Arts Conferences Russo's Ramblings

NAMM 2020

I had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) annual convention in Anaheim, California in January 2020. A shout out to Williamsville alumni whose donations helped to make the trip possible.

The NAMM Show brings together the entire music industry from around the globe. It is a massive event. The NAMM Foundation holds music education focused sessions, as well as the Grand Rally for Music Education. The Conn-Selmer Music Administrators Collaborative was also meeting in Anaheim. So, with the stars aligning for me to attend, off I went.

My experience caused me to think about the state of the music industry and how much more music there is for students to access than the typical traditional school band/chorus/orchestra experience. Now that I have a little more time to unpack my thoughts amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and possibly because of the pandemic, there may indeed be a major shift in the near future. I’m not pushing for change, but rather wondering what is possible.

I am going to share my thoughts through a series of clips which represents my time exploring the show over the course of 2 days. The entire event is 5 days, and WAY too much to digest.

To start, here is the show map, to give an idea of how expansive it is:

NAMM show map
The NAMM Show Locator Map

An American football field is 57,400 square feet. Looking at the exhibit hall square footage available on the Anaheim Convention Center site, I guesstimate that there are 22 football fields worth of space, and they were all full of vendors and products. And those 22 fields do not include the additional several football fields of space in the adjacent hotels either.

So here we go with a short tour of some of the things I saw and heard. The first stop is the All-Industry Drum Circle on Friday evening, in the outdoor Palm Court:

On Friday night (and every night), there are multiple concerts on the Yamaha Grand Plaza Stage. Tower of Power was the feature for Saturday night as an example. While I was at the stage Friday, this was what was going on:

Saturday morning was the Grand Rally for Music Education in the Hilton Hotel (next to the convention center). This event, sponsored by the NAMM Foundation, celebrates and promotes music in the schools. First up was the presentation of winners of the first ever A Capella at NAMM contest and a performance by the grand prize winners, UCLA’s ScatterTones:

And the feature performer at the Grand Rally for Music Educaiton? Bobby McFerrin with Gimme5!

While walking around the show floor, there are performers literally everywhere. In this clip, the performers are in a booth for Solcor Audio. I love the combination of the melodica and electric cello, as well as the tune:

There is no shortage of classical performances and instruments as evidenced by this clip from the show floor in the string instrument area:

There is at least a football field worth of entertainment technology to see and learn about:

The DJ business is well represented as well:

One never knows when one will come across a saxophone quartet…

or a clarinet quartet…

…or a multi-talented soloist!

Just when one thinks they’ve seen it all, one stops by the Careers in Music Summit to hear a talk and performance by trumpeter Jonathan Dely and the guest he invited to the stage, former New York Yankee and incredible guitarist Bernie Williams:

Guitars play (pun intended) a large role at NAMM and the manufacturers make sure the music is always rockin’ – here is the Gibson hall on Saturday early evening:

There is no shortage of pianos to be found, including the Roomful of Pianos performances on Friday and Saturday evening:

There are continual sessions and workshops on recording and sound engineering – this stage featured “Mix with the Masters” – hourly appearances by pros demonstrating how they do their craft:

So that is my brief tour of my experience taking in NAMM. I’m tired just thinking back on it, but it was awesome! One small anecdote of the ‘who’ of NAMM – while watching the above demonstration, one of the speakers did a shout-out to none other than Alan Parsons who was walking by on the way to his booth. Incidentally, his sound recording curriculum, The Art and Science of Sound Recording, looks pretty cool.

So where does this leave my thinking? Here are some reflections and questions:

  • In my un-scientific estimation, the traditional school band/chorus/orchestra comprised approximately 5% of vendors and products.
  • The attendees are ravenous for ALL types of music and music technology. The diversity was significant. People watching was an activity all by itself.
  • If NAMM represents what is going on in the music industry and therefore music, what should traditional school music programs be doing to broaden the scope of offerings?


Arts in Amherst, New York

I have been thinking about the many opportunities for experiencing the arts. Since I am the arts administrator for the Williamsville schools,  I started looking around for the places within the Town of Amherst one could go to find arts performances and/or installations (artwork, museums, etc.). With the help of Google Maps, here is what I have come up with so far:

View Arts in Amherst in a larger map

There are many opportunities in Amherst, and I’m sure there are more, but lets take a look at some of the major categories.

Since I work for one of the public school districts in Amherst, let’s start there. If you check out the calendars for high school arts events in the Amherst, Sweet Home and Williamsville school districts alone, there is enough to keep one busy and thoroughly entertained throughout the year. From concerts, to art shows, to musicals, there is outstanding young talent pouring out of our local schools.

Two diverse and unique museums in the Town of Amherst are the Amherst Museum, located in the very northern tip of the town, and the Museum of disAbility History, located in the southern west corner.

As their website states, you can visit the Amherst Museum to:

Experience 19th-century life on the Niagara Frontier and tour historic homes, churches and one-room schoolhouses on our beautiful 35-acre grounds with exhibits on local history, textiles, art and the Erie Canal.

The Williamsville District Art Show is held annually at the Amherst Museum. It is a great way to show off our talented students and also bring the community to a great venue within the district. I had the opportunity to tour the museum grounds this summer, and was incredibly impressed by the grounds and potential for other performances there. They also have many special events and themes throughout the year that are geared for all ages.

The Museum of disAbility History is:

“…dedicated to the collection, preservation and display of artifacts pertaining to the history of people with disabilities.”

The museum has a unique and important mission and provides many community events to support education about people with disabilities. You can read more about it in this article from the Amherst Bee. The also sponsors the disAbilities Film Festival and Speaker Series, held at UB each year.

In the music arena, The Amherst Symphony Orchestra is a cornerstone in the town. They have an outstanding lineup of concerts each year while in residence at Amherst Middle School. A community group with ages ranging from high school students through seasoned retirees, the ASO is a fantastic group to listen to when you have the opportunity. In addition to their regular concert season, you can find the ASO each summer at the Amherst Museum for their “Music at the Museum” concert.

If theatre is your preference, Amherst is home to at least three theatre companies with regular schedules and performance spaces. Simply by driving down Main Street from West to East, you will pass the MusicalFare Theatre, Academy of Theatre Arts, and O’Connell and Company. These companies provide opportunities for young and old alike to participate in and/or enjoy an array of diverse productions.

A conversation about arts in Amherst would not be complete without reviewing the many resources available in the University at Buffalo (UB). From the flagship Center for the Arts, to Lippes Concert Hall, to the UB Art Gallery, UB is a driving force in the arts community. Since the Center for the Arts opened, it has become a major player in Western New York for attracting top arts events.

So, if you were to lay out an annual calendar and pick just a few events from each of the organizations outlined above, you would find yourself in artful bliss just about every day of the year. In many cases, you would be double- and triple-booked on the same day. Now I am not saying for a moment that one should stay within the limits of the Town of Amherst for great arts. My point is to simply take stock of the multitude of opportunities within a few minutes of the front door.

I can’t wait to soak up some great arts in Amherst!