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Letters from Leadership

These letters were originally published in The Flutist Quarterly.

An unseen person writes on a piece of paper

From Jennifer Clarke, Executive Director of the NFA

One of the topics I hear about frequently in my conversations at the NFA is the need for transparency. I’ve been thinking about what this means at the NFA as we work together to facilitate all the activities of our unique organization.

My first stop to clarify my interpretation was the dictionary. According to Merriam-Webster, “Transparency is the bedrock of ethics. Transparency is an amalgamation of many important values that include honesty, respect, and responsibility.” The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as “A situation in which business and financial activities are done in an open way without secrets, so that people can trust that they are fair and honest.”

Putting these together, it becomes clear that when NFA members ask for transparency, they are asking for openness and honesty about how decisions are made, by whom and when, and they want to know that their voice is heard and respected. Whether this is about proposal acceptance, financial decisions, exhibit hall placement, board nominations, virtual event selections, competitions, and whatever activity involves a decision that impacts on our members and their goals.

To respond to needs for more transparency, you’ll start seeing messaging that aims to unpack some of the processes that keep the NFA’s activities on track, many of which involve a vast array of volunteers/appointees as well as our staff. You’ll see more information about how different things are funded and who is responsible for making them happen, such as a committee or appointee.

Rebecca Johnson’s piece in this issue of Flutist Quarterly, along with Alberto Almarza and Sarah Shin’s interview on the new NFA Monthly Cast, aim to show what’s involved in the proposal review process. My previous blog series and recent podcast interview on NFA’s finances unpack how the NFA’s money is spent, especially member dues and registration fees, and how the financial pieces fit together. Our podcast series is intended to give members a look “behind the curtain” at some key areas of NFA operations.

And while it has been said that the NFA can be bureaucratic at times, with forms to fill out and a review process for applications of every kind, I strongly believe that introducing structures that are the same for everyone who applies—whether it’s for a job, an internship, a nomination, or a proposal—create transparency and fairness.

Returning to our dictionary definition, trust is perhaps the most important key to sustaining a healthy organization where members feel that their voices are heard and decisions are made in an honest, fair, and open way. By increasing transparency, my hope is that we will build a more trusting community where everyone feels respected and that their goals within the flute and music world remain at the center of what we do.

-Jennifer Clarke
Executive Director of the NFA

From Rebecca Johnson, President of the NFA

Being the program chair (PC) for an NFA convention provides a much different look at the organization. I was honored to serve in this position in 2019. The NFA appoints a PC—basically an artistic director with an added load of administrative tasks—to oversee an upcoming convention about two-and-a-half years in advance, which is when the creative juices start flowing. This gives the committee a year-and-a-half before member proposals are due to decide upon the theme, select an assistant program chair (APC), map out priorities for some of the headline performers, and think about ways to incorporate the host city into the offerings.

Then, in the fall of each year, hundreds of NFA members submit proposals to present at the following summer’s convention. We often receive 400 to 450 proposals—though the two most recent conventions in Texas (2020, postponed to 2021 and virtual, and the upcoming 2024) attracted more than 500. At the same time, the NFA staff sends the PC’s team a scheduling grid with many time slots already reserved for competitions and important annual events, as well as room restrictions that are specific to each convention venue.

Along with a programming committee of 8 to 10 people, the PC and APC go through all the proposals, collated by type of event, so everything can be compared by the way they will function in the schedule. Workshops are compared to other workshops, panel discussions compared to other panels. The performance proposals (a massive number) are evaluated and honed into programs that can all be fit into the schedule grid and number of rooms that NFA has rented.

After four months of painstaking evaluation, whittling down, and schedule juggling, people are informed of the results. Unfortunately, many proposals are denied, sometimes due to lack of detail or quality of the proposal and much of the time simply due to time and schedule limitations. The acceptance rate varies between about 33% and 50%—in a very high submission year like this one, it is about one-third.

Though many excellent ideas must be denied each year for space and time reasons (please try again in the future!), there are always things folks can do to improve the quality of their submissions. For starters, each fall there’s a helpful proposal workshop where the NFA staff and program chair talk through the process and the PC team talks about their programming priorities. We encourage you to attend!

In the meantime, here are some thoughts for you to consider as you craft future proposals:

  • Proposals that adhere to the theme of the convention are especially attractive.
  • When proposals seem incomplete (no repertoire listed, no personnel, or some combination thereof), they are less compelling when reviewed alongside those that are very detailed, and therefore they are less likely to succeed.
  • It is important to submit a recording of you playing the actual piece you’re asking to perform.
  • The recordings you have on your website cannot serve as the sound samples you need. When evaluating so many proposals, there’s not time for the PC to look through what you have on offer. Please link to the actual recordings the PC should consider, even if they are in a large list on your website.
  • If you’re asking to play a newly commissioned work, you need to submit recordings of yourself and of the composer’s similar work. And, of course, make sure the piece will be ready in time.
  • Proposals submitted on behalf of a committee should indicate how the session will help the committee achieve its goals for the benefit of the NFA community. Committee proposals that are performance-based and don’t directly advance the goals of the committee and organization are unlikely to be selected, as are those that lack detail.

As you can see, selecting and organizing a convention’s programming is a gargantuan task for the PC—but is ultimately a rewarding part of one’s life and career. When you’re there in person seeing an audience engage with the incredible number of moving parts that comprise each NFA gathering…it is amazing! When you see us saying say “thank you” to the PC team over and over again in person, in the program book, and on our media channels, we truly mean it—this is a seriously dedicated investment of time, resources, and love.

Each year, when the NFA calls for organizational nominations, we include a call for future program chairs. I hope this might help get you thinking about who might be an amazing addition to our PC roster. We’re looking for someone who is familiar with the structure of NFA conventions, well connected in the flute community, organized and detail oriented, and a visionary artist and phenomenal flutist. It’s a tall order, but we also all know these folks exist! We take this process seriously. You’ll hear news of the 2026 PC soon, and we’ll be looking for 2027’s in next winter’s nominations cycle. We’ll hope to hear from you!

-Rebecca Johnson
President of the NFA