Are you a member, but don’t feel the connection yet? While your chapter and the national office try to reach every member, I encourage you to reach out and engage in the association in a way you feel comfortable. Many chapters are looking for volunteers: talk to your president or membership chair, or your district/regional representative. There are many ways to be of service, and that service will make your connection to colleagues stronger. (Find your state chapter website here.)
- Would you like to be more challenged than you currently are? Attend a state conference or workshop, or commit yourself to attending your 2022 region conference and identify an area you’d like to learn more about. Register in the ACDA Mentoring Program and look for a “mentor” who can introduce you to a new repertoire. Write a post for ChoralNet or for your chapter publication.
- Do you love ACDA? Identify a colleague who isn’t yet an ACDA member and invite them in. Are you interested in leadership? Let your chapter board know that you are – the pathway is often often via serving as an R&R position or region/district representative. Is there a possibility that you know a younger or newer member and can mentor that person into greater engagement?
ACDA needs you, and it is an amazing community to connect with. I invite you to take the next step!
Sundra Flansburg is Director of Membership & Communications at ACDA’s national office. She’ll mark her tenth year with ACDA in 2022, prior to that served in publishing, education settings, and nonprofits in Ann Arbor, Boston, Costa Rica, and Oklahoma City. She always enjoys hearing from members.