by Joe King
The School of Music in the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts is accustomed to taking bows for its excellence in areas such as jazz, steel drum and classical music. More recently, however, the school also has received kudos for its work in high bandwidth internet technology.
During the 2007-2008 academic year, the school’s faculty and staff have learned how to harness the latest in fiber optic technology to bring world-class musical performances and instruction to students of the school – and to export some expertise of their own.
The school hosted a performance March 10 of music from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The concert was presented by the Philadelphia Orchestra and viewed in real time at NIU and other universities across the country utilizing the high-speed connectivity of Internet2.
The performance featured high-definition video images on a large screen with concert hall-quality sound. The event was the third (and best quality) live broadcast of the Philadelphia Orchestra that the school has received via Internet2.
“This time, we were able to use everything we have learned to provide a great concert experience,” said Paul Bauer, director of the NIU School of Music. “You really felt like you were sitting in the room with the orchestra.”
Word of NIU’s expertise has spread quickly, and other universities already have been calling, seeking advice on how to get their own Internet2 facilities up and running – not just for concert events, but for teaching and learning.
For example, just days after the Philadelphia Orchestra performance, NIU students were in the percussion rehearsal room receiving a master class from an instructor in New York. The topic: how to use cutting-edge technology to teach music online. Later in the semester, an NIU professor will give a master class to students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln without leaving DeKalb.
In each instance, the cost of delivering world-class instruction to students hundreds of miles away ranged from free to $200. That represents a savings of thousands of dollars compared to the cost of bringing a teacher to campus – with modest impact on the quality of instruction, Bauer said.
“This technology is allowing us to dramatically expand and enhance the type of opportunities we are able to offer our students,” said Bauer, who is working to create cooperative ventures with other orchestras, as well as ways to extend the teaching of his programs to schools throughout the university service region and beyond.