Conference Handbook

Conference Management and Planning Handbook


The Executive Director sends this planning guide to Program and Local Arrangements Chairs at the time of their appointment.

Basic procedures are provided here. The Local Arrangements and Program chairs should contact the Executive Director if they have questions regarding their role, the procedures described here, or matters not covered.

Two ad-hoc committees are established for each conference: the Local Arrangements Committee, which has responsibility for planning and logistics, and the Program Committee, which has responsibility for program content. The chairs of both committees are appointed by the President of the Society. The Program Committee Chair should be appointed prior to the two conferences preceding the subject conference, and the Local Arrangements Committee should be appointed at least a year in advance.

The Local Arrangements Chair appoints other members of the Local Arrangements Committee, who should reside in the city where the conference is to take place and need not necessarily be members of the Society.

The Program Chair submits suggestions to the President, who names that committee. This committee consists of members of the Society only; and should include members with diverse research interests and scholarly expertise. If possible, it should include the Program Chair of the upcoming conference.The Local Arrangements Chair serves as an ex-officio member of the Program Committee but does not normally evaluate individual proposals (except in cases where a proposal has an unusual impact on local arrangements).

When the committees are appointed, the Executive Director is notified. Throughout the planning for the conference, all parties must keep in mind that the event should be appealing to a large and diverse audience in order to attract attendees.

Please note: This guide is intended to facilitate the work of Society members and to ensure the continued high quality of our annual conferences. We encourage committee chairs and others involved in conference planning to submit suggestions for improving this guide to the Executive Director.


Role of the Local Arrangements Chair

Role of the Program Committee Chair

Role of the Executive Director

Combined Meetings

Sponsoring Institution

Conference Needs





1. The Local Arrangements Chair has overall responsibility for planning a unique and interesting conference. The sponsoring institution, the community, and the geographic area should be featured to the greatest extent possible.

2. At least three years before the conference, the Executive Director (or a representative) visits the community to help the Local Arrangements Chair select a hotel for the conference. A key element in the success of any conference is the hotel in which it is held. The following are guidelines in selecting hotels for Society for American Music conferences.

3. The Local Arrangements Chair shares with the Executive Director unique aspects of the community that may be featured during the conference; the Executive Director may also meet with appropriate host officials.

Please note: Because this may impact the conference budget, the Local Arrangements Chair should work with the Executive Director to plan any unique events early. Amount of assistance from the sponsoring institution must be determined, and requests for special grants and their approval must be accomplished, before the budget is finalized.

4. The Local Arrangements Chair selects a committee of local people to help him/her with various aspects of the conference. It is usually most efficient to appoint different tasks to individuals who can take responsibility for specific needs. Examples are provided below:

5. The Local Arrangements Committee is responsible for staging the Vivian Perlis Concert, locating the Banquet entertainment, handling arrangements for any local special events (such as concerts), planning the Friday afternoon excursions, and coordinating with the President and the Executive Director on the Honorary Member Ceremony.  All event planning must be finalized in conjunction with the Executive Director, to whom all performance agreement forms must be sent for signature. By the time the program committee meets the summer prior to the conference, the Local Arrangements Chair should have a general idea what these special events or programs will be.

6. The Local Arrangements Chair, together with the Executive Director, is responsible for the overall plan of the conference.  The Executive Director, in consultation with the Local Arrangements Chair as needed, ensures that all scheduled events at the conference hotel (including Board and committee meetings) have adequate space, time allotments, and amenities. The Local Arrangements Chair should consult with the Executive Director about arrangements for any additional Society events (including events held outside the hotel) that will be part of the conference.

7. By October 1 of the year before the conference, the Local Arrangements Chair writes promotional text for the Winter Bulletin (deadline December 15) and the announcement flyer and submits it to the Executive Director for approval. The promotional text is also sent to the chair of the Public Relations Committee for dissemination to the media and other outlets. An electronic form of the text should be sent to the manager of the Society's web site for posting there.

