Music Technology Rising to Crescendo at River Campus

Photo of a student and professor utilizing the Disklavier.

With the Department of Music’s Disklavier, performers record accompaniment to their pieces so they can practice later, even when the accompanist is not available. This technology also helps instructors monitor students’ progress as they study a piece of music.(View larger image of Disklavier in use)

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Sept. 4, 2006 — Southeast Missouri State University is just a year shy of opening its new River Campus, but the foundation for teaching music with the latest technological tools is already being laid.

Technology has truly become a part of the daily fabric at Southeast, and life in the Department of Music is no exception. In fact, as the fall 2006 semester gets under way, the casual observer in Brandt Hall of Music will find cutting-edge technology being implemented in a variety of ways.

Technology is changing the way music is recorded and composed, and performance technology is allowing performers to demonstrate their full potential to captivated audiences. Southeast officials say that although many of these capabilities currently exist in the department, even more technological opportunities will be available at the new River Campus facility to house the School of Visual and Performing Arts.

Students in the Department of Music already have access to Finale and Sibelius software, which enables them to compose pieces for music theory courses or other courses requiring original compositions. Robert Fruehwald, professor of music at Southeast, says programs such as Finale are very useful for students because “their music can be played back accurately immediately.”

This makes it possible for students to make needed adjustments right away, he says, and also has “made it easier for composers to produce legible scores and parts.”

Fruehwald says he recently has begun to use the computer in a serious way for music publishing and has produced an anthology of music for alto and bass flute.

Sophomore music performance major Candice Summers of Dexter, Mo., says she is excited about the projects involving Finale software that her music professors are assigning. Whether told to create her own composition or rework a time-tested classic, she says, “either way, you are creating a piece of music that is truly yours. To do these assignments properly, I had to use the Internet often to look up background information on the songs’ original composers, and familiarize myself with fun computer programs such as Finale.”

The department is fortunate to have a Yamaha “Disklavier”.  This is an unusual hybrid instrument which is an acoustic baby grand piano that has been completely fitted with midi technology.  The piano can record and playback music acoustically, or be used as a synthesizer.  The staff accompanist may use the “Disklavier,” to create an electronic file of the accompaniments. The student can then use the file to play back their accompaniment on a computer or another electronic piano.  Thus, students can rehearse their pieces even when an accompanist is not available.

Practice sessions are personalized with SmartMusic, an interactive, computer-based system. It provides recorded accompaniment for students and is able to respond to students’ input. It follows every accelerando, retard and rubato.

“It really is an amazing system,” says Christina VanNostrand, a spring 2006 graduate of Southeast, commenting on the SmartMusic system.

With such technology, students have all the advantages of an accompanist for rehearsal without having to coordinate schedules or bear the cost of paying for one.

Perhaps one of the most useful aspects of music technology is in the area of recording. Many music students have heard their instructors tell them “the recording never lies.” A good recording tells a great deal about students’ performances that they would not be able to hear on their own. Recordings are a wonderful tool for auditions and applications for graduate programs. In fact, Southeast’s digital recorders have enabled students to send audition recordings that opened doors for them to play for a variety of nationally and internationally-renowned musicians such as Rhonda Larson, the Grammy-award flutist scheduled to make an appearance with the Southeast Symphony Orchestra during the upcoming 2006-2007 concert season.

VanNostrand applauds the ever-improving recording technology, saying her instructor “used a recorder [device] that records directly onto a CD and finalized it in the player.” This way, she adds, “after a recording session, he could pull the CD out of the recorder and just give it to you.”

“Web research and music notation programs have probably had the most impact” on the music curriculum, Fruehwald says. “We had all of these things already five years ago, [but] they have gotten better and are used more routinely now.”

Improvements in technology affect students and faculty in the basic tasks of education, as well as in rehearsal and performance. Southeast instructors have begun to administer tests in a manner that allows for maximum grading efficiency, which in turn makes test scores quickly accessible to students. Some exams are taken with an inexpensive “clicker,” a remote control device, with which students indicate their answers to multiple-choice questions. Immediately after the exam, class results can be displayed graphically on an overhead projector.

The new River Campus will have all of these technological amenities and more. Naturally, the technology at the River Campus will be geared toward cultivating the best performance experience possible, since the performance of a piece is the climax of the long process of practice and fine-tuning on the part of students and coaching on the part of faculty.

“Anytime you are talking about designing something for performance, it’s automatically high-tech,” says Gary Miller, director of the School for the Visual and Performing Arts. Although music is not as technology-oriented as some other fields of the performing and visual arts, it, nonetheless, makes use of lighting and acoustic equipment. The new River Campus will have advanced lighting equipment and sound systems that rival many other university theatres and performance halls in the country, he said.

Miller says he is excited about the technological opportunities afforded by the new facility set to open in late 2007.

“The technology that will be going into this is remarkable,” he says. “There has been an element of technology all along the way in the planning process.”

Visitors will get to see the final product at an opening week of special River Campus events scheduled in conjunction with Homecoming activities in October 2007.

Photo of the Department of Music's Recording Studio

Students and faculty make use of Southeast Missouri State University’s cutting-edge recording studio for class projects, compositions and much more.(View larger image of the recording studio)