My final project to complete my Masters in Music Technology is a telematic performance involving high school students occurring on July 19. In addition to organizing the concert, leading rehearsals, and teaching improvisational techniques, I will be evaluating the value of telematics in music education. The four high school students in Anderson, IN are playing with musicians in Indianapolis, IN.
The project focuses on 3 points that telematic performance can develop: music, technology, and collaboration.
Music: In order to compensate for the delay caused by latency issues, the music that will be played is entirely improvised. If the musical content is improvisatory, there is no need for the players in Anderson to be rhythmically in sync with the players in Indianapolis. The style of the music is more atmospheric and ethereal.
Many high school students have not had experience playing music like this, let alone improvising. This is a great opportunity to teach improvisation skills outside of the jazz idiom. I am basing my approach to teaching improvisation on the first three steps outlined by Bob Hinz in his 1995 article from Music Educators Journal, “Helping Students Master Improvisation.”
Technology: For this performance, I am using Microsoft’s Conference XP software application for video conferencing. It is open-source software, so it is free to install on all the computers that are involved. Conference XP is more robust and stable than commercial software such as Skype, which is why it was chosen for this project.
Most high school students have used video conferencing software for communication, whether they use Skype, iChat, Google Hangout, or Facebook Chat. However, only one of the four involved in this project has played music with the person on the other end. This student took lessons using Skype. The student reported that it was a great lesson with a great teacher, however the call would sometimes drop and audio/video quality was inconsistent. The students will learn how to use Conference XP and the potential to create music with people over distances.
Collaboration: The best music is created with more than one person. While there is great value in solo performance, there is no comparison to the feeling of playing with other people. There is a constant exchange of ideas that is hard to find in any other setting. By introducing video conferencing software to this setting, these ideas can be exchanged across a state, nation, continent, or even around the world. This intercultural exchange can create unique outcomes that would otherwise be impossible to create.
Most K-12 music programs are confined to the school district. There is very rarely any collaboration with other music programs nearby, let alone internationally. There is incredible potential here to expand American music education. Imagine a middle school band in the United States playing a concert with a middle school band in Europe. This goes beyond the concept of “pen pals” or “sister schools.” While the discussions that would occur in these situations are beneficial, it is not the same as the creation of a piece of art.
Due to bandwidth restrictions, this scenario of two full size bands playing together is not yet feasible. There would be an issue of the delay caused by latency. In addition, many schools might not have the audio equipment necessary to transmit a high quality audio signal from a band of 40-60 students. However, small groups that focus on improvising together can work with the Internet speeds that are currently available commercially.
At the conclusion of this project, I intend to prove that telematic performance has enriched the music education of the high school students involved. The evaluation will focus on the three content areas mentioned above. The final report will be completed by the end of July.