Monday, June 9, 2008

Student Electronic Music Competition

I would like to offer my congratulations to the winners of the NSBA Student Electronic Music Composition Talent Search. (NSBASEMCTS?) The link to the MENC website is here.

A couple things about this in no particular order :

First, I'm surprised at how they talk about music in their essays and bios, the 9-year-old Spencer talking about musical themes and the composition telling a story; I don't think I was aware of either of these concepts in the third grade.

Second, only one one of the winning compositions used instruments electronic in nature. I suppose that this isn't so surprising, considering that it would be easier and cheaper to get the free Finale Notepad and hook your headphone jack into a line in, rather than get Cubase and a ton of plugins and learn pianoroll and and sequencing and mixing and all that.

Third, why on earth were the songs released in WMA format?? They could have gone with MP3, which everyone uses, or OGG, which is free and higher-quality, but they had to go with a lossy, proprietary format. I suppose I'm mostly surprised that they, as teacher types, weren't thriftier on the codec end of things, but also that as teacher types, they also probably have better things to do than worry about a system that they don't know about, so long as it works for them.

Fourth and fifth, in one paragraph... They all got their start young. This is a lesson for our school boards to not cut back on elementary music programs, but also a lesson to the rest of us that the best time to start any venture is now. No, not after you get done checking the blogs and watching the Simpsons reruns, now! But about their age, surely they must have had mentors and people helping them, and I don't mean that in the my-dad-did-my-science-fair-project-for-me way, which by the way, he didn't. I mean it in that Spencer did this as a game with his dad, or the way Erin's percussion lessons helped her solidify musical ideas, and how Daniel's uncle let him play in his band, which stimulated his musical growth outwards. (and how my parents gave me my first pad of staff paper; thanks Mom and Dad!) We teachers should consider it tantamount to a crime when we say "no" to helping a student explore something.

Finally, and along the same vein, I didn't look too closely at the scores, but it looked like they didn't always worry about the playability of something, and I mean that in a good way. I'd always get stuck in the practical matters of the music, like how the fingering here might be awkward or how I'd have to spell this with a flat instead of a sharp so it's easier to read or if I should put in a clef change or leave the section with ledger lines. This would, and still often does, hang me up when writing music; my first piece for band never got written because I didn't understand that 9 flute stands didn't mean 9 flute parts.

P.S. to the second point - does anyone know of any system of free synthesizers not unlike Reason that work pretty simply out of the box? I looked a while ago on the GPL and Linux end of things, but the difficulty in setting up JACK and ALSA and debugging MAKE files drove me insane.

That's all for now, folks. Please write in the comments section; no comment too off-topic!

Happy Monday,

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