Professional Organizations: Why, and Which Ones?

As a teacher, I am sometimes too reticent to direct students to spend money, with the exception of necessary sheet music purchases. Knowing how much the price of tuition has increased since I was in school and how indebted many students are, I can sometimes be far too slow to recommend or insist that a student invest in a new mouthpiece or even a new instrument, even when doing so would be hugely beneficial to the student.

While I like to think that my concern for my students’ financial well-being is a positive trait, my desire to avoid having them spend money can sometimes be taken too far. One area in which this is the case is that of professional organizations; more specifically, the fact that I too rarely mention them or recommend that students join them, despite most having significantly reduced membership fees for full-time students. I have been a member of most of the organizations I will mention below for a number of years, some since I was an undergraduate student. Membership in such organizations can provide even young students with a number of benefits, including the following:

1. Professional journals.

Most professional organizations, whether in music or another profession, produce a quarterly journal. While these vary in the quality of material included and in the “production values” of the publication (quality of printing, graphics, etc.), I have consistently found that each issue of every journal I receive will have at least one article that is useful or interesting to me. In our age of increasing digitalization, organizations such as the International Trombone Association and the International Tuba-Euphonium Association are making archive copies of their journals and other materials available online for members. This is a huge boon to research and study. Moreover, most of the benefits I have listed below are communicated at least in part by way of each organization’s printed journal.

2. Knowing who the “movers and shakers” are in a certain area of the profession.

When introducing certain ideas in applied lessons I sometimes mention the names of famous players or teachers from whom I learned certain ideas or that I know to be advocates of similar approaches. I do this, without shame, in order to establish credibility or increase the likelihood that students will immediately accept those ideas because of associations with such well-known individuals, and am disappointed when a student doesn’t know of the player to whom I am referring. Granted “famous” is a relative term, and being well-known in a small professional circle does not indicate that one is a “household name” beyond that limited group, but students should know who the main “movers and shakers” in their chosen profession are. Through their websites, journals, conferences, and other means, professional organizations help us to know “who’s who.”

3. Finding out what your peers at other institutions are doing.

Some professional journals print recital programs that are submitted to them. This is a great way for students (and faculty) to know what their peers at other institutions are playing, and to learn about new materials as well. (Confession: I am very bad in this area, and rarely remember to submit these programs myself.)

4. Learning about new “stuff.”

Whether through paid advertisements, news items, reviews, or some combination of these, professional journals help us to keep abreast of the newest sheet music, recordings, instruments, and other products and accessories that can help us in our work as players and teachers.

5. Learning about coming events.

There is lots going on in the music world, and our professional organizations are the leaders in advertising and in many cases organizing festivals, concerts, and other events that are of interest to us.

6. Discount rates for attending conferences.

Speaking of conferences, members of a given organization usually receive discounts to their registration fees for attending conferences sponsored by that organization. The discount isn’t huge, but every little bit helps! Students can sometimes have their fees entirely waived by applying to serve as a student worker or intern at some conferences. This can be a great way to meet some of those “movers and shakers” I talked about.

7. Making a name for yourself.

Most of the conferences I just mentioned also host competitions for students of various ages. Many of the professional players that have developed some name recognition in our communities in the past thirty years or so first began to establish themselves through these competitions. These organizations can provide other means of boosting one’s résumé, though. Although they may look like top-flight organizations run by large professional staffs, in the brass world at least, most of our professional organizations operate on a shoestring budget and are staffed mainly by volunteers, sometimes scattered throughout the country or in multiple countries. Moreover, they are frequently looking for folks to help out, whether by writing reviews, soliciting advertisements, or sometimes working in some larger capacity. To those beginning careers in academia in particular, these kinds of roles can help one’s C.V. to at least make it past the first “cut.” Look for these opportunities to be advertised both in the journals (you should be reading them, you know) and on organizational websites.

So, if you’re convinced that joining professional organizations is a good idea, which should you consider? Here are a few that will be of interest to low brass players.

1. International Trombone Association.

Founded in 1972, the ITA is “dedicated to the Artistic Advancement of Trombone Teaching, Performance, and Literature.” With over 4,000 members, the organization welcomes trombonists of all ability levels, including professional performers and teachers as well as amateurs and enthusiasts. The ITA Journal is a quarterly publication mailed to all members (or it can be read online!), and contains both scholarly and popular articles, in addition to sheet music and recording reviews, recital programs, and more. The International Trombone Festival, an annual event sponsored by the ITA, brings together trombonists from all over the world for concerts, masterclasses, exhibits, and competitions.