8. The format of the Announcement remains the same from year to year. The Local Arrangements Chair, together with the Program Chair, prepares the complete text once the program is set and sends it to the Executive Director for approval and/or typesetting. Once typeset, it is proofread by several people including but not limited to the Program Chair, the Local Arrangements Chair, and the Executive Director.  The final program is also converted for use with the Guidebook app, which enables conference-goers to access the program with smart phones and other mobile devices. 

9. The announcement is emailed to all members of the Society (or via postal mail to those without email addresses) and disseminated by the Society’s Public Relations Committee.  It is advisable to send the announcement by email (or postal mail) to local institutions for display or dissemination to faculty and students.

10. The Local Arrangements Chair should check with local sources of support, both in-kind and outright, in addition to that of the host institution. This might include support such as local grants for a special program. Often the local tourist bureau can help in a variety of ways, such as furnishing folders, maps, and information on local attractions for the packets. Sometimes local music stores, piano tuners, or printers will offer their services in return for free advertising, etc.

11. The Local Arrangements Chair secures signed Performance Agreements (a blank form is attached) from all persons, groups or organizations who/that are to be paid. No payment is made until these documents are signed by the Executive Director. No one other than the Executive Director or the President has authority to enter into binding contracts for the conference. It is helpful for the Local Arrangements Chair to maintain a list of contracts by event name, performer, and amount; such record-keeping ensures that all checks will be issued. 

12. If another organization meets with the Society for American Music, it is the role of the Local Arrangements Chair and the Program Chair to coordinate the meetings. There are questions such as combined or separate sessions that must be decided early and provided for. The Executive Director can help with the planning for combined sessions and must approve all arrangements to ensure that the hotel contract provides adequate facilities.

13. The Program Chair, together with the Local Arrangements Chair and the Executive Director, prepares the text of the Conference Program Booklet and forwards it to the Executive Director for typesetting.

14. The President of the Society may request that the Local Arrangements Chair provide transportation, hospitality, and other amenities for invited guests of the conference. Budgetary considerations should be directed to the Executive Director.

15. The Local Arrangements Committee staffs a registration/information center with students/volunteers during the conference. (Details below under “Conference needs.”).  It is advisable to recruit 10-15 student volunteers for this purpose, including local student volunteers who will be available for a short training/orientation session before the conference.

16. The Local Arrangements Committee works in coordination with the Membership Committee to meet the needs of outreach, which may include publicizing the conference to local educational institutions and reaching out to students as well as members of groups historically underrepresented in the discipline.

17. The Executive Director determines the number of pianos needed for the conference, and the Local Arrangements Committee is responsible for procuring piano loans/rentals. Piano loans may be available from the host institution or a sponsor in return for thanks in the conference program; otherwise, rental fees for pianos are covered by the Society. The Local Arrangements Committee also works with the Executive Director and the Program Committee Chair to coordinate the room schedule for each piano as well as any necessary tunings.  Piano rental services often ask for a detailed list including where the piano will reside, when it will be tuned, and any other special needs.  

18. The Local Arrangements Committee arranges for borrowing a set of instruments and music stands from a local institution for use by the SAM Brass Band.

19. The Local Arrangements Committee should obtain a welcome letter from the host institution(s) for publication in the Conference Program.  All host institutions should be thanked in the Conference Program.  The Local Arrangements Committee may be asked by the Executive Director to locate an appropriate printer for the Conference Program and to arrange for delivery to the conference hotel.

20. The Local Arrangements Chair may be asked to store a handful of boxes of Society conference materials for the year prior to the annual conference; a few additional boxes of conference materials will be sent to the Local Arrangements Chair shortly before the conference.

21. The Local Arrangements Chair prepares a list of specific needs for the conference. A list of typical needs is provided below under "Conference Needs,” but every conference is unique. The Local Arrangements Chair must plan carefully for all the needs for activities and events at the conference.

