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Thursday, October 24, 2013

My first CE world congress

Since being a CE student flicking through the abstract books, I was hoping to attend one day a world CE conference.  Last week, seven years after I graduated I was finally able to. As it was practical on my home turf – in Germany- I was ready to sit back, get inspired, learn new things or rediscover the old. The following is my experience of the three days of the congress/conference.


I arrived (how untypical German of me) late.  However, I arrived in time for the last well-wishing speeches and the announcement of the changes at the Peto-Institute.

As so many others I then got hit with the first keynote speeches, it was definitely quite hard to swallow before lunch. I felt that other keynote presentations, which were held later at the conference, would have been more appropriate to start of a CE world congress.

After those, I started to spot some familiar faces and I was starting to get into this whole congress thing. Then lunchtime rolled around and I was rather hungry. After spending three Euros on a small bottle of water I decided to get some supplies from the town of Fuerstenfeldbrueck to survive the rest of the afternoon.

Unfortunately, I did miss a couple of interesting sounding presentations that day, while I tried to figure out to which one of the s-rooms (Seminarraum, Saeulenraum, Stadtsaal – really could noone come up with better names???) I had to go to. Then later in one of the s-rooms I finally attended my favorite presentation of that day. It was so full of passion and educated enthusiasm for CE. It made me instantly relax, appreciate being there and relate to what I do. Thanks Itzel Bazua. Spending some time with colleagues and friends I haven’t seen in long time or meeting people I only know from email or phone made the day feel very worth while but unfortunately too short. I couldn’t stay for the meet and greet, as I had to get back to my baby.


This day was starting off a bit better, as I saw some of my friends straight away. The presentations seemed to be getting better and apparently I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. The German lady sitting next to me uttered after a sigh of relieve: “Jawohl, es geht doch”. She took the words right out of my mouth.

I felt like I was finally learning something. It was great. What surprised me was that when I congratulated one of the conductors on her presentation, she said she was worried about it as it wasn’t very scientific but merely her experience.  I thought that was kind of worrisome, considering that the CE profession is foremost a profession, that shines through its practice and its pedagogy, and I am sorry to say, not through its scientific proof or research. But I didn’t question it and forgot about this for a little while. Just being swept away by the busy-ness of the congress. The rest of the day and presentations were really great and I enjoyed being there thoroughly. At lunch we even took some time to take a look at the impressive church that was in the heart of the old monastery where the congress took place.

During a couple of the presentation I only once or twice raised my eyebrows, as the presenters would talk about how this or that was with the principles of CE in mind. I wondered if all of us in the room had a universal understanding of those principles. If we all shared the same and if we all could name those when asked? I worked for so long by myself that this was thoroughly possible. That I just didn’t get the memo. But again those critical thoughts were rather rare and I kept forgetting about it. Well until Andrew Suttons presentation. He kind of rattled us all up from our congress fairy tale slumber. Reminding us that they a whole bunch of controversies in CE that have not been publicly discussed and especially not at this congress.

Andrew’s presentation did what I assume the purpose was. It was to make us think and to make us question. I left soon after this and spent the train ride back to Munich re-thinking my questions that came up at the conference. The one no one talks about and the burning question to why. I understand that some of this “elephants in the room” are a very sensitive subject for some. I understand a lot of work has been put into negotiating some off those elephants and stuff them into boxes that aren’t adequate for there size.  Some have been discussed to death with no major results. And not all need to be taken out and talked about again. But in saying nothing (at least to a wider audience), we are saying we are agreeing. But do we know what we are agreeing with? It’s a catch 22, if we don’t ask, we won’t find out. I think its been rather sad the lack of discussion of any kind. I think a prime example was at the end of one of the presentation when one conductor got up and asked quite critical questions (I applaud to that). She expressed her concerns based on her experience (I personally would have liked to hear more) but then in the same breath she said that this presentation didn’t belong into a CE world congress. Well, if it didn’t, where did it belong? How would have the rest of us known there might be bigger problems? Either way, that’s when I started to type some notes into my phone for my first blog back, to stop the silence.


I felt pretty confident that I figured out the way to the congress by then. But no such luck. What we didn’t know that there was major construction going on at the main line of the public transport system. We weren’t the only ones confused as everyone around us was too. Thanks to the announcements and general knowledge of the German way of thinking, I figured it out. We had to change trains one more time then before. At that train station my partner pointed out two people with yellow bags (the ones we got at the conference), who looked utterly confused. He suggested I help. So I turned around and was promptly approached by them for help. They turned out to be the students from NICE, (Susie blogged about). We had a nice chat on the last train ride to the conference. I promised to be there for the presentation they were to give later that day.

Because of this we were later arriving to the conference and I missed the first presentation I was really looking forward to hear by Ralph Strzalkowski. I was just in time to see him leave the room and hear Melanie Browns voice from inside. I am very grateful I didn’t miss her presentation. I have to say I missed hearing her talk. Her presentations or lectures I attended as a student at NICE, made you think (as many other lecturers did). You can say she is very conductive in her speeches. She leads you along a certain topic, gives suggestions without giving the answers, but encourages you to keep searching. I left that presentation with renewed sense of purpose and confidence in my chosen profession.

Rony Schneiders presentation took a new spin how hope not only needs to be in the participants and caregivers consciousness but also in the staff ones in order to provide it. Very interesting.

Afterwards I gave my partner a break from taking care of the baby and took her to the coffee break and poster presentations. The baby was very well behaved and time flew by while I was chatting with a lot of interesting people.

 I managed to go to three presentations by three former and current NICE students. We used to get told as students (I think by Andrew Sutton), that the reason we had to give so many presentations was to be able when we graduate as conductors to communicate what we were doing. Listening to the presentations made me realized it worked and proud to be part of the different generations of NICE students. They did all an amazing job.

The congress then ended on a bitter-sweat note for me. Not only because it was time to say goodbye again and I only managed to do that to a handful of people. But also because the last presentations I attended, made me rather angry. I tried to figure out why those made me angry and still trying. Maybe I went in with too high expectations as two very respected conductors gave them, maybe I was upset by the little content in those presentations and what representation they gave of the profession of conductors. But who knows, it might have been just another case of language barrier.

Unfortunately, I had to miss the closing ceremony as it was running late and my little family was running out of patients waiting for me.

Nevertheless, my ‘Fazit’ (conclusion) is that it was a conference well worth going to, with its ups and downs. You could feel that a lot of work was put into setting up this congress and into its presentations, but I was surprised that it didn’t have the ueber-organized touch, we Germans are known for.

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