Vol. 24 Issue 2 Reviews
Technology and Teaching Music
1999 Annual Meeting for the Association for Technology in Music Instruction
Denver, Colorado USA, 14-17 October 1999

Reviewed by William Hussey
(Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University; Chicago, Illinois USA)

How many times have you heard the phrase "taking us into the next millennium" in the last three or four years? Usually at the end of a decade, those who forecast the state of tomorrow speak only of the following decade, but in the late 1990s, the talk of the future has looked to the entire next century. The future of technology and the prospects of its application are often at the center of these conjectures. The infinite potential of computers and their role in the 21st century can be both exciting and daunting, particularly for those who are just barely keeping up with the advancements of today. Subscription to technology periodicals and list-serves can help us keep current, but strangely enough, considering the subject, there is no substitute for human interaction.

The Association for Music Instruction in Technology (ATMI) is just such an organization for music educators to get information and instruction on current trends in technology from their colleagues. The 1999 annual meeting of ATMI, which took place 14-17 October in Denver, Colorado, offered presentations for both the novice and the power users. Exhibitions demonstrated music applications for use on and off the web, introductions to the creation of such applications, and current directions for technology in music curricula. Most importantly, these presentations were given by individuals who are experienced as educators and as programmers. Many of the presentations were working demonstrations of the hardware and software discussed, providing those attending the conference with a clear understanding of the technology and its possibilities.

Although the use of technology is increasing in K-12 music education, the conference presentations were primarily aimed at the collegiate level. Instruction in music theory dominated the topics, including a poster session made up primarily of music theory applications presently being used at universities across the country. Those attending the poster session were given demonstrations of the software and had their questions answered by the creators themselves.

Music theory programs given in formal presentation included a professional aural training application that features elementary to advanced dictation exercises with MIDI playback, an electronic theory text that teaches harmony from a contrapuntal approach, and an application for audio CDs that allows instructors to display their own commentary on the music during playback. Programmers discussed their difficulties and discoveries, including Ann Blombach, creator of the popular ear-training software MacGamut, who spoke on her experiences converting the "Mac-only" program for use on the Windows platform. These presentations provided those attending the conference with examples of the types of software being developed for university music programs across the country.

The subject of teaching music fundamentals through technology appeared in several presentations. As college music theory teachers deal with incoming students who lack basic music skills, many of these professors have developed on-line help utilities. These programs include web pages with basic information for extra help, advanced placement work for high school musicians, and complete on-line university courses. Many programs exhibited evaluation procedures, demonstrated the advantages of immediate feedback, and indicated the positive results of extra-curricular work by remedial students. The proliferation of these programs confirms the growing use of on-line instruction to eliminate the fundamental music deficiencies of many incoming freshmen.

Pedagogy in music composition was also featured at the conference. Presentations included illustrations of the uses of technology in composition pedagogy, integration of the Internet into teaching composition for music education majors, as well as advanced topics in algorithmic programming for electronic composition.

In many music schools, the application of distance learning often seems to be limited to the academic disciplines–after all, "you can't teach someone how to play the violin over the web!" However, the distance learning exhibits at ATMI set out to disprove this common misperception. A computer drill for teaching foreign language diction was shown at the poster session, and the final session of the conference included a panel discussion on distance learning and performance in addition to a presentation on interactive televised instruction for strings.

Although many presentations were exhibitions of applications that had been created by the presenters, there were also demonstrations of the programs used to create music applications. These sessions introduced the authoring programs Director, RealBasic and HyperMidi, Quicktime Player, and the web-authoring tool Dreamweaver. All presenters exhibited both elementary and advanced programming techniques, creating basic applications during the presentation and showing the special features of their completed applications to illustrate programming possibilities for those interested in creating their own.

Naturally, the use of the World Wide Web was a primary topic of the conference. Not only does the Internet provide the opportunity for distance learning, but it also eliminates the problem of applications that do not accommodate both Macintosh and Windows platforms. ATMI's President, Peter Webster, and Vice President, David Williams, gave two extended presentations entitled "Using the Web: Innovative Models for Using the Web in Music Instruction." Although these sessions were somewhat overwhelming in their content, the scope of the presenters' knowledge was impressive. They showed examples of current music web pages from various universities around the country ranging from those that simply list information to advanced pages for entire on-line courses. Although the presentation boasted that there was little technical knowledge required to use the web, more elementary demonstrations of web creation would have been helpful to the novice user who would likely have been intimidated by the deluge of information these presentations contained.

A highlight of the conference was a panel discussion titled "Designing and Offering a Music Technology Degree." Each of the four panelists had instituted a music technology degree at their respective universities and provided those attending with detailed lists of their curricula. They discussed various roadblocks that they encountered in creating their degrees, such as objections from administration and faculty concerning details of the curriculum, and obtaining equipment and facilities. They also noted the popularity of their programs and the high placement of graduates. With the growing demand for degrees in music technology, this presentation was well attended.

The panel discussion entitled "So Much to Teach, So Little Time" was a rare disappointment at this conference. While most other presenters demonstrated excellent preparation and few technology failures in their presentation (the latter being a major accomplishment!), this panel was disorganized, had several technical problems, and failed to enlighten those attending on their topic. Most of the panel members listed the technology and facilities present at their schools but gave little insight to the way that they were used to save teaching time.

Despite this one disappointing session, the conference as a whole was informative, up-to-date, and thoroughly practical. Not only did the presentations give clear indications of technology trends in the profession, but the presenters were pleasant and eager to help those with questions. (Many presenters were asked to lunch or dinner to discuss their topics further with eager members of the association.) Unlike some conferences, whose topics lean toward the esoteric and deeply intellectual, this conference provided useful, diverse, and practical information for music educators about the technology available today, leaving the next millennium to take care of itself.

Those interested in learning more about the Association for Technology in Music Instruction can go to the Association's web site: http://www.music.org/atmi/. Session titles for the 1999 ATMI Conference included: A Primer for Developing Web-based Courses, Electronic Poster Session, Authoring Tools I and II, Using the Web I and II, Music Education and Technology I and II, Music Theory and Technology, Curriculum and Technology I and II, On-Line Courses I and II, Software Development, and Distance Learning.