A Music Teacher Extends His Reach Through ENA Video Connect
As of 2012, the solution name became ENA Live.
March 7, 2012 — Bill Robinson always wanted to close out his long and very successful music-teaching career not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with screeching: the unperfected, earnest sounds of stringed instruments in the hands of young beginners.
After a thirty-three-year career of teaching music and directing orchestra, the last dozen of which have been exclusively with Tennessee’s Maryville High School and includes conducting the college and community Orchestra at Maryville College, Robinson’s primary pupils today are fifth and sixth graders at Maryville Intermediate School. “I always wanted to teach beginners again on the last leg of my career,” says Robinson. “I’m having a ball with the young ones. I see 250 fifth and sixth graders a day. It’s a lot of fun.” And while his young pupils are struggling to master fingering diagrams and scales, Robinson is trying something new, too, that’s as foreign to him as Wagner or Brahms is to his students. He’s incorporating video-teleconferencing technology (VTC) into his classroom.
A Veteran Teacher That’s Open to New Possibilities
The world’s first concert electric violinist, Tracy Silverman has worked with the worlds’ finest symphonies and conductors. Thanks to ENA Video Connect, he’s now working with Bill Robinson’s fifth- and sixth-grade orchestra at Maryville Intermediate School A Music Teacher Extends His Reach Through ENA Video Connect A Veteran Teacher That’s Open to New Possibilities This from a veteran educator that might have been content to rest upon his laurels. After all, he arrived in Maryville a fresh-faced master’s graduate from the University of Tennessee, started an orchestra with three students and has since grown that into a nationally recognized program of more than 500 students in grades 5 through 12 led by three full-time teachers. The district’s chief technologist, Andrew Raulston, calls Robinson “a legend” in Tennessee’s K–12 music community. Who would blame him if he slipped into cruise control the remainder of his teaching years?
Furthermore, as someone who calls himself “as ignorant about technology as anyone,” why would Robinson want the hassle of using an unfamiliar technology?
It’s because he’s still a lifelong learner himself. He heard a presentation on the merits of VTC at the Yale Symposium on Music in Schools workshop that he attended last summer. The invitational workshop brings fifty public school music teachers representing thirty states, nominated by their districts, to the Yale University campus for an intensive three-day workshop on policy issues related to the field of music education. Thanks to the symposium, he was inspired to try it.
Piping Performances to Everest, the Ocean’s Bottom and Space!
Video teleconferencing, according to the presenter and corroborated by Robinson’s symposium peers that were already using VTC in their classrooms, is a great tool for a variety of reasons: it can connect classes to professional musicians outside school walls, enable classes to collaborate with other schools’ music programs and even create opportunities for sharing with other subject classes within the same school. In short, VTC helps young musicians to learn from others, exchange ideas, better understand and, at the same time, better promote the importance of music. One of Robinson’s peers attending the symposium, a music educator named Jami Lupold from Houston’s Pasadena Independent School District, has pursued a very robust VTC program for her students: they have performed for students, scientists and astronauts as far away as South Africa, Mount Everest, the Aquarius laboratory at the bottom of the ocean and even the International Space Station!
As Lupold told the Yale Symposium organizers: “[VTC] connects kids that would never have an opportunity to learn from each other or to meet each other and grow music in a very unique way. It makes the world a smaller place.”
Bring in the Experts
Fortunate to have close proximity to the Knoxville arts scene, Robinson’s own personal connections, teachers and administrators already committed to excellence in the arts and of course a large number of students eager to participate in band and orchestra, Maryville isn’t as geographically or culturally isolated as many small communities. However, Robinson saw in VTC the potential to further improve his program with the knowledge of outside experts: Robinson’s extensive network of former students and personal friends who are professional musicians.
“I thought this would be a great way for students to be critiqued by other people beyond judges at music clinics and festivals,” says Robinson. “We could do this right inside the classroom, with these experts watching, giving feedback and answering the kids’ questions. We could do this far more frequently and far more casually than any adjudicated event.” The Maryville City Schools Foundation thought it was a great idea too and agreed to fund the purchase of ENA Video Connect, a 60-inch flat-screen monitor and other equipment for the experiment, the first implementation of video teleconferencing in the district.
I A month into it, Robinson has already recruited former student David Pope, who is completing his doctorate in music education at Florida State University and teaching undergraduates, and his friend Tracy Silverman, a Julliard School-trained violinist, renowned performer, composer, instructor of music at Belmont University and, according to the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) Radio, “the greatest living exponent of the electric violin.” Both are connecting with Robinson’s students, plus having their own college students talk with and critique the Maryville students.
“Everyone benefits,” explains Robinson. “My students get to interact with these excellent musicians. And David’s and Tracy’s own college students, who will one day be educators themselves, are getting great practice at teaching and critiquing.”
Robinson says that his students really enjoy the VTC sessions with Silverman and Pope. They played alongside Silverman at a February 19 orchestral concert he did to benefit the Maryville Intermediate School Orchestra and the students were awed by his powerful, rock-influenced performance style. “It’s like Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin meet jazz and classical,” says Robinson. And it’s also interesting and motivational for Robinson’s young students to interact with Pope, who is from their own small town and finding a lot of success with music.
Students Sitting Up and Taking Notice
“Plus, kids are fascinated with anything technical and love seeing themselves on a screen,” says Robinson. “As David told me before our first session, ‘I’m going to say the same things to them that you tell them every day, but they’re going to sit up and listen just because I’m someone different.’ Maybe that’s an extra benefit of video teleconferencing,” jokes Robinson. “It’s reinforcement, helping them to realize that their own director knows what he’s talking about!”
Tech Savviness Isn’t Required
Although “just starting from scratch” at the moment, Robinson has high hopes for VTC and will expand the number of former students that he reaches out to. With more ENA Video Connect accounts and equipment, he plans to do joint rehearsals with the district’s middle and high school orchestras and the new intermediate school that the district is building. “Nothing is more live and interactive than music,” says Robinson, “so video teleconferencing just makes so much sense.” And despite his “low level of tech savvy, which is really one of the amazing things about all of this, I believe this is really going to take off for us.”
For information about ENA Video Connect, a multi-point, cloud-based VTC solution that is secure, easy
to use, inexpensive and works on any computer with connectivity, e-mail ENA Technical Product Manager
Michael Pfannenstiel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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