Busy, busy, busy…

I have been a bit out of touch with the blog over the last month as we produced our musical over the past four weeks…Dear Edwina Junior. This was my first middle school musical, and it was really a rewarding experience. Our middle school is arranged in such a way that students have to take music, and if they aren't in band or orchestra, they are in choir. This means that I obtain not only students that want to take choir, but a number of students that don't want to be in music. This means that it can be really difficult to teach singing, and it is understandable to me why some teachers leave the middle school format (as we have) to teach in a place where choir is elective (other middle school formats or high school). At any rate, I have found that the extra-curricular experiences at the middle school level are incredibly important for both your best singers, and for you as a teacher. In our current middle school model, the closest experiences to a “high school” setting can be found in those extra-curricular groups. And the musical is certainly one of those rewarding experiences.

Meanwhile, there hasn't been a lot of news in the area of music technology in the past weeks. It seems as if the weeks after NAMM and CES, where a lot of new technology is released, everyone takes a deep breath before plunging into the next level of development. In particular, I am still waiting for two iPad accessories that have been delayed. I am not bothered by either delay, as the end result will be a better product. The first is the Miselu C.24 keyboard, which is an octave keyboard that pops out of an iPad case (iPad 3 or 4). It won't work as a case with the “new” iPad air, but two units snap can snap together (and I preordered two on Kickstarter). I am really looking forward to this product, particularly for use with Notion on the iPad.

The second accessory I am waiting for is the Jamstik, which is being made by a company here in Minnesota. It is a pseudo-guitar that is intended to be used with iOS and Mac (I don't know about Windows), and has a real-string/real-fret experience. I am excited about the potential of this device in education.

There are a few other things that should be mentioned: Sibelius 7.5 is “live” and available now. I'm not a Sibelius user, but the .5 upgrade represents a major shift in philosophy for Sibelius owners. In the past, Sibelius users only had to pay to upgrade to “full” versions; Avid has changed this, and 7.5 is an additional cost for existing users. Finale users (until last year) were accustomed to having to pay for annual updates (resulting in a user base that splinters with versions, as some people don't update every year, or even every two years); and some Sibelius users would mock the upgrade pricing for Finale. Well, welcome to the world of keeping a product raising sustainable income, Sibelius users.

If you are looking for influential app updates, there were recent additions to Tenuto (music theory exercises), forScore (pdf music reader), and StaffWars (making the app work on iPhones and iPod Touches, too). I received an e-mail from the developer of StaffWars, and they are working on making a number of their apps available for mobile device, but sadly, it sounds like they cannot bring StaffWars 2 (which “shoots” a note when a student accurately plays the note) to the iPad (at least with the language they have used to make the Mac version).

I also received an e-mail from another company, SCORA, which is developing a system so that an entire orchestra can use digital music, controlled by the director or even by a section leader. There isn't a lot of technical information about the system available on the website (by design), and the system is based around the Android platform. Still, it's a great concept, and whereas NeoScores (which is also out in beta at this point) was used with a Symphony Orchestra, NeoScores was used in a “staged” setting, whereas SCORA was used successfully in a three-day concert series. You can learn more about SCORA at their website, www.scora.net. I will be watching their progress with interest.

In terms of Android Apps, I recently learned about Orpheus Sheet Music Reader via AirPlay TV (thanks, Hugh!). Orpheus, as far as I can tell, is the best PDF sheet music reader you are going to find on the Android platform, with nearly all the “basic” functionality you could hope for. In my experience, it is a better solution than MobileSheets or EZ PDF Reader.

I'm currently in the process of finalizing some plans for summer workshops. At the moment, there are sessions planned (again) with the Wisconsin Center for the Arts, as well as with St. Cloud State University, the ISD728 Regional Arts Partner Program, and of course, a week long course with the University of St. Thomas. In other news, I have two technology engagements this month; I am going to be presenting at the NCACDA convention (iPads in Choral Music) and with the Duluth Visual Arts and Music Teachers.

We are also working on forming a Minnesota Chapter of TI:ME, and I have been in contact with a number of current (or former) TI:ME members, the larger music education organizations in our state, and the national organization of TI:ME. I have also heard from some other people willing to help with the organization, and i will wait to talk about that until we have a few more steps completed in this process. I am waiting for some responses from some of these groups, and as soon as I do, we will try to schedule a meeting (virtual or physical).

That wraps up the news from the last weeks, and now we're (my school) on an ill-named Spring Break after a very cold winter. It is 44º here today, which is roughly 60 warmer than it was just a week ago (and it has been an entire winter generally below 0º, and sometimes much, much colder than that without wind chill). I hope this post finds you with warmer weather and the promise of spring.


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