Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Technology is music to their ears (March 2007)

[The News & Observer article]
[PDF version]

Sitting at a computer at school, Evan Judd tinkered with his rap remix as if it were a recipe. He added a little percussion, threw in a wailing siren sound here and there, and even spliced in the sound of a ringing telephone.

"It's hard to get the timing right," the 12-year-old said, fiddling with the sound bites on the computer screen.

With audio editing software widely available through personal computers these days, almost anyone can be a record producer--even the pupils at Camelot Academy, a Durham private school just south of downtown.

The small school, like so many nationwide, is pushing to implement more technology into its classes, not stopping with science and math.

"It's a way to use technology in a meaningful way, not just a fancy way to access the same information," said Thelma Glynn, director and founder of the school.

And one of the teachers at the school who does it best is music instructor Matthew Etherington.

It's only his first year at Camelot Academy, but already, students of all ages in his music classes have used computers to mix songs and write their own compositions.

Later this year, one of Etherington's class projects using audio editing software will be featured in a national publication for music educators.

The project required third- and fourth-grade students to listen to the calls of common birds such as song sparrows and the black-capped chickadee and interpret those tunes in musical form.

Using keyboards connected to their computers, the students wrote out the chirpy melodies and played them back, tweaking them to mimic the tone and rhythm of the backyard critters.

The computer lab equipped with headphones, special keyboards and the Macintosh software "GarageBand" lets the students experience the sounds of instruments they might never have seen in real life.

"It makes learning way bigger than what can happen in any classroom in any school," Glynn said.

For example, the group of seventh- and eighth-graders in Etherington's music elective class got a unique and challenging assignment a few weeks ago: Listen to an Indian raga, a form of classical music using a scale different from those common in Western music, and recreate it themselves.

Make no mistake -- Etherington's classroom still has many of the items common to music classes that date back decades -- xylophones are stacked in the corner, and shakers and other percussion instruments are tucked away in bins.

"People walk in and see the computers, and say, 'Oh, that's music now?' " Etherington said. "But it's not meant to replace the traditional. It's really enhancing what they do."

Staff writer Samiha Khanna can be reached at 956-2468 or skhanna@newsobserver.com.

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