22. The Local Arrangements Chair is the person in charge during the conference. It is helpful to schedule a meeting with hotel staff, and the Executive Director just before the conference to review the orders, identify potential problems and establish a method for dealing with them.





1. Any special emphasis or theme for the conference is made by the Program Committee chair in consultation with the Local Arrangements Chair and the President. The conference theme is included in the call for proposals, but the call must state that submission of proposals on all American music subjects is encouraged.

2. The call for proposals contains guidelines for preparation and presentation. Papers and lecture recitals shall be twenty minutes in length, allowing time for discussions. The proposal is limited to 250 words and submitted online. A 100-word publishable abstract shall be submitted with the proposal as well as a list of audio-visual needs. For lecture recitals, multiple copies sufficient for all members of the committee of a tape are submitted. Names of the presenter(s) shall be on only one of the tapes, as the committee evaluation process is blind. Two self-addressed stamped envelopes should also be included. The call for papers must be approved by the President and the Executive Director before it is circulated.

Please note: The call for proposals should make sure to specify that the Society's policy is that someone may not present in consecutive years, nor make two presentations at the same conference.

3. The call for proposals is published in the issue of the Society Bulletin preceding the deadline for proposal submissions. It is also sent in electronic form to the chair of the Public Relations committee for dissemination to the media, the newsletters of allied organizations such as SEM, ASA, AMS, ARLS, MLA, AFS, and AMIS, etc., and for posting to their listservs. It is sent in electronic form to the manager of the society's web site for posting there.

4. The Program Chair makes a brief presentation at the business meeting of the preceding conference, providing deadlines and emphasis for the conference.

5. Members of the Program Committee shall not submit proposals.

6. Membership in the Society is a requirement for all proposal submissions and all presenters shall register for the entire conference.

7. The Program Chair schedules the meeting of the Program Committee so that all deadlines in the Conference Planning Calendar can be met. Meetings to select papers and recitals can be held by conference calls when it is impossible for the entire committee to meet in person, but this should be considered a last resort. If it is expected that travel expenses will be incurred for the committee meeting, these must be cleared with the Executive Director beforehand and must be included in the conference budget.

Please note: A detailed guide to organizing and processing the proposals is available from the Executive Director.

8. If a large number of lecture/recital proposals is anticipated, the Program Chair may, at his/her discretion, appoint a separate committee for which he/she is chair, to evaluate these proposals. Note that this committee is appointed by the Chair, not the President.

9. Paper sessions usually have themes. The Program Committee organizes sessions around papers of compatible content and assigns each session a name that is clear and appealing to persons who might attend the conference.

10. The Program Committee may wish to invite speakers for plenary sessions and enlist performers for concerts outside the usual paper and lecture/recital sessions. The Board of Trustees invites an Honorary Member to come to the conference. This person should be worked into the conference program as appropriate. The Board may wish to make other awards that will affect program planning. The Program chair and Local Arrangements Chair should contact the President early on to suggest possible honorees and/or ascertain who has been or will be invited.

11. Within the framework of the Conference Planning Form, the program is set. At this point, in consultation with the Interest Group Coordinator, the Interest Group Sessions are scheduled, taking care not to create topic conflicts. Audio-visual equipment is rented by the day. The allocation of AV needs can be made less costly by careful planning at this stage, i.e., not scheduling two sessions simultaneously that require unusual or expensive equipment and keeping all such sessions on the same day. Note: Interest Groups submit proposals to the Program Chair through the normal proposal process. Certain interest groups have to meet on certain years, so the understanding is that interest groups need to submit proposals just to make sure that the Program Chair is aware of what they plan to do and get them on the schedule.

12. A draft of the conference schedule including all paper sessions, lecture recitals, plenary sessions, and Interest Group sessions is sent to the Local Arrangements Chair and the Executive Director for approval.

