Association for Popular Music Education is Breaking New Ground at Columbia
Singer-songwriter, music educator, and board member and President of the Association for Popular Music Education (APME) Dr. Kat Reinhert loves when first-time participants at APME’s yearly conference come up to her and say, “I’ve found my people.” For many of these participants, such a revelation comes after struggling for years in communities that, despite a national trajectory towards embracing popular music education, tend to stick to the traditional band-choir-orchestra combination of K-12 music education. Popular music, despite its pervasiveness, is an expansive genre encompassing pop, rock, hip-hop, and alternative music that has been relatively neglected in education spaces.
So many people have approached APME affirming that they’ve found their community in APME conferences that “I’ve found my people” has become an APME hashtag. “A lot of times you'll have an educator who's doing popular music in [a small] town and they feel really alone because no one around them is doing it. And they haven't ever seen anyone within the music education community kind of doing it. And so they come to this, they find us and they come to our conference and they're like, ‘Oh my God, I'm not alone,’” Reinhert says.
Embracing togetherness has been a particularly crucial struggle for musicians lately, due to the challenges that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s just one reason why this year’s Association for Popular Music Education Conference, a hybrid in-person and virtual event which will be held at Columbia College Chicago from June 9th-12th 2021, is critical for students, educators, and performers who are ready to come back together for the sake of the music.
APME’s 8th annual conference is pathbreaking in many ways. Most notably, for how it is using Columbia College Chicago’s spaces and technology to provide opportunities for remote participants to engage with individuals and groups who will be live at Columbia College Chicago’s Music Center and Student Center. “Even before the pandemic, all of our classrooms were equipped with WiFi, computers, screens, and monitors. In addition, five of our rehearsal spaces, including our concert hall, [now] have the aforementioned technology and all the audio amplification equipment and instruments needed for a live performance,” says Associate Chair of the Music Department and Associate Professor of Instruction Bill Boris, who will be leading a session at this year’s conference.
With these unique technological opportunities at their fingertips, this year’s APME conference is ideal for people who share a love of popular music to be able to take part and witness unique discourse, critical evaluation, and performance opportunities. “As with every conference, be it trade or educational, this is a place where like-minded people meet and exchange ideas and concepts. Conferences of this kind are an essential part of the growth and development of our art. It promotes better education, fosters fusion of ideas, and ultimately leads to fantastic music,” said Sebastian Huydts, Chair of Columbia College Chicago’s Music Department.
Reinhert agrees, noting that the theme for this year’s conference, “Creating Space: Critical Reflections on Challenges and Opportunities for Popular Music Education” welcomes discourse around difficult themes and was chosen in the wake of the George Floyd murder. Recognizing the systemic racism that has traditionally seeped into music education, Reinhert hopes that popular music education can provide a healing corrective and an opportunity for productive discourse around music and musicians of all ethnicities and from all walks of life. “We really wanted to create a space where [we can talk about these issues]… we want to have these conversations. And we want to [discuss] the challenges facing music education,” Reinhert says. It’s a sentiment shared by Columbia College Chicago faculty as well. “I hope students and educators will recognize the rich diversity in popular music, the necessary role technology plays, and the importance of collaboration in the 21st century,” says Boris.
For educators and performers at Columbia College Chicago, the process of setting up the conference has been a welcome reprieve from the isolation and rigidity that has defined much of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Working with APME has been a refreshing experience. The collaboration has been very productive in a friendly, down-to-earth kind of way. We are all musicians and educators, and as such we speak the same language,” said Huydts.
Even more importantly, both APME and Columbia College Chicago educators recognize that “new insights and changing esthetics, new technologies, and, perhaps more than anything, profound societal changes are forcing a re-evaluation of established standards [in the field of popular music],” as Huydts notes, making this the perfect time for collaboration and discussion amongst students and experts in the field. And for students, APME offers an opportunity for innovation, inspiration, and growth. “I hope that [students] see that people who are running their schools are taking time to think about best practices and to learn from them,” Reinhert says. After all, music relies on collaborative engagement. And APME’s upcoming conference at Columbia College provides the perfect environment for growth.