Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

This photo is a screen capture from the live Webcast of NIU’s Avalon Quartet concert held Sept. 17 on campus.
This photo is a “screen capture” from the live Webcast of NIU’s Avalon Quartet concert held Sept. 17 on campus.

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

September 22, 2009

School of Music embraces Web,
blazes path along Internet highway

DeKalb, Ill. — More than 500 music lovers filled the seats of the Boutell Memorial Concert Hall last week to enjoy the collaboration of Northern Illinois University’s Avalon Quartet and internationally renowned violinist Rachel Barton Pine.

Their beautiful notes rang across the auditorium – and from coast to coast.

Forty-four unique viewers, from Maine to California and 10 other states, tuned in to watch the concert via Webcast. The online audience also included Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Dakota and South Carolina in addition to Illinois.

Without much publicity – the school sent out a “tweet” on its Twitter account about 10 minutes prior to the concert’s beginning – “it spread across the country. Pretty exciting stuff. Talk about extending the reach and the impact of our university,” said Paul Bauer, the proud director of the NIU School of Music.

“It was the first time we had a four-camera setup,” Bauer added. “We got some feedback from people on e-mail that was as complimentary as you could have possibly hoped for, not only about how high the quality was on the technology but also the artistry of the performance. People aren’t accustomed to seeing this level of quality from a live Web stream.”

The feed featured NIU’s logo embedded atop the screen and a crawl along the bottom with the names of the works being played. The Web site also provided a PDF of the evening’s program.

Last week’s concert soon will become available on the school’s YouTube channel (divided into movements to meet YouTube’s 10-minute limit) with high-quality audio and video equal or superior to the live broadcast. It’s also available 24-7 at the whim of the consumer.

Bauer and the school’s faculty now are eager to Webcast most concerts, many with two cameras and special occasions with four.

Wednesday’s concert of the NIU Philharmonic and Gamelan will receive the four-camera treatment, Bauer said, promising “unique camera angles looking down on the instruments like they’ve never done before.”

NIU now is honoring tradition and riding the cutting edge at the same time, he said.

“There always will be live audiences. There is something you only get from a live performance. When you transfer it to any kind of medium, even the highest quality recording possible, it’s different than the live experience and the interaction. The live concert will always be important,” Bauer said.

“However, we’re in a digital age where the audience is consuming their media in remote fashion and electronically. People are not less interested in consuming music, but they’re getting it in different ways,” he added.

“For us to be current and relevant – and perhaps ‘relevant’ is the most important thing – we need to provide what we do in electronic fashion. To all the parents of our students who can’t make a weeknight performance, to watch their sons and daughters and hear them live from their homes is a terrific thing.”

Exploring all possibilities

The restless and aggressive pursuit of technological relevance goes far beyond live Web streams, however.

In April of 2007, music professor Greg Beyer employed Internet 2 to play percussion for a performance held in Fairbanks, Alaska. By January of 2008, Internet 2’s Global Concert Series was streaming the Philadelphia Orchestra live into the Music Building’s Recital Hall.

A year later, in January of 2009, the school streamed live performances from the Music Building as NIU hosted the Illinois Day of Percussion. In February of this year, NIU voice professor Orna Arania taught vocal lessons to students at the University of Nebraska via Internet 2.

By March, live performances of student and faculty recitals became frequent – almost daily – activities. This fall, a young musician from the Netherlands who had discovered the NIU School of Music on YouTube enrolled as a student.

Now NIU music professors are filming instructional videos for YouTube that coach high school instrumentalists on how to prepare their auditions for the Illinois Music Educators Association’s fall music festivals.

“As far as I can tell, NIU is the first to put up any kind of information like this,” Bauer said. “Most of our faculty have served as adjudicators and have a good take on how the average student comes in and plays. We’re giving free advice on YouTube, anytime they want it, in accessible little chunks. This is a highly valued resource for high school students throughout the state, and as their teachers get to know about it, it’s going to go viral.”

Mark Ponzo, a trumpet professor, first brought the idea to Bauer.

“I teach a lot of high school students in addition to my students here. That’s where my recruiting base is,” Ponzo said. “I’ve been preparing these kids for auditions for 20 years. Not all students have access to private lessons. Some of them are highly talented but have had little direction and have been given very few resources.”

He had been considering publishing an instructional guide, but realized he could “interface with them in a format they’re used to using all the time. These kids are out there surfing the Net, and this is something no one else has.”

Ponzo mapped an outline of his session for Dan Nichols, the School of Music’s talented technology guru, and the two filmed the video in about 35 minutes. Three more members of the brass faculty have filmed their own videos now, offering audition advice on French horn, trombone and tuba.

“It’s gotten nearly 200 hits in a week and a half, which is good,” Ponzo said. “Music teachers think it’s great. We’ve even heard feedback from the IMEA board. They think it’s very positive. They really like them and want to see them for all the instruments.”

Two or three more professors will launch IMEA audition videos in the next two weeks, said Bauer, whose goal for next fall is to post videos for all instruments and voices.

He is pleased to see – and to enable – faculty innovation and initiative. The possibilities are endless, Bauer said, but nothing will happen if faculty aren’t putting ideas on the table.

Meanwhile, NIU is racing ahead of other schools of music after nearly three years of learning the technologies, determining what was needed and wanted and testing the equipment.

“As director, I can make sure we have the technology available. I can make sure we have the support there. But I can’t make these videos happen. The ideas and the follow-through have to come from the faculty. When Mark Ponzo did it, and showed the example to others, it was, ‘I could do that’ and ‘I could do that,’ ” Bauer said.

A decade in the making

Now NIU is “a leader in the country” on harnessing the power of the Internet and “forging ahead,” he added, delivering major kudos to Walter Czerniak, associate vice president for information technology, and Jay Orbik, director of Media Services.

Czerniak and Orbik have shared, and enthusiastically committed to, Bauer’s vision from Day One.

“We’ve got a unique combination of folks here. It’s not just a faculty member or an administrator trying to pull this through. If Wally Czerniak wasn’t on board, this wouldn’t happen. Without Jay Orbik, we wouldn’t be operating at the quality we have been,” Bauer said.

“Jay, Wally and I are well-positioned in our roles to allow people who work around us to do new things. What we’re doing hasn’t been done before. It’s not on the list. When ITS looks to bill us, set up a new connection or solve a new problem, it’s not on their charts.”

Today’s opportunities were born a decade ago with the communications infrastructure improvements promised by NIUNet.

“Unfortunately it was a project similar to plumbing. No one sees the pipes nor notices the diameter. They are only concerned that when they open the faucet they want to see high pressure and as much as they need,” Czerniak said.

“Watching and listening to the Avalon Quartet and Rachel Barton, and knowing that we had installed a big enough pipe, was a great feeling. It certainly was much more entertaining than digging the ditches and pulling the fiber,” Czerniak said. “Congratulations to Paul and his staff on a great performance and sharing it with the world.”

Orbik, who already had purchased two high-definition robotic cameras for his operation, now has acquired two more that are permanently mounted in the concert hall for the four-camera shoots.

“When Paul Bauer asked for video support to his Internet 2 projects, it was like mixing his chocolate with our peanut butter. It was the perfect comination,” Orbik said. “We are very excited about this, and look forward to helping others on campus take full advantage of Internet 2’s educational applications. We want NIU to be a leader in the nation in the this field, and this is a great first step.”

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