Technology lab is music to kids' ears

River Hill High program takes note of nontraditional musicians

October 21, 2007|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,Special to The Sun

Drew Moszczienski has not taken a band class in several years. The high school senior can still play trombone, but he prefers writing and playing his own songs on guitar and bass. Until this year, there were few outlets at River Hill High for musicians like him.

Now Drew is one of about 40 students plugging their instruments into state-of-the-art computers in River Hill's new music technology lab. Aimed at nontraditional music students, the $120,000 lab opened Oct. 1.

Just over a year ago, M. Joseph Fischer, River Hill's director of bands, was looking for a way to target students like Drew. He asked, "What can we do to really look at technology in the music area ... as an option for students who were missing out" because they didn't want to play a traditional band or orchestra instrument?

Principal Bill Ryan said he liked the idea of a music technology lab because "there's a whole world of kids we think we can latch onto and get interested in music" through technology.

Money for the project came from several sources, including the county school system, River Hill High School's budget, grants and donations.

Fischer credits Ryan with making the lab a reality. "Bill did a lot of work to get money into the lab," Fischer said. Ryan has "vision as an administrator to support the music program."

River Hill did not have any classrooms large enough to accommodate the proposed lab. But the building did have a suite of rooms belonging to the Howard County Office of Recreation and Parks. Ryan said he realized that "we can collaborate with them, reach the broader community, other schools as well," through the music technology lab.

The school and Recreation and Parks reached an agreement that allowed both to use the equipment in the lab. There are plans to use the lab for adult music classes, after-hours courses for high-schoolers, and summer camps beginning in 2008.

For now, River Hill students are testing the new equipment. "Wherever kids are musically, we can bring them in and have something there for them," Ryan said, because the software is available for all students, from beginners to trained musicians.

The lab features 20 Macintosh computers and professional music software, including GarageBand, Logic and Sibelius. Each lab station includes an electric piano and will eventually have an electric guitar. Students can play the piano to record a song, and then add other instruments.

"You can make a whole piece in here that it may take 10 or 20 people to play," Drew said. "It'll sound just like 20 people playing it."

Students can enter music note by note with the piano keyboard or the computer keyboard. "Once the music is in the computer, you have ultimate flexibility with it," Fischer said. "You just have the ability to manipulate the music in any way you can possibly imagine."

He said that students who write their own music get instant feedback - they can hear their songs as they are being created.

Amy Foreman, choral director at River Hill, teaches music technology. She said the class is an even mix between band and orchestra students and teens who wouldn't normally study music at school. "They'll actually be able to learn some of the basic skills" of music in the class, she said. "They have to understand rhythm and know the names of the notes so they can put them in the right places."

"We definitely have students who don't have a lot of musical experience who are enjoying the class. ... I love watching how interested the kids are in it," Foreman said.

The lab benefits educators, too, Fischer said. It allows him to teach advanced skills like arranging, composing and music theory. "You're looking at taking all the things that could be taught from a music perspective and you're adding the technology piece to it, which enhances learning," he said.

Foreman also said the lab helps her teaching. "You have so many different options in terms of how to use it and ... what types of things you can create," she said. This includes lessons and activities for students.

Foreman said that with the lab, her work on an arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the school's chorus was done "in a fraction of the time."

According to Fischer, the lab also can help students prepare for careers in music. Music technology "is the direction that many students are following now within college preparation," he said.

"This is what I want to do with my life. I really want to go to college for music technology, so it's just good to get a head start," said guitarist Nick Woodhouse, a junior.

"If you're into music, this is definitely a class that you should take," Drew agreed. "You'll gain a new respect for people who make music."

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