Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The future is now later

I've seen the future. Actually, I've been seeing it for awhile. Some day, in the not-too-distant future, music theory and history textbooks will exist primarily (only?!) in online format in which all the scores and audio (and indices, and maps, and charts) will be elegantly hyperlinked. I know, I know - normal people prefer reading from book-like objects with paper, etc. Well, normal will change eventually, and the sooner, the better.

Unfortunately, we still live in the present. I am teaching from a textbook published in 2007 which is chock full of musical examples I'm fairly certain many of my students can't easily play for themselves. Even if I'd had them buy the accompanying CD's, that wouldn't have covered all the brief examples in the text - or, at best, the student would have to find each track and search through it for the appropriate measures - not conducive to fluent reading. So, I set myself the little project this afternoon of playing through about 40-50 musical examples and uploading them to the class website. I actually enjoy that sort of project - not as intense as lesson-planning or grading, but I still feel like I'm doing something productive, and I love working out the technical logistics.

The playing part reminds me of how much I used to love playing for voice lessons, just sitting there in a half-conscious state, sightreading. The biggest challenge today was being content with as many 1-take recordings as possible, but I think the project came out well, and all the examples are now easily accessible online. This is the way it should be. Of course, if the entire text were to be published in the logical way, such examples would be built right into the content. Read about a passage and CLICK - it plays for you. A better world awaits.

Thinking about the joys of casual sightreading reminds me of how nice is it to just sit and play the piano, even when I'm just playing little fragments. Among the examples were two bits from Dvorak's 8th symphony: the gorgeous main themes of the 3rd and 4th movements. Those melodies have stuck with me for hours since. That's a fantastic piece that I hadn't thought about for awhile, but this little exercise brought it all right back, even if the soaring violins and suave cellos are being meekly imitated by my beloved Steinway. Today was even a chance to remember how much I love my piano which, oddly, I don't actually play all that often, since most of my practicing takes place at school.

As for the sightreading, I've long thought of the pleasure therein as closely analogous to playing video games. When everything's locked in, the response of the fingers to fast-moving visuals isn't really much different from playing . . . well, some really complicated game that I can't quite imagine, but you'd get extra points for turning a nice phrase, avoiding ugly clinkers, nailing a run that comes out of the blue, etc. It could be the saviour of music education: why play Grand Theft Auto when you could play Fake That Fugue? But that's really a blog topic for another day.


Sarah Marie said...

Nathan and I love our Steinway too, and we're getting a second one this week! Both gifts. Pretty amazing...

Of course, we have no idea where to put them both in our little apartment!

Why don't you make millions by creating the first online textbook?

Michael Monroe said...

Yeah, 'cause there's a lot of money to be made in the classical music textbook industry. On the other hand, in a world where Steinways are falling from the heavens, who needs an income?

But seriously, Sarah, if you'll loan me that violin of yours, I'll play a sad song for your too-many-pianos problem. Sometimes life is so unfair.

Elaine Fine said...

I never thought of sightreading at the piano as being like playing video games! Sightreading on a stringed instrument is completely different. Maybe because it involves the whole body and a bunch of navigational skills. Sightreading on the flute or the recorder involves strategies with breathing. I'm not a "real" pianist, so when I sightread at the piano it's more like playing that hand-held game where you try to get the balls into the little holes than a video game, or maybe like playing bridge and and trying to keep track of who has which note (or card) when. It must be fun to have it be like a game of skill.