Great article about the iAlchemy project

from the Valley Independent Sentinel:

Seymour iPads Team Up With Waterbury Symphony Orchestra
BY Jodie Mozdzer | FEB 6, 2012 10:38 PM

A group of Seymour High School students will perform with the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra at a concert in May.
They’ll be playing instruments that the orchestra has never before used: iPads.

The performance is part of a ongoing music project at Seymour High School, where teacher Brandt Schneider is using the small touch-screen tablet computers to teach music theory.

And it’s part of a larger relationship between Seymour High School, Western Connecticut State University and the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra.

“Along with creating a new piece of music, we want to create an atmosphere where students are exposed to professionals and the college experience,” Schneider said.

Background

Students at Seymour High School have been using iPads to learn music theory since Schneider received a grant to start the program last year. The touch screen computers act as part research tool, part instrument.

Meanwhile, Schneider has wanted to start a partnership with the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra and with Western Connecticut State University, to expose them to future education options and career paths in music. He had similar partnerships during his 10 years teaching music in Derby, Schneider said.

Both Western and the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra were happy to get involved.

“The orchestra is always looking to partner with local school systems in innovative education projects,” said Waterbury Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Steve Collins.

PHOTO: JODIE MOZDZER Brandt Schneider leads the iPad orchestra during practice.

“We always have an eye out for something that pushes the envelop a little further,” Collins said. “This project with iPads is really unique. I don’t know if anyone else is doing something like this.”

The project is paid for through grants from the Valley Community Foundation, The Naugatuck Savings Bank Foundation and Timex. The original iPads were purchased through a Katharine Matthies Foundation grant last year.

The Music

Western Connecticut State University music professor Douglas O’Grady composed music for the students to play on different iPad musical applications.

The composition, called “iAlchemy,” includes traditional instruments that will be played by the rest of the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra.

O’Grady called the score “really dramatic.” His goal was to avoid creating anything too “gimmicky.”

“It starts with the iPad playing electronic sounds, but then the orchestra joins in, little by little, instrument by instrument,” O’Grady said. “It’s not crazy dissonant music. It’s kind of bombastic film music at the beginning.”

The composition came with some challenges.

“They’re high school students sitting in with a professional orchestra,” O’Grady said. “How do I make this piece interesting for everybody, but not too challenging for the students.”

MorphWiz

The bigger challenge was writing music for what is essentially a new instrument.

The iPad can mimic several different instruments — but in most cases it appears on the screen as a piano keyboard. That’s easy enough to write music for, because it’s an established instrument that follows standard notes.

But one of the iPad “instruments,” MorphWiz, is different than any traditional instrument.

The MorphWiz application is played by sliding a finger along the iPad screen. Moving up and down will change the volume. Moving back and forth will change the pitch of the note.

“(The instruments) take advantage of the iPad’s touch screen to be really, really expressive,” O’Grady said.

“They’ve got a lot of control over it,” O’Grady said.

O’Grady said he wrote the music in standard musical notation.

“But above some of that notation are shapes, or indications of what they should do to the timbre or color of the music,” O’Grady said.

iPad 1

One student will play the MorphWiz instrument, while the other eight will use GarageBand applications to play wind and string instruments, along with some keyboards.

The main iPad part will be played by Amar Lapastica, a senior who plays trombone in the school band.

Schneider said the trombone is similar to the MorphWiz in the sliding motion used to create notes.

Lapastica, 17, said it’s different because the iPad has a lot more “variety of effects and sounds.”

“It’s different than blowing air into a trombone,” Lapastica said. “You use your brain more to figure out the notes.”

Excitement

Schneider’s music theory class received the musical score for the iPad this month. Now they must master the new instruments, then practice playing them with the professionals.

The group will visit Western Connecticut State University on Feb. 29, to rehearse the song and meet with students there.

PHOTO: JODIE MOZDZER Schneider's Music Theory class practices iAlchemy on their iPads.

Members of the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra will visit the class a handful of times throughout the semester.

The students said they are excited.

“I think it’s cool,” said junior Austin Scott. “It’s not everyday schools get to perform with a symphony that’s really good. It’s an honor.”

Senior Christian Pulgarin, 18, said he saw the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra play when he was in third or fourth grade.

“I was amazed at how big the amphitheater was,” Pulgarin said.

In May, he’ll be on stage.

“I think it’s really cool, I’m not going to lie,” Pulgarin said.

THE CONCERT

The concert will be held at 8 p.m. on May 12 at the Naugatuck Valley Community Center Fine Arts Center at 750 Chase Turnpike in Waterbury.

Click here to purchase tickets.

The conductor is Leif Bjaland. The orchestra will play its spring line-up, before the students join in for the postlude.

The theme for this season’s concert is perfect for the iPad experiment, Collins said.

“The concert and our season are called “Metamorphosis,” which means change, evolution,” Collins said.