An NPM Convention Journal

This will be considerably longer and less polished than my usual but I’m not taking the time to do exhaustive revisions. I spent this week in Chicago at the NPM (pastoral music) convention, which was in Rosemont, out by O’Hare airport. Here are the scattered reflections of a week…

Day One: Sunday, July 5

12:38 p.m. I put Alex and Julianna in the car with hugs and kisses, drank in the feel of Christian’s arms around me, and swallowed my weepiness as I walked away from ¾ of my family. An hour later, I was preparing to leave with Justin and Laura when I realized that I didn’t have the diaper bag. After all the (rushed) careful planning, I still managed to leave something important behind.

But I have my flute and my NEO and Nicholas, and I am Chicago bound.

Day Two: Monday July 6th

Discovered more things I forgot/lost in transit from So. Illinois to Chicago.

Nicholas is the hit of the convention. And he’s showing new skills: grabbing hair, name tag, shirt…squealing at everyone who adores him—which is everyone…including a med student named Sung, Joe Mattingly, and Marty Haugen.

The main topic on everyone’s lips is the lack of economical food choices. I can’t help thinking that people who go to conventions tend to spend too much money because somebody else generally has to pay for it, and that’s why convention centers/hotels/restaurants without nearby competition get away with charging so much. I must shake my head, while I make do with a $5 muffin for breakfast.

Thought for the day: “Here in this life, all symphonies must remain unfinished.” Karl Rahner

10:00p.m., totally shot. Played from Times & Seasons (and three other works) at the GIA booth tonight with Kate Cuddy. Lots of fun. Diane Hennessy ran Nicholas around the exhibit hall on her scooter. He was crabby. This is my first convention attending as a composer; it’s refreshing to spend the whole day focused on that, rather than feeling obliged to attend things more directly applicable to being a liturgy director.

Day Three: Tuesday, July 7th

The air traffic pattern switched overnight, and when Nicholas woke me up at 6a.m., I heard the roar of jet liners taking off over the hotel. I had to call Alex to tell him about it. And I got a “walking in the woods” story about Thomas taking a dangerous curve, in the bargain.

Still finding things I’ve lost since Southern Illinois. I swear there’s a black hole somewhere in my suitcase.

8:00a.m. Today is T shirt day. I’m relieved to discover that I am not the only person who didn’t want to spend $15 for another T shirt I wouldn’t wear. I was afraid I’d be lime green flotsam in a sea of fire orange.

7:37p.m. I changed one dirty diaper during the plenum address (which was really good today), three during the GIA showcase, and another during the composers’ forum; fended off three major phlegm-y spitups before he finally nailed my shirt. But Nicholas was so happy and smiley all day (he is really hamming it up for everyone) that it wasn’t until dirty diapers number six and seven that I realized the kid is sick. Now I have to send my brother-in-law to Walgreen’s for more diapers, because it doesn’t look like I have enough to get me home on Friday. Ah, the adventure.

Ate lunch with WLP today. I sat at a table with editors, singers, composers and the owner. (I didn’t know there was one.) Ed Bolduc reminds me of my cousin Chris. I was the newbie in the room so I got introduced all around. It was a good lunch…the best meal I’ve had so far…and all the more enjoyable because I didn’t have to pay for it. Considering the $8 I spent on fruit and a danish this morning (no drink) and the $19 I spent for dinner (which was extremely ordinary), that’s no small perk.

This evening I’ve retreated to my room for some down time. Of course, I’m spending it working on a hymn text that’s been the bane of my existence since mid-January, when I woke up in the middle of the night with a tune and the first two words. Fleshing out that inspiration is a pain in the ***. Two years ago, I sent a text to WLP and got a great rejection, saying “We can’t use this, but send us more!” I groaned, b/c I knew how many months and sheets of paper I spent to get that text put together. Well, this one is even harder. The last one I finished. This one I think I’m going to have to abandon.

But coming to NPM is firing the composing neurons. I have three things in process now, one of them brand new today.

Sometime past midnight: I was supposed to go to a party given by GIA tonight. I was really looking forward to it. But when I found the place, I began seeing people walking toward it…dressed up. Now, NPM is a very casual convention. So it never occurred to me that this event might be anything other than casual. I have nothing remotely resembling dress clothes in my suitcase. Heck, I spend most of my life in my old slobby T shirts and too-big shorts, because I know I’m going to get spit up on. So for me, wearing nice casual shirts and only partially-stained shorts, with white socks and tennis shoes, is dressing up!

Needless to say, I didn’t go to the party. This convention is turning into quite an educational experience for me.  🙂

Day Four: Wednesday, July 8th

Attended rehearsal for the WLP showcase this morning. It was a choir full of composers, and I found myself tongue-tied. Can you believe that? Me? Speechless? What’s up with that?

