I’m back from my two-week conference tour. As a grad student and young assistant professor, I frequently attended the meetings of both the American Musicological Society and the Society for Ethnomusicology. But they are always back-to-back and with a job, spouse, and kids, such gallivanting became difficult. The combo of travel, friends from at least ten different phases of my life, and papers whose names I can no longer remember has me somewhat brain-dead. But I loved going back to SEM after many years and, especially, hanging out with old friends. Suffice it to say that Friday nights giggle fest was worth the trip. I have a few observations from my comparative ethnography, but I haven’t figured out how to say them in ways that won’t make everyone mad so for now I’ll keep most of them to myself. As a teaser, Ethnomusicologists sport much cooler, attire but they do not drink as much as musicologists.
I spent much of Friday and Saturday afternoon/evening with current and former students. They suggested that I write down some of the conference tips I gave them. I did not come with all of these myself but gleaned many from my friends and mentors.
1) Do not go to a conference exhausted. For example, I do not recommend taking thirty kids to see Bill T Jones and chaperoning a bus trip the night before a cross continental flight to a conference. This will take two weeks, at least, to recover from.
2) Read the program before the conference and try always to go to a few papers that seem completely irrelevant to your research and that interest you. Do this when you are young because at a certain point you can do nothing but support students, former students, friends, former friends etc... and intellectual interest falls completely out of the equation.
3) Put a little thought into meals. Foraging for food can turn into a very eighth grade affair. A few people make plans, someone else tries to join; suddenly seven people find themselves in a clump with an awkward five-person reservation on the offer. If you are on the job market or a search committee you may find yourself in the awkward position of adding the employment power dynamic to the 8th grade social machinations. Reserve a few activities for really good friends and keep them small! Consult Yelp and locals.
4) If you have kids and they have either given you a manicure or put a tattoo on you, remove. You may feel uncomfortable with multi colored fingernails and a spider man on your wrist.
5) Hydrate. Think of this like a marathon. Hotels are dry, and the air quality often resembles an airplane delayed on the runway. Drink lots of water and apply hand cream generously. (the latter is particularly for scholars not in the early stages of their careers, as we euphemistically say in the AMS now)
6) Speaking of hydrating… If you drink, a flask is key. Hotel bars charge a fortune for drinks and can be full of people whom you may or may not want to see. I recommend Bourbon or Cognac. Many Universities sponsor parties with free alcohol (and you can fill your flask if you charm the bartender) or cash bars. The Harvard party at SEM got the prize this year for delightful peach margaritas.
7) Bring Advil. See above for hydrating issues. Add to that the fact that conference hotels now frequently combine environmentally correct slightly yellow lighting with crazy light displays, and a head ache will surely rear its ugly head.
8) Bring Snacks, preferably protein. Any event with food will include starch and more starch. The weekend is likely to gyrate unpredictably between eating giant starch-infused meals to situations with no opportunity for food for hours on end. Always have a high quality dark chocolate bar in your bag—this can solve food and caffeine problems.
9) A very eminent and serious female musicologist who shall remain nameless explained to me about twenty years ago that when she gets a paper accepted she plans the outfit first and then writes the paper. And every year at least two female musicologists asked me what to wear to AMS or SEM. This is all a little more vexed for women than for men. My general words of wisdom are wear teaching clothes and wear something you feel good in. I recommend tights with glitter on them, and have them hand delivered by a fabulous friend to sparkle up day seven of conference going in two weeks. But if that doesn’t work for you, find something else. Don’t get too caught up in what you are supposed to wear. There are certainly those women who wear suits, but if you’re like me and you look like you’re wearing your mom’s hand me downs in a suit, find something else that works. I’m personally committed to color, and I appreciate it when people wear it. If you don’t see well and every third person is wearing gray or black it can be hard to locate your friends.
10) Do not speak in elevators ever. It is inevitable that you will insult the person you are riding with directly or at least insult someone who is just like them.
11) Introduce yourself to people if the person you know in common fails to do so. Said person has probably forgotten their name but can not ask because they should know. And if you’re a senior scholar wear your nametag and introduce your students to people so that they don’t feel lonely and awkward. (after 9 pm name tags can probably come off.)
12) Bring a pen. Writing snide notes is more subtle than texting the person sitting next to you. If you txt you may accidentally push a button that makes noise or send the text to someone’s 12 year old daughter who has a similar name.
13) Add entertaining apps to your smart phone. The Mozart Dice game and Cat piano work especially well.
14) Stick to exercise routines. If possible get OUTSIDE the hotel. If you’re an adult who probably should have been on ritalin as a child, the consequences of this can be dire including, for example, accidentally kicking an extremely eminent scholar while fidgeting during a paper. In addition to the stress release, there’s a certain kid of hooky pleasure that comes from sneaking past colleagues incognito in running clothes. But if you’re meeting someone else don’t leave them stranded in the lobby in running shorts. In order to avoid this scenario I ended up bringing a female student up to my room while I changed, which is probably breaking some sort of rule.
15) Do not bother bringing seven books to write that paper you’ve been needing to write all semester. This will only hurt your back. Another eminent female musicologist I know spent much of her conference time writing when her children were small, but she’s a special case.
16) Figure out whether or not you like to stay in the conference hotel. Some people always like to sleep away from the hoards. Others value the convenience above all else. Another nameless scholar informed a few friends that after walking all over San Francisco to avoid the hotel strike and being tired and sweaty that even if the next one took place in a bordello with a musicology prostitution ring the conference hotel was a must.
17) Make sure you are teaching something you can do in your sleep or showing lengthy Opera video examples the day after a conference. Your brain will be completely mush from scholarly overstimulation and will need a time out. Avoid situations where you can make a fool of yourself or where, if it’s a promotion year, your evaluations might be negatively affected by confusing Schubert and Shobart and or getting trapped in a digression about Deluzian philosophy while teaching Schoenberg.
18) Above all, make sure you do at least one thing each day that is fun for you. This could range from solo morning coffee to wearing your favorite socks to adding mustaches to some of the advertisements on bulletin boards.