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. There is also a Program Chair Manual (available from the Executive Director) with more detailed procedures for organizing and evaluating proposals, as well as corresponding with conference presenters. Program chairs should also consult the Sample Program Chair Timeline. 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 in the Program Chair Manual.

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 the Program Committee. This committee consists of members of the Society only, and it should include members with diverse research interests and scholarly expertise. It should also include the Program Chair of the upcoming conference.

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:

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 decided upon 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 musics of the Americas is encouraged.

2. A call for seminar topics must be distributed in November, two calendar years (i.e., 16 months) before the conference. The Program Committee must evaluate the submissions and select up to two seminar topics in advance of the preceding conference so that the topic can be announced at the business meeting and incorporated into the call for papers. A seminar is only included in the program if there are sufficient proposals on the topic that the Program Committee determines are of suitable quality.

3. A call for workshop topics must also be distributed in November, two calendar years (i.e., 16 months) before the conference. The Program Committee must evaluate the submissions and select up to two workshop topics in advance of the preceding conference so that the topic can be announced at the business meeting and incorporated into the call for papers. A workshop is only included in the program if there are sufficient proposals on the topic that the Program Committee determines are of suitable quality.

4. The call for proposals contains guidelines for preparation and presentation, as well as the online submission process. Those submitting should include a 250-word proposal, a 100-word publishable abstract (which will not be seen by the Program Committee), and indications of audiovisual needs. The Program Committee considers four types of proposals:

  1. Individual papers that are twenty minutes in length, followed by ten minutes of questions. The proposal should include up to five keywords.
  2. Individual posters for the conference poster session. The proposal should include up to five keywords. Note: Those submitting may indicate that they want their proposal to be considered for both paper and poster sessions.
  3. Panels of 2-4 papers and public musicology panels with up to four presenters. Panels that include performance elements should provide links to online audio or video files (anonymized, if possible) and a list of any special equipment needs. Discussion oriented panels should provide rationale for their length (i.e., 60, 90, or 120 minutes).
  4. Lecture-recitals of thirty to forty-five minutes in length. The body of the proposal should include links to online audio or video files and a list of any special equipment needs. If possible, these files should be anonymized.
  5. Papers for the seminars. In the seminar format, participants make their papers available in advance of the conference; at the seminar session, papers are discussed rather than read.

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 specify that the Society's policy is that members may not submit more than one proposal for the same conference. 

5. 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, LASA, AASA,  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.

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

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

8. Membership in the Society is a requirement for all proposal submissions and all presenters shall register for the entire conference. Attending the conference is strongly recommended for all presenters; however, in extraordinary circumstances when a presenter cannot attend and someone will present on their behalf, the presenter must still register for the entire conference.

9. 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. All Program Committee members may be reimbursed for their basic transportation expenses (economy air, train, or auto), local ground transportation (to/from the airport or train station), and up to two nights of shared hotel accommodation. The local host (or Program Chair) may be reimbursed for the purchase of up to two reasonably priced meals for the committee as well as for the purchase of simple refreshments for committee gatherings. No other meals or transportation expenses will be reimbursed. The local host is encouraged to ask the local institution to support meeting costs. Committee members should coordinate with Executive Director for travel reimbursement.

Please note: A detailed Program Chair Manual for organizing and processing the proposals, as well as corresponding with conference presenters, is available from the Executive Director.

10. In order to ensure fair and consistent evaluation of all proposals, the Program Committee develops shared criteria for evaluation. Before reading any proposals, the Program Committee meets by teleconference to establish a list of up to six specific criteria that will be applied in the evaluation process, and agrees on how to apply a scale of 1 to 5 points for each of these criteria. Possible criteria may include: significance/originality; evidence of substantive research (e.g., sources, methods, theory); liveliness (quality of prose in the proposal, likeliness of topic/approach to interest conference attendees); relevance to conference theme (e.g., local scene, diverse music of the Americas); attention to an underrepresented topic (e.g., pre-twentieth century music, indigenous and Native American musics, etc.).

Committee members then apply the agreed-upon criteria as they evaluate the submitted materials. The committee members submit their scores for the agreed-upon criteria and their total scores in an Excel spreadsheet to the committee chair, who aggregates the scores into a ranked list. As the committee examines the results, there might be further discussion about differences in ratings or how the criteria were applied, but committee members should be aware that deviating from their criteria or making more intuitive judgments of excellence is likely to introduce bias.

11. Paper sessions have assigned 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. 

12. The Program Committee may wish to invite speakers for plenary sessions outside the usual paper sessions.

13. The Board of Trustees invites an Honorary Member to come to the conference. This person may be worked into the conference program as appropriatefor example, in a roundtable, talk, or concert. The Board may wish to make other awards that will affect program planning. The Program Chair and Local Arrangements Chair should confer with the President early on (18 months before the conference) to suggest possible honorees and/or ascertain who has been or will be invited. 

14. 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. Note: Interest Groups submit proposals to the Program Chair through the normal proposal process. Certain interest groups have to meet in certain years, so the understanding is that interest groups need to submit proposals to ensure that the Program Chair is aware of what they plan to do and place them on the schedule. 

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

16. The Program Committee Chair notifies proposers of acceptance or denial. Personalized rather than form letters are desirable, especially for persons whose proposals have not been accepted. Acceptance letters should include the following:

  1. a request for any additional information needed from the presenter, such as an updated abstract if necessary;
  2. notification to check the SAM website by a specific date in August (TBD by program committee in consultation with ED) to find out presentation date and time;
  3. information about the guidelines for the Mark Tucker Award and the Cambridge University Press Award, as well as encouragement to submit;
  4. an explanation of the requirement that all presenters must register for the entire conference;
  5. 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 Executive Director is responsible for contacting those who have not registered to inform them that they have forfeited their spot on the program. 

The names of all presenters, session and presentation titles, and AV requests are then sent to the Executive Director. At this point, all information necessary for the announcement should be final. 

17. Draft conference schedule is displayed on the SAM website by mid-August. Note: Program Chair / ED should submit schedule at least 3 days before the announced publication date to allow Webaster time.

18. 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 they must be determined in time for publication in the program book, i.e., at least 6 weeks before the conference.  All session chairs should be members of the Society in good standing. They also need to register for the entire conference.

19. 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. 




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.