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“Who Owns the Zebra?”

Mark Hensler
My father always enjoyed word puzzles – especially those in the “Reader’s Digest”. One of his favorites was, “Who Owns the Zebra?”. Here is the puzzle as it appeared in the magazine:
There are five houses, each of a different color and inhabited by men of different nationalities, with different pets, drinks, and brands of cigarettes. The Clues:
  1. The Englishman lives in the red house.
  2. The Spaniard owns the dog.
  3. Coffee is drunk in the green house.
  4. The Ukrainian drinks tea.
  5. The green house is immediately to the right (your right) of the ivory house.
  6. The Old Gold smoker owns snails.
  7. Kools are smoked in the yellow house.
  8. Milk is drunk in the middle house.
  9. The Norwegian lives in the first house on the left.
  10. The man who smokes Chesterfields lives in the house next to the man who owns the fox.
  11. Kools are smoked in the house next to the house where the horse is kept.
  12. The Lucky Strike smoker drinks orange juice.
  13. The Japanese smokes Parliaments.
  14. The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.
Now, who drinks water?... and who owns the zebra? To solve this problem, we made cards with each nationality, pet, drink, and brand of cigarette, (this was a long time ago!). Using a board from an old “Pokerette” game, we worked together to find the answer, (see photo 1). Forever after, any difficult problem would prompt someone to say, “Who owns the Zebra?”.
Little did I know that this puzzle was required training for scheduling the PDC as the OMEA Director of Professional Development! Through the years I have migrated from a giant “schedule on the wall”, post-it notes, labels, etc. to a large excel spreadsheet, (see photo 2). If I were to create an OMEA version of the puzzle it might look something like this:
  1. This clinician can only present on Friday and goes in the biggest room.
  2. This clinician must fly in on Wednesday and present before noon on Thursday.
  3. This clinician must present three sessions to be sponsored by an industry partner.
  4. This ensemble needs a harpsichord and a theremin.
  5. This session uses a demo ensemble and cannot have sessions in adjacent rooms.
  6. Two ensembles from the same school need to perform on different days.
  7. Two ensembles from the same school need to perform on the same day.
  8. This director is presenting a session and performing with a community ensemble.
  9. This clinician needs a complete set of Orff instruments, 15 Ukuleles and 2 truck tires.
  10. This clinician goes in the room with a 9-foot grand piano, (decided not to use it).
  11. This ensemble needs a Hammond B3 Organ with a Leslie speaker, (for one selection that was later cut from the performance).
  12. This ensemble has 15 students in All-State – please avoid conflicts.
  13. This clinician is also guest conducting an ensemble, (usually find this out in January).
  14. This session needs an overhead projector and a reel-to-reel tape player.
Now, when is the concert? … and who is Dr. Tim? I have been fortunate to have a great team of committee chairs to help evaluate more than 300 proposals and 100 ensemble applications. This process begins in early June. Selection is followed by communication, contracts, and scheduling. Scheduling for the 2024 PDC has been one of the most challenging projects in recent memory due to the number of clinician, director, and ensemble member conflicts. The scheduling process must consider thirteen different teaching areas striving to limit conflicts between topics, ensembles, clinicians, directors, meetings, and receptions. Venues in each city offer unique challenges related to airwalls, hard walls, sound-bleed, room capacities, move-in/move-out times, freight elevators, (or lack thereof), dock size, union rules, and more. Thank goodness for our volunteer properties chair(s) who secure/borrow stands, risers, percussion equipment, and stay on site throughout the event to problem solve and troubleshoot. Room assignments are made by estimating session attendance based on such factors as topic interest, time of day, number of sessions per time slot, equipment needs, (projector, piano, etc.), travel time between venues, and exhibit hours. Every effort is made to maximize equipment and piano use to control rental and service costs. All these carefully made decisions can be rendered meaningless by things beyond our control – blizzards, pandemics, dance competitions, dinosaur conventions, biker reunions, sewage backups, leaking swimming pools, restaurant hours, food costs, staffing shortages, cost of wi-fi, air travel, and the price of coffee, ($125 a gallon in some instances!). And some of you thought I just threw darts at the schedule wall! I hope you have enjoyed this behind the scenes look at planning for the PDC. I want to assure you that the goal of each decision is to provide the best possible experience for everyone involved – clinicians, ensembles, parents, exhibitors, and attendees. I enjoy this task and the satisfaction that comes from knowing that OMEA is providing one of the best professional development experiences in the United States. See you at the 2024 OMEA PDC!