13. When the conference schedule is approved, the Program Committee notifies proposers of acceptance or denial and the day and time of the presentation. Acceptance letters request any additional information needed from the presenter, such as an updated abstract if necessary. They also explain the requirement that all presenters join the Society and register for the entire conference. Personalized rather than form letters are desirable, especially for persons whose proposals have not been accepted. The names of all presenters, session and presentation titles, and AV request sheets are then sent to the Executive Director. At this point, all information necessary for the announcement should be final.

14. Session chairs are selected and their names sent to the Executive Director. It is preferable but not necessary for these names to be included in the conference announcement but must be determined in time for publication in the program book, i.e., at least 6 weeks before the conference.

15. The Executive Director assembles 100-word abstracts for every presentation, 100-word descriptions of all recitals, concert programs, and a synopsis of other planned events in electronic form. These are sent to the Associate Conference Manager for inclusion in the Program.

16. Before, during, and after the conference, the Program Chair requests a copy of all handouts and other materials from session chairs and sends them to the Executive Director, who forwards them to the Society's archivist. The Program Committee should help with this task. After the conference, these will be sent to the Webmaster for posting on the Society's website.

17. The Program committee chair should apprise participants of the guidelines for the Mark Tucker Award and the Cambridge University Press Award, encouraging them to submit, in the acceptance letter.

18. The acceptance letter should include a clause making clear that if a presenter does not register for the conference by a specific deadline, they will be removed from the program. This deadline will be set each year in relation to the deadline for the printing of the program. The Program Committee chair will be responsible for contacting those who have not registered to inform them that they have forfeited their spot on the program.




1. The Executive Director serves in an advisory role for all aspects of the conference. She/he maintains records of past conferences including documents such as programs and announcements that can be used as models. S/he also works closely with the Local Arrangements and Program Committees, both as a facilitator and to assure compliance with policies established by the Board of Trustees.

2. The Executive Director assists the Local Arrangements Chair with selection of a hotel for the conference. (See criteria for hotel selection under Local Arrangements Chair). With input from the Local Arrangements Chair, the Executive Director prioritizes the choice of hotels and negotiates with them in order of preference to determine if an acceptable package can be put together.

3. The Executive Director applies for tax-exempt status in the state in which the conference is to be held.

4. The Executive Director creates a budget for the conference. This is based on a conservative estimate of anticipated attendance. After fixed costs are determined, the Local Arrangements Chair is notified of funds that are available for special programs and activities unique to the particular conference or locality.

Creating the budget must be done early in the conference planning process, as no money can be spent until a budget has been adopted. Once the budget is adopted, significant or costly new initiatives cannot be added. While many items are fixed expenses and remain the same from year to year, there are inevitably some changes from year to year that result from the unique aspects of a particular conference. (Bus transportation for events away from the hotel is an example of a budget item that may vary significantly.) Therefore, the Local Arrangements and Program Chairs need to plan for those unique events early. Amount of assistance from the sponsoring institution must be determined, and requests for special grants and their approval must be accomplished, before the budget is finalized.

5. All pre-conference registrations are sent to the Executive Director, who keeps the Local Arrangements Chair informed of the numbers on a regular basis. S/he should also keep checking the hotel pick-up list, to make sure that we are making our commitment to the contract. S/he prepares a list of pre-registrants and brings sufficient copies for all attendees. He/she also brings envelopes containing tickets (for the banquet), and receipts for all those pre-registered for the conference.

6. The Executive Director oversees the production of:

•  Name tags (see above)

•  Receipts (see above)

•  Banquet tickets (see above)

•  the Conference announcement mailer

•  the Program book

7. The Executive Director oversees all aspects of the Silent Auction, with the Student Forum Co-Chairs.

8. The Executive Director maintains financial records for the conference and pays all invoices for conference expenses as per the adopted budget.

9. The Executive Director:

•  oversees all planning and arrangements for exhibitors;

•  approves plans for all off-site activities;

•  assures that the conference will be self-sustaining;

•  completes a final financial statement for the conference.





