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Random access. (Professional Resources).

Have Your Students Performed for a Global Audience?

Like most music teachers, I hope that every week is a productive week for my students. However--human nature being what it is--I have found the two or three weeks just prior to a student recital or other performing opportunity are the weeks in which the most material is learned and polished. In fact, I would say that the musical growth of most of my students would be severely stunted if I did not schedule regular performance opportunities for them.

I consider the task of finding audiences for my students to be one of my crucial obligations as a teacher. Regrettably, we no longer live in a society where it is common for families to spend their evenings informally making music with friends. There are too many other activities that compete for our time. If our students are going to perform at all, it is usually because we have scheduled specific performance events for them.

A standard performing opportunity is the student recital. The private teacher's student recital usually takes place in the teacher's home or perhaps at a community music school or some other borrowed space. The audience generally consists of family members and friends.

Other performing opportunities may present themselves at the student's school or church. These are good situations for our students because the audience often is larger and may include people beyond the student's circle of immediate friends and family members. The industrious teacher may even create opportunities at restaurants, shopping malls or other community venues where the audience may be comprised of complete strangers.

Most of these performance opportunities do not materialize spontaneously. They usually are the result of organizational and entrepreneurial work on the part of the teacher. The results, however, can be extremely rewarding--assuming proper preparation of the students, of course.

As our society continues to evolve, the logical venues for student performances change, too. Now that we are living in an age of nearly instantaneous, global communications, we must ask the question, "Should our students perform for a global audience?"

Students and the Internet

Before jumping into this question with an answer, let's look at how teenagers' social lives have changed in recent years. A few readers of this column may remember the days when young people communicated with letters. Most of us, however, probably grew up in the era when teenagers in the household dominated the family telephone in the evening.

I currently have a teenager at home. He never writes letters. Although he has his own phone in his room, it hardly ever rings for him. His computer is usually on, however, and he has extended evening dialogues with multiple friends using the chatting and instant message features of the Internet.

For young people, the Internet has become a major, if not the preferred, medium for communication. This fact, alone, suggests we should explore this medium for musical communication.

Experimenting with the Internet

I conducted my own test of this theory last year when I designed a Web project in conjunction with the Museum of Science in Boston. The project was related to a temporary exhibit on music and technology called Playing with Music.

A major challenge of designing the exhibit as a whole was making it interactive. A good, interactive exhibit usually takes three to four years to design and implement. In this case, the museum needed to create the best possible exhibit in a couple of months. And, it was only a temporary exhibit intended to last three months.

My concept for the Web project was to involve young people in music making, introduce them to new technology, take advantage of the familiarity of the Internet and make the students part of the exhibit.

The exhibit had a number of interesting instruments using new technologies. As you might imagine, some of them took special skills to play and were kept behind glass except when demonstrated by a specialist. One instrument, though, was based on the familiar piano, and I decided to take advantage of it.

The piano in question was Yamaha's Disklavier Pro 2000. Just a handful of these instruments were made both to celebrate the millennium year and suggest future possibilities based on today's state-of-the-art technologies. The instrument is a true acoustic piano that has a fiber optic record and playback system, a silent system, a tone generator with over 1,000 digital voices, a built-in Pentium computer and touchscreen display. In other words, if you were to imagine many of the best features of acoustic pianos, digital pianos, MIDI keyboards and personal computers all rolled into one instrument, you would have a basic understanding of the Pro 2000.

With the Pro 2000 as the exhibit centerpiece, we set up the Web project to work like this: On three successive Saturdays, piano students visiting the museum were given an opportunity to record a piece on a normal Disklavier piano located in the lobby. In other words, they played on an acoustic piano with hammers and strings. Other than inserting a floppy disk into the Disklavier's control unit and pushing a couple buttons to engage and finish recording, the students were not concerned with technology. They simply played their pieces.

When they were finished, they popped their floppy disk out of the control unit. At that point, they had a MIDI recording in hand. Although most of them did not realize it, this MIDI recording contained computer data representing their performance in a form that can be played on digital pianos, portable keyboards, synthesizers and even their own computer's sound card.

Next, each student's picture was taken with a digital camera. Within moments, both the picture and the MIDI file were uploaded to the museum's website. By the time the students walked eighty feet down the hall into the music and technology exhibit, the students' pictures and MIDI files were part of the exhibit!

In the exhibit itself, the students were able to walk up to a computer kiosk connected to the museum's website. On that site, they could find their name, click on their name with the mouse, see the page containing their MIDI file and picture and click on a playback button to hear their performance.

The museum's kiosk was connected not just to the Internet, but also to the Disklavier Pro 2000 on display. As a result, they both heard and saw their performance reproduced by the piano, complete with moving keys.

