Each year as I marked my school calendar with the annual activities for the bands and me, I always wrote the dates for the Midwest Clinic down first. At the same time I made plans to travel by car, van, or train, and also reserved my hotel room.
As Midwest Clinic time grew nearer, I frequently asked colleagues if they were planning to attend. It always made the beginning of the Midwest more festive when I traveled with a group; I loved it when colleagues joined me on the train for the trip.
Once at the convention, I made a commitment to attend two concerts a day and at least one clinic session. The concerts performed by all levels of bands were truly amazing, but the military bands in particular astounded me. I was constantly amazed by these groups. My first experiences hearing the Japanese bands perform were a real treat. At the end of the four days of concerts, I was filled with renewed ambition to keep making my bands better.
I usually started my day at the exhibits. The literature exhibits were an essential part of my time on the convention floor. Every year, I went home with new compositions and could not wait to put them in front of the band. I visited many college exhibits and renewed friendships with college directors. I loved going through the instrument exhibits and learning of any new developments.
It seems I ended up buying a new conducting baton every year. I now have quite a collection. My wife once asked me, “why do you buy a new baton each year?” My answer was “Because then I have a baton for a short period of time that has not conducted any wrong notes.”
The Hilton Lobby displayed a gigantic Christmas tree each year. It was a gathering point for groups before heading out to catch a cab for a ride to a restaurant. It was also a great place for people watching. As a younger band director, it was fun to see older, well-known directors as they met up to catch a cab. Once in a while I would strike up a conversation and ask “what are you enjoying the most this year.” They indicated that seeing old friends again was one of the best parts of the experience. On one occasion I even heard the TubaChristmas performance in this lobby area.
Outside of the Clinic, I enjoyed going to the CSO Brass concert immensely. It is remarkable to hear the best in the world live. As a jazz fan, I also enjoyed evening trips to Rush Street (and later at the Blackstone) to enjoy the Jazz Showcase each year. For a change of pace on Friday nights, there was an Irish ensemble in the Irish bar at the south end of the Hilton.
Each year, I found time to make a shopping trip to several places including Frank’s Drum Shop, Rose record store (in the earlier years), Macy’s men’s department, and even a pawn shop on State. Another great part of attending the Midwest Clinic is visiting some of the great restaurants in Chicago. We always had a couple of “must go to” places and several “must try soon” spots. Thursday night was usually Lawry’s Prime Rib night, followed by Friday night at Banderas or the Capital Grille. Other favorites included the Firehouse Restaurant, Ditka’s Restaurant, a Greek place on State Street, and the Berghoff.
Most nights I ended up at the north bar at the Hilton. This was a good late night gathering place after evening concerts. Customers included a musical who’s who, along with former students and close colleagues meeting to spend some quality time together.
The evening often ended with a trip to George’s bar west of the Hilton. This was one of the more memorable places because of comfortable environment. There always seemed to be a group of band directors from Alabama at George’s at this hour. Somehow, they had talked the bartender into putting a record of the Alabama Fight Song in the juke box. The alumni put quarter after quarter in the juke box and reveled in singing along and yelling “Roll Tide” It was hilarious.
The most difficult part of the trip was the waking up in the very early morning to ride the train back home. However, this was a great time to reminisce about the clinic that year and recall many of the great moments of that year’s convention.