Meetings of other societies can be incorporated into meetings of the Society for American Music. Suggestion for a combined meeting may come from other organizations, the hosting institution, the site selection committee, or someone else. No matter who it comes from, the Board's approval is required. Plans must be made early because additional meeting rooms are needed; if a significant number of persons are involved, additional hotel rooms are needed. Hotel selections and contracts for space are made more than two years in advance.

When a combined meeting is planned, the Local Arrangements Chair should request permission for the combined meeting from the President. The President will discuss the plan with the Executive Director and recommend action to the Board of Trustees. As presented, specific plans for integration of the societies and sessions must be clearly stated.

A letter of understanding needs to be put together between the executives in charge to clarify the distribution of responsibilities. The local arrangement chairs of both organizations need to work closely together. The contracts for the hotels are typically signed by each organization, but contain similar terms. All joint hotel charges are made to the master account, but each organization needs to set up their own separate account with the hotel for organization-specific charges.




Society for American Music conferences are usually sponsored by a college, university, or other institution. This results from an invitation from the prospective host institution to hold a conference in a particular city. Upon acceptance, a person from the host institution is usually named Local Arrangements Chair.

The sponsoring institution gains publicity from hosting a Society for American Music conference. The institution's name appears on all announcements, program booklets, etc. Senior music faculty from leading institutions throughout the United States attend the conference, as do doctoral-level graduate students. In the past small colleges have gained recognition, and larger universities have gained graduate students through hosting a Society for American Music conference.

There is no required financial obligation for an institution to host a Society for American Music conference, although host institutions have assisted in a variety of ways. The following list is not inclusive, but represents ways institutions have assisted at previous conferences:

Host institutions often provide an evening of events on their campus. These occur on either Thursday or Friday evening. They can include a combination of events such as a dinner, a concert, and a reception.

The Local Arrangements Chair or an institutional representative should discuss these things with his/her Dean, Chair, Provost, etc. This should be done before making a proposal to host a conference. A commitment, although not required, makes the proposal more attractive to the Site Selection Committee.





1. Students can help staff the registration desk, which is open throughout the conference. If necessary, honorariums for this purpose can be included in the budget, or students can be offered complimentary registration. All staff should be fully briefed on all aspects of the conference; especially the scheduled off-site activities and they should be knowledgeable about the area around the hotel, especially eating places within walking or a short taxi ride distance.

2. A packet of information should be provided to each registrant at check-in. It should include the following as well as other items appropriate for the conference.

3. The Executive Director brings the list of pre-registrants (in enough copies for all attendees) and pre-registration envelopes containing tickets name badges, and receipts. The Local Arrangements committee assembles the pre-registration envelopes.

4. Near the registration desk, there should be a large bulletin board with ample push pins where attendees can leave messages for one another and where important information can be posted.

5. Signs indicating each session should be posted outside the door of that session. Easels for this purpose should be put in the budget if needed, but normally these are provided by the hotel.

6. A piano should be available in those session rooms where requested. At least one of these must be a grand piano. The Society will supply audio-visual equipment on an as-needed basis.






1. The Society for American Music Sample Conference Schedule (.xlsx) is a sample schedule for conferences. This form should not be seen as a fixed template, given that conference schedules change periodically in response to recommendations from the Committee on the Conference and to conference-specific scheduling changes determined by the Program Committee.  There is room for flexibility, which may be required for conferences with unique events. Deviation from the general format must be approved by the Executive Director to ensure that the new schedule conforms to the hotel contract for spaces.

2. The Performance Agreement Form must be used whenever an honorarium is being given. The form is completed by the Local Arrangements Chair, signed by the contractor (the person receiving the honorarium), and then sent to the Executive Director for signature.  It is helpful for the Local Arrangements Chair to maintain a list of contracts by event name, performer, and amount; such record-keeping ensures that all checks will be issued.