Of course, the students and their friends could access these performances from their computers at home. All they had to do was log on to the museum's website, navigate to the appropriate page and click the playback button.

The quality of the playback experience at home varied considerably. Most cyber listeners heard the MIDI files played by their computer's sound card. However, anyone who had a MIDI keyboard properly attached to his or her computer was able to hear the performances played back by his or her own instrument. Anyone who actually had an acoustic piano with MIDI features attached to the computer was treated to the same ghostly experience of the performance being recreated right there in the room.

Students and parents were excited by the results. It was possible for distant relatives and friends--anywhere in the world--to log onto the museum's website and hear these performances. The Web page was accessible for several months.

Other Possibilities

At this juncture I should point out that this project focused on sharing musical performances in the form of MIDI data. It is similarly possible to share performances in audio format, video (with audio) format or a format that includes MIDI with video.

Let's take a look at each of these formats one at a time.

MIDI and the Internet

MIDI is a convenient form in which to share performance data on the Internet because it is so compact. You can transfer a MIDI performance across cyberspace in seconds using a slow, dial-up connection. You easily can transpose a MIDI performance, change the tempo, assign different voices to each track and so forth. You can even edit the performance easily in a sequencing program.

When you make a MIDI recording, you have made a computer file that is immediately ready to upload to the Internet. There are no substantial issues with regard to importing the MIDI data into the computer. Generally speaking, the MIDI performance was either recorded into the computer during the recording process, or it was recorded to a floppy disk that is easily read by the computer.

For a piano, MIDI is a compelling format because you can hear the performance played back on the type of instrument on which it was originally performed.

On the downside, high-quality MIDI performances do not sound as good on low-quality playback devices. Furthermore, MIDI recordings made with MIDI versions of orchestral instruments generally are not as satisfying to listen to as true audio recordings of the acoustic instruments.

For now, sharing actual performances in MIDI format is best suited to keyboard players and pop and rock musicians who perform on electronic instruments.

Audio and the Internet

For many musicians, sharing their performances in audio format is the best choice. With formats such as MP3, it is possible to share high-quality audio that is easy to download and play on a computer. If you choose the amount of audio compression carefully when you create your MP3 file and if the listener uses a decent set of speakers, you can provide your remote audience with very good sound.

For pianists who have not yet adopted MIDI and for musicians who play other acoustic instruments, audio files constitute the best choice for presenting a performance online. Most people are familiar with recording using a cassette tape, portable DAT recorder or a MIDI disc recorder. The only technical challenge is finding a way to get the recording into the computer and then preparing it for the Internet.

Experienced computer musicians may use software on the computer to do the initial recording. They either attach their microphone to their computer's sound input jack or they install a special card in their computer for audio capture, or they use some sort of FireWire (IEEE 1394) or USB audio input device to capture the audio during the performance.

For those of us who are much lower tech, the basic procedure involves recording to a cassette, DAT or MIDI disc, attaching an audio cable between the recorder's output jack and the computer's input jack and then playing the recording into the computer, where it is captured by a recording program.

Once the audio file exists in the computer, you must save it in a format appropriate for the Internet. The MP3 format offers a variety of choices for compressing the audio file so it can be sent across the Internet quickly. A modest amount of compression usually strikes a nice balance between file size and audio quality.

Video and the Internet

Now that FireWire (IEEE 1394) digital video (DV) cameras have become common and many computers--including all Macintoshes--have FireWire ports, getting video and the associated audio into the computer has become quite easy. This is especially true for anyone who has a relatively new Macintosh and Apple's iMovie program.

All you have to do is record a performance with your mini DV camcorder, connect the camera and computer with a FireWire cable, fire up Apple's iMovie or a similar program and transfer the video into the computer. At that point, you have amazingly friendly tools available for adding titles and credits, transitions and special effects.

Choosing an Internet-appropriate format for video is beyond this article's scope. Suffice it to say that you will need to compress your video, reducing the file size so it is conveniently playable on your audience's computers without a huge wait during download. Assuming your target audience has a broadband Internet connection (such as DSL, cable modem or T1), the tools exist for you to share musical performances as actual videos on the Internet.

The video adventurer may want to go even further and explore possibilities of embedding MIDI data and video into a special video format known as a QuickTime file.

Some Models to Consider

The Internet changes quickly, so I cannot promise that these pages will be available by the time you read this. But you might want to check out the following:

* The Internet's best example of an individual student's personal performance website:

* 2001 MTNA High School Piano Competition Finalists:
--George F. Litterst
Rehoboth, Massachusetts

He is a pianist, music educator and co-developer of the score-following software program Home Concert 2000.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Music Teachers National Association, Inc.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:music web sites
Author:Litterst, George F.
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Previous Article:Polyphony. (Professional Resources).
Next Article:The shortcomings of our virtues. (Independent Music Teachers Forum).

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