I spent this past weekend in New Orleans attending my first academic conference: that of The American Musicological Society, the Society for Ethnomusicology, and the Society for Music Theory.
I am not a member of any of these societies, but I have a strong interest in theory (I almost switched my field of study in grad school to theory, actually!). I had never been to New Orleans. A lot of the abstracts sounded very interesting. So at almost the last minute, I decided to accompany some of my UMASS friends to The Big Easy for the conference.
I’m so glad I did! It was such a wonderful feeling to walk into the hotel (eight hours after I was due to land. Plane maintenance issues and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy got in the way) and see so many scholars, students, and professors. Hundreds of people like me has flown in from all parts of the country to attend the conference. Besides school, I had never felt like part of such a large community. We were all rising or established professionals or students interested in music, wearing business casual dress, carrying official conference totes, highlighting the papers we wanted to hear, and racing between rooms and hotels to make everything on time. In a way, my status as a “music geek” became normalized. I wasn’t a minority or part of the “other.” I was in the majority. Conference attendees dominated the Canal Street/French Quarter area that weekend. Everywhere we went, people were asking what we were with.
Yes, I certainly felt elite. This isn’t to say we were stuffy. The parties and night life after the presentations are a huge part of the experience. The hotel bar was full of musicologists for a good part of the night. It didn’t matter that our bar talk was about TA woes or grad school applications or Schenkerian analysis.
Days began with quick breakfast (Starbucks or beignets. Sugar, basically), then heading to presentations beginning at 9. Picking and choosing which presentations to attend was difficult, but my Friday morning choice was clear: Bernstein and Gershwin as Composers and Performers. Excellent papers on Rhapsody in Blue, West Side Story, and the New York Philharmonic!
One of my favorite papers was about Sondheim’s “The Miller’s Son,” and why it occupied the eleven o’clock spot in “A Little Night Music,” a spot typically saved for a main number and character (Desiree had already sung “Send in the Clowns”). Other favorites included Berio, Bernstein, and the Beatles; Remixes and Patterns of Music Consumption; Schoenberg’s lectures on music appreciation; and arcade music from the seventies to the eighties.
In between papers, I walked around the city and sampled different foods: gumbo, beignets, truffles, pralines, shrimp, étouffée, and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten: NOLA inspired tapas at Baru! I tried oyster, and pork- they were definitely worth the wait for the table!
I saw a brass band on Bourbon Street, sat in Woldenberg Park, hit up two Food Network endorsed eateries, and made a list of all the music books I want to read. A great experience!
Now it’s back to 45 degree weather.