What’s up with it, I’m sorry to admit, is that I’m still starstruck. Over time I’ve progressed from making a complete idiot of myself any time I encounter a liturgical composer, to simply having nothing to say. Maybe now that the ice is broken, I can start to act like a normal human being and actually get to know these people, who are after all colleagues, not rock stars.

I guess I just have a horror of looking like the self-centered unpublished composer who’s trying to weasel her way in, and spends every moment ingratiating myself, trying to sink claws into someone and use them as a scratching post on the way up the ladder of publication. In other words, I want to talk about OTHER THINGS. Make friends. But all appearances to the contrary, I am essentially an introvert.

1:45 p.m., mid-OCP showcase. Nicholas sleeping peacefully through the joyful noise of contemporary song, until the first organ piece starts, and then his face twists up and he begins to whimper in his sleep. He-hehee. Do I have another drummer on my hands?

7p.m. Went outside my comfort zone today. I had the opportunity to mention another flute collection in progress to my editor, and I took it, and he told me to send it. Yessss! On the down side…plugged duct. Yech!

Thought for the day: “What you do daily, you can do dully, unless you do it deeply.” Abbot Gregory Polan, OSB.

Day Five: July 9

2:20p.m. What is it with my children and exploding diapers in downtown Chicago?

7:50 p.m., Orchestra Hall, downtown Chicago. I left Nicholas asleep on the shoulder of my new friend Monica and went downstairs to the bathroom. On the way, three people said, “I didn’t recognize you without your baby!”

This hall is spectacular, by the way. Can’t wait till next spring, when we come back to Chicago to celebrate our 10th anniversary.

9:45 p.m. Last week I had bad headaches several days in a row, so when I packed vitamins and beadryl (my emergency sleep aid) into a Gerber bowl for my trip, I dumped a bunch of Tylenol and ibuprofin in, too. I’m a walking pharmacy. 😉 Fortunately I haven’t had to use most of it, but going downtown for nine hours, amid traffic and pollution, I decided to be cautious. Good thing, because I got a headache almost right away. But I had my trusty Tylenol gel caps. But after walking around downtown for two hours I was overcome by irresistible sleepiness. On the bus I conked out while we transitioned to Orchestra hall. I couldn’t figure it out… till I got back to the hotel and was taking my Lecithin, and I processed what I had actually picked up out of my bowl. Not acetamenophen, but Benadryl. Two of them. No wonder I couldn’t stay awake!

Day Six: Friday, July 10th

8:57a.m. I’m getting very good at spotting nooks and crannies where I can nurse without having to use the nursing cover, which we both detest. Today I found a cubby behind a wall labeled “phones,” but of course, there are no phones anymore.

Nicholas and I are both quite ready to be home.

 9:45a.m. Since I reflected on texts the other night, I’ve been thinking that maybe I’m putting *too many* restrictions on myself. There are hymn text writers out there who are spectacular at what they do; I am not one of them. I often brainstorm something and immediately say, “No,not that…no, not good enough…” Perhaps by trying to hold out for that kind of polish, I’m actually telling God “no.” Yesterday morning I had a flash of a new song. It was far too busy a day to take any time to sit in a quiet place and work, but it’s playing around in the back of my mind, and I’m trying not to impose such a stern filter. We’ll see how it goes.

This convention has been great for opening the creative floodgates. I have a ton of music to work on now. Yay God!

Thought for the day: “We are kin under the skin.” Msgr. Ray East.

5:05 p.m. I am not a good solo traveler.Christian is our caretaker in getting from point A to point B. I am OK getting around Lambert St. Louis because I’ve been there dozens of times. But I was very skittery about O’Hare today, from getting on the hotel shuttle, all the way through check-in and security (security is really intimidating!) and up till I arrived at the gate.

The line was really long, so I did self check, and then I went to the X ray machine for bags. I was very polite: “Is this the place where I drop off my bag?”

And the guy got snooty with me! “Do I LOOK like an agent?” he said. “You have to go over there!”

Well, fine, be that way. I guess most people who go through airports know what they’re doing, but still it seems to me that someone who is clueless, but polite, ought to be treated with courtesy.

Sitting in the back of the Mo-X bus…and it is very, very bouncy. Ugh, not looking forward to traversing I 70 here! But at least then we’ll be home.

The young guy in front of me just asked me, “How old is your baby, ma’am?”


How nice, for him to be so respectful, but apparently I look older than I think I do! Have I ever mentioned that HS and college kids think I’m old, and adults think I’m a pup? This week people kept asking me if Nicholas was my only one: he must be, they said, because you’re far too young to have more.

Ummm…Okay. Thanks….I think?