Re: [Harp-L] SPAH Elections etc

Listening to the pre-election interchange, I am struck that there are two different basic ideas floating about. One seems to cling to the tradition that SPAH has worked long and hard to cultivate, and the other seems to bring in new ideas to make the organization more appealing to the up and coming generation of harmonicists.

I'm really on the fence here because I count the SPAH meetings I have had the good fortune to have attended amongst the best musical experiences of my life. The friendships, the willingness of all to share, and the great opportunities to learn are all incredibly beautiful things about SPAH conventions. Yet I do sense that continuing on the current course will not bring the kind of meaningful change that would appeal more to the younger harpers as us "oldies" continue to age.

I myself have felt the sting of the cost of attending. I've never been able to afford to stay in the convention hotel. I've always had to find a "cheapy" hotel within reasonable driving distance of the convention location. This means that I've not been able to witness or take part in many of the unorganized jams and gatherings after convention hours. Thus hurts because those impromptu gatheings are one of the great things about attending a SPAH meeting. The total outlay has also prevented me from attending all but a few cherished meetings. Basically, they have to be within driving distance for me as I've already explained my need for transportation both to and from and at a meeting.

I'm too old and decrepit to camp much anymore and going for a week or so without modern conveniences would take some of the fun out of a meeting for me at least. On the other hand, a camp-out style meeting (such as many bluegrass festivals offer) do promote a very special camaraderie that can only happen within a group of people who share an intimate living situation. I've also reaped the benefits of such a rich social gathering closely associated with a sumptuous musical experience.

The only other time I have experienced such a combination of close living conditions with an intense learning experience was associated with a scientific organization I used to belong to that hosts annual "summer schools." What this organization did was to organize their meetings around college campuses that are largely vacant for the summer anyway. They pick a broad topic of interest to the membership and invite world-class experts to give "masterclasses" and mediate forums. They "rent" one of the college's vacant dormitories for a week and gain access to it's facilities, including all its living facilities like having all meals prepared in the dorm's cafeteria and access to its various areas for socializing and such. They would also have use of the various teaching facilities found on college campuses like selected classrooms and auditoriums. These meetings become a sort of intellectual "bootcamp" and the attendees share an intense immersion into the chosen academic topic as well as getting to know each other more intimately through the close living experience.

It seems to me that novel ideas like this one could have great benefits for a group like SPAH, being equally inviting to all age groups. College campuses that are largely gathering dust in the summer are a natural gathering place for people young and old, having all the facilities to house, feed, and teach large numbers of people like a group of 400 harmonica enthusiasts. Though I never had any direct involvement in organizing one of these gatherings, it seems perfectly logical that a college administration would find hosting such a meeting an appealing way to recruit revenue from facilities that would otherwise just be costing them upkeep. There is always lots of grassy space for tents and ample access to facilities like showers and cafeterias for those who prefer a more "rustic" living situation (read less expensive) as well as those of us who require more creature comforts and are willing to pay for them.

I realize that it is far easier to come up with ideas like this than it is to implement them. But at the same time it seems that clinging to the current SPAH convention model will ensure that the organization will not change to accommodate a broader population for its membership. Young people love to gather, but an expensive hotel is not their preferred meeting place. If we wish to encourage younger people to join, we are going to have to "think younger." When we think like retired Caucasian males (as someone suggested), that's the group to whom we will continue to appeal.

At least that's the way I see it. :-)


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