MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University recently took its first step toward the goal of creating a rural music program that would give NMU and Upper Peninsula musicians access to top-quality instructors via interactive television.
"Geography can be an obstacle for studying music," said Don Grant, head of the NMU music department. "In metropolitan areas, there's no problem because there are people available who specialize in most instruments. That's not always the case in rural areas. With technology, we can link students with faculty who can help advance their performance skills to a higher level."
The technology used to bridge the distance is Northern's Internet 11 wide bandwidth connection. In its first musical application, it enabled a U.P. high school student enrolled in an NMU directed study course to take lessons from a renowned instructor in Ann Arbor.
Evan Premo, a double-bass player from Forest Park High School in Amasa, made monthly trips to the Learning Resource Center at NMU. In a lower-level conference room, he played his instrument for Diana Gannette of the University of Michigan. She was able to watch and listen through interactive television, then offer immediate visual and audio feedback on Premo's technique.
"Evan is the kind of musician who looks for every opportunity to advance his passion, whether it is summer music camps or playing in symphony orchestras in Marquette and the Keweenaw," Grant said. "The music faculty wears many hats to fulfill our primary mission, which is music education. We don't have a performance bass player on staff, but Evan's parents were excited about our capability to put him in touch with one without having to make the long drive to lower Michigan."
If the program develops as planned, Grant said U.P. schools with interactive television could pursue similar opportunities. Students might supplement their local instruction with lessons from NMU faculty.
"This would be a way to recognize students in the Upper Peninsula who may be interested in Northern, but it certainly isn't meant to replace the learner who wants to travel to campus," he added. "ITV quality is getting better, but watching on a monitor is not the same as personal, face-to-face interaction. You can't detect all the subtle nuances that go along with playing an instrument. Still, the technology presents another level of communication and the opportunity for a more comprehensive learning experience."
Grant said the technology also could provide another avenue for recruiting music majors. The other tools used to gain exposure for the department and its faculty are mass mailings, Band Day at a Wildcat football game, the U.P. Youth Orchestra, the U.P. Youth Choir and music competitions in which faculty members serve as judges.
"For more information, contact Grant at 227-2563."