The vendor area at most (all?) music education conventions is often one of the most important elements of a conference. This area, which differs in size subject to the size of the state music education association, is where:
- Music instrument companies show off their inventories
- Music publishers show off their latest available works
- Fundraising companies show off (and often give free samples) of their items available for sale
- Uniform vendors show off their latest marching band, formal apparel and robe designs
- Free trade and jewlery companies come to sell items
- Colleges come to promote their music programs
- And music technology companies show off their software and hardware solutions
Music teachers, spouses, students (typically middle school through college), and parents all travel through these areas. This is an incredibly important place for finding things, and building connections (networking).
I have only had the opportunity to visit the vendor areas of six states, but I am willing to bet that Texas is the largest. Texas has an East and West vendor area, and I am sure you could play two to three football games comfortably in each wing. If you are a music technology company, it makes sense to display your product at the Texas MEA show, as you will have a large audience to work with. There are vendors at TMEA that do not come to any other music convention in the United States.
I view myself as a music educator with a passion for technology in music education. I know that we, as music educators, lead unbelievably busy lives–even more so if we also have families of our own. Tone Deaf Comics has created posters showing the many hats that we wear.
So here's my point of concern when it comes to technology in music education: if teachers are busy, where are they going to find technology that will improve teaching and learning? It isn't enough to take a company at its word, and every blogger (including myself) have their biases. You can talk to other teachers about what is working for them–but as you know, everyone has their own talents, skills, gifts, and needs. One of the best ways to find technology is to go to a convention and actually use that technology yourself. But what if your conference doesn't have that technology? Or what if someone is presenting on technology that you would like to know more about, but your school only let you go to the convention on a day other than that presentation? And what if your state's vendor area is shrinking each year?
Undoubtedly, some services such as MusicFirst, which bundles major online services at a decent cost for music education (e.g. NoteFlight, Groovy Music, etc.), are a good place to start. At the same time, every company is going to offer its services as a solution, even in situations where there might be something better for you on the market. Don't get me wrong…NoteFlight is a wonderful tool, and pretty much the only multi-platform solution on the market. But you might be in a teaching situation where some other tool such as Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore, Notion, Notion on the iPad, NotateMe, or Symphony Pro might be a better solution for you.
Unfortunately, I don't have a solution. The best possible way to learn about software and hardware is to be able to go somewhere and try multiple solutions at one time. I just don't know how we can provide that ability for everyone equally. Don't go to your state education technology conference expecting very much technology that can impact music education.
I have heard that the Pennsylvania TI:ME group is offering a technology room during their state music education conference. This is wonderful, but at the same time, unsponsored music educators shouldn't be using their personal time to sell products for companies, either. Perhaps there is some way to have vendors work together to avoid the costs of presenting at a clinic and instead “chipping in” to a set-up of several Macs, PCs, Chromebooks, and iPads where music educators can try out various software and hardware tools–but then how do you make sure they are represented fairly? And how do you build a level of cooperation between competitors?
Again, I don't know the answers…all I know is that a problem exists.