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Emerging Technology

Music Rooms? No, Performance Spaces.

There are times when finding out that I am wrong is painful. Other times, it is a remarkable blessing because it expands my understanding of a particular area of interest. A discussion with an elementary music teacher while developing technology standards for a large school district fits into the latter category. While discussing her elementary music room, she outlined that the state curriculum requires that students of music (choral and instrumental) are to learn how to self-critique and self-analysis their performance starting from first grade. She then explained that most of the actual student performances occur in her elementary music room.

As a musician and music major in college, the light came on. She needed the ability to record both the audio and video of student performances (rehearsals) in her music room. She would also need the ability to easily play back those audio and video recordings to the students as soon as it has been recorded. The students needed to learn how to listen and watch their performances with a critical eye, assessing how they performed. Then they would perform (rehearse) the piece again, hopefully improving on the prior performance.

I realized my understanding of the technology required to support a music room was wrong. It is much more than a simple audio playback system (most of you have boom boxes in your elementary music rooms). It is just as critical for your elementary music room to have that audio/video recording and playback capacity as your high school fine arts suites, enabling all grades levels to align to your state curriculum requirements.

What would that look like? I would suggest you start with replicating your typical classroom technology of some type of large screen presentation system and teacher computing device. You should add an infrared microphone system (less expensive than an RF system), so the teacher can be heard without raising his or her voice. In addition to the teachers computing device and IR microphone, we need the ability to play back audio from a device you plug in (smart phone, iPAD or other tablet, or MP3 player); from an iPod; a CD (a number of companies make an iPod docking station with CD player), DVD and the audio recording machine.

The audio recording machine needs to be solid state; the audio is converted to digital and the file is stored on a compact flash memory card. You will also need to install two condenser microphones on the wall above the projector, and I suggest they should be set up in what we call an XY stereo recording pattern. The last audio input is a line-level feed from your paging system connected to a priority override input. (When a voice announcement is made, the local audio inputs are muted.)

On the video side, you have the teachers computing device, the DVD player, composite video from the iPod docking station and a small camcorder with 1080P resolution and HDMI output. The camcorder is also solid-state and mounted on a photography “extendable monopole” strapped to the equipment cabinet. This enables the camcorder to be elevated high enough to see most of the kids in the room. A quick-release head for the pole and camcorder allows the teacher to use that camcorder outside of their music room. We also typically add an HDMI input for other devices brought into the room. All of those devices are fed into an audio-follow-video switcher/scaler (turning all video into HDMI 1080P) that feeds the projector.

All of the audio inputs are fed into an audio mixer (with the priority input capacity) and a digital signal processor. The digital signal processor is used as a crossover and to tune the speaker system to the room. The audio signal, now split into normal and subwoofer frequencies, is fed to power amplifiers connected to high-fidelity coaxial ceiling speakers and a couple of ceiling-mount subwoofers. All equipment is installed in a 60-inch-tall cabinet with casters. The equipment utilizing buttons and knobs the teacher will touch on a more frequent basis should be installed towards the top of the cabinet.

The last piece is that the cabling coming to and from the cabinet is one umbilical cable with about eight to 10 feet of slack. The cabinet is placed to one side of the projector system and screen at the front of the space. Now we have a music room truly capable of meeting the state curriculum requirements of student self-critiquing and self-analyzing their performance.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

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