2. International Tuba-Euphonium Association.

Formerly known as the Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association (TUBA), the ITEA “is a worldwide organization of musicians whose purpose is to maintain a liason among those who take a significant interest in the instruments of the tuba and euphonium family – their development, literature, pedagogy, and performance.” The ITEA Journal is a very fine publication which, like its sister publication for trombonists, can now be read in print or online, and contains similar material. ITEA conferences include the International Tuba-Euphonium Conference held biannually, with regional conferences held at multiple locations during the “off” years.

3. Historic Brass Society.

“The Historic Brass Society is an international music organization concerned with the entire range of early brass music, from Ancient Antiquity and the Biblical period through the present. The history, music, literature and performance practice of early brass instruments such as natural trumpet, natural horn, early trombone, cornetto, serpent, keyed bugle, keyed trumpet, early valve horn, 19th century brass instruments are some of the main issues of concern to the HBS.” The HBS Journal is by far the most scholarly of brass professional journals and, unlike the others, is released only yearly rather than quarterly. It is a book-length publication, though, and contains articles of substantial length and scholarly acumen.

4. National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors.

NACWPI is a smaller organization than any of the individual-instrument societies out there but is older than practically all of them. Its quarterly journal consists mainly of pedagogical articles but occasionally contains historical or biographical writings as well, in addition to a few reviews. The level of scholarship is normally between what one finds from the Historic Brass Society and from the ITA or ITEA journals. While the NACWPI Journal is less “flashy” than the ITA or ITEA journals, I find its simplicity to be refreshing, and the insights from colleagues playing and teaching other instruments to be often helpful.

5. National Association for Music Education.

Formerly known as Music Educators National Conference (MENC), NAfME is the primary professional organization for music educators in most states through its affiliated state organizations. Its monthly publications are geared primarily toward music educators serving in the public schools, from elementary through high school levels. As such, I have not maintained membership in this organization in recent years but recommend that students pursuing careers as school music educators consider doing so.

6. College Music Society.

For graduate students pursuing careers in academia, membership in this organization is a must, if for no other reason than to get the weekly Music Vacancy List, which includes advertisements for music positions in colleges and universities, including some that are not advertised elsewhere. CMS also maintains up-to-date listings of faculty in music schools around the world, and until recently published a hefty annual journal, College Music Symposium. CMS has recently moved its publication activities entirely online, a move which I suspect is only the first of many to come in the future.

7. Publications not connected to professional organizations.

I obviously consider receiving professional journals to be a primary benefit of membership in their associated organizations, and would be remiss if I did not mention a few worthy publications that are not associated with a particular organization.

The Instrumentalist magazine has a long history of producing quality articles, announcements, and reviews geared toward school band and orchestra directors. Its contents tend more toward the practical than the scholarly, and each issue can often be easily read in a single sitting. The editors compile the best articles on given topics into anthologies, which are updated and republished every few years.

School Band and Orchestra Magazine is a publication to which I have never subscribed and with which I am not very familiar, but I feared it would be remiss if I did not mention it. Its contents appear to be similar to those of The Instrumentalist, but with perhaps a bit more “edgy” presentation.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is the publication “of record” for those working in or interested in academia. Its job listings and many of its articles are made available free of charge to non-subscribers, but a subscription (online only or print+online) must be purchased in order to receive the full contents. Many of its articles are of limited interest to musicians, but some are worth reading.

I’ll end today by saying that while I am an advocate of professional organizations and believe that students should join as many relevant groups as they can afford, I do not believe them to be a panacea. Some professional players care little for the ITA and ITEA, believing them to be too “academic” and not sufficiently connected to the “real world.” All of these groups are subject to the charge of having a “good old boy system,” in which “who you know” is as important if not more so than “what you do.” While I don’t believe that such behavior occurs purposefully, people in general do tend to prefer dealing with those they know, which can be a barrier to greater involvement in such organizations by newcomers. Moreover, with the plethora of online resources today, none of our professional organizations is any longer “the only game in town” for a given field.

In spite of these caveats, I still believe membership in relevant professional organizations to be beneficial. Students, consider yourselves encouraged to join any and all of these groups today!

About Micah Everett

Micah Everett is Associate Professor of Music (Trombone/Low Brass) at the University of Mississippi, Principal Trombonist of the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Interim Music Director at College Hill Presbyterian Church, Assistant Editor (Audio/Video Reviews) for the International Trombone Association Journal, and an S.E. Shires trombone artist. He is the author of THE LOW BRASS PLAYER'S GUIDE TO DOUBLING, published by Mountain Peak Music, and released two solo recordings, STEPPING STONES FOR BASS TROMBONE, VOLS. 1 and 2, on the Potenza Music label in 2015 and 2022, respectively. In addition to his professional work, he maintains an avid interest in the study of the Bible and of Reformed theology. He holds doctoral and master's degrees in music from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a bachelor's degree in music education from Delta State University, and a certificate in systematic theology from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.
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