Mike Lawson • April 2003 • April 1, 2003

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The students in the music technology class at Bolivar (Mo.) High School are building electric guitars – from scratch. Last semester, they created and produced their own Christmas CD. Last month, the school’s distance learning lab enabled the band’s trumpet players to interact with professional musicians and educators across the country during a live trumpet clinic.

And this has all been happening since the fall, when Stephen McClard became Bolivar High School’s new band director.

McClard’s lifelong fascination with music technology began at age 12, when he saved up his money to buy one of the first mass-market personal computers – the Timex/Sinclair computer – at his town’s local hardware store. From that point on, McClard was never without a computer. He started learning programming and even created his own music program that allowed him to compose more than one voice at a time, which he saved onto a tape drive.


“As computers started getting more complicated, I would get whatever the latest computer was. I ordered music software when I was a kid. And then when I got to college, I was about the only student who had a computer with music software,” McClard notes.

When McClard became a music educator 12 years ago, he continued to follow his natural inclination toward music technology. At his previous school, where he taught for eight years, McClard was well ahead of the music technology learning curve. In fact, he was the first teacher at his school to request and receive a computer for his classroom.

“We did a fundraiser and got a computer and a small MIDI keyboard and we started doing all our contest accompaniments on keyboard and computer, and I started posting them to the Web page,” he recalls. “Over the course of that year, kids started getting computers at home and we started getting more computers at school. There was only one other computer at that school when I started, and that was in the main office. When I left eight years later, every single classroom had at least one computer. I think in total the school has 250 computers and two computer labs, plus the library. It was a big change over eight years.”

About five years ago, McClard changed the way his band performed concerts by adding a multimedia dimension. The inaugural performance retold the story of “Titanic” – which had been released on video that year – through music and a video and still image slide show that was projected onto a large screen in the auditorium, behind the band.

“We turned out all the lights in the auditorium, used stand lights, and then the kids performed to the video sequence. We had done a unit on movie-making and what it takes to perform music live to video,” he explains. “In the last scene in ‘Titanic,’ where Leonardo DiCaprio is hanging off that little raft and slips into the water – that’s the last note of the song, the real slow, sad part of the song – that’s where we ended. And when the lights came back up and the audience was clapping and giving us a standing ovation, you could look up and see people crying in the audience.”

At Bolivar High School – where a $3.4 million dollar construction project added brand new, state-of-the-art facilities and equipment to the fine arts departments’ capabilities last year – the opportunities for technology to accompany music education are even greater. McClard is constantly discovering new ways to expand his students’ learning experiences with music technology.

“There’s so much potential for the use of the technology that we have,” he points out.

For instance, during the summer, McClard realized that the 25-foot projection screen in the new auditorium could be used to help students learn their field show moves. Previously, he had used a television monitor to broadcast the field show, which he had designed using Pyware software. But his new band saw – larger than life – exactly how each player would march across the football field during halftime.

And the trumpet clinic was something he decided to try for the first time – once he discovered the school’s new distance learning lab. Working out all of the logistics of establishing a connection to two other schools with very different equipment in their labs did not intimidate McClard. In fact, the original clinic plan fell through because one of the participating schools had equipment that was not compatible with the other two. A back-up plan was quickly put into place.

“For me, technology comes naturally,” McClard says. “I think a lot of people are scared of technology. Maybe a lot of these things that we do just don’t really occur to a lot of people just because of the fear factor involved. With this trumpet clinic – I’d never done this before. I know they use the ITV lab a lot for the distance learning. They have teachers from across the country that give classes through our college. But for me personally, I’d never done it before. And it was a little scary to think about connecting to a school and doing all the set-up and logistics, but I figured once I do it one time, it will be something that we’ll be doing a lot of.”

McClard’s “no fear” attitude toward incorporating music technology into his programs has helped him to motivate his students and keep them interested in learning to play their instruments.

“All of this stuff comes so naturally to kids. I’ve always had a really good time motivating kids and I’ve always had band directors asking, ‘What’s your secret?’ My last school, for instance had 200 kids in the high school, but I had 86 in high school band, and I expected 90 the following year, if I had stayed. I think that has everything to do with the fact that we’d do really different things.”

School Band and Orchestra: Can you explain how the music technology program was developed?

McClard: There’s one music technology class right now. We’ve got plans to expand it. This is all so new right now. This is our first year even using it. We’re planning to add more to the program. Now that kids know what we’re doing, I think more kids will take it.

The class used to be called Advanced Instrumental Techniques, and we changed it to Technology this year. The kids that were actually entering last year, before I got here, were under the assumption that it was a techniques class, but we changed it. They love it. Beforehand, they had been learning different instruments and working on contest solos and things like that and now we’re actually working in a recording room. It’s pretty much a project-oriented class. Every quarter they have a different set of projects they have to do.

SBO: What are some of the projects the music technology class has done so far?

McClard: The kids in the class the first semester made a Christmas CD of songs that they actually performed themselves, using the recording studio, so that was kind of interesting. We took the accompaniment first and we made it into a MIDI file and orchestrated it with different instruments, a voice at a time, until we got an accompaniment that was adequate. Then we recorded that onto two tracks onto our digital recording studio and the flute player performed her track while she listened through the headphones, and we got that on track three. Then one of the kids is a drummer, so he put down a drum track on another track. So all these kids can do their different voices on the recording studio at different times. We did several Christmas songs like that, with that idea of producing the music and mixing the music and recording it onto CD.

SBO: What is the music technology class working on at the moment?

McClard: Right now, we’re working on building instruments. This is another aspect of the technology. We’re building electric guitars. It costs roughly a couple hundred dollars per kid, for parts and wood and different things like that. Right now we’re at the stage where we’re constructing the bodies and we’ve ordered all our parts. Once we get done with the bodies, the kids will actually do the electronics – they’ll wire the guitars and the pickups and the volume knobs and that stuff. We should be done building the guitars in about three weeks and then the kids will sit down and learn to play them. We use our computer lab for that. We don’t have a lot of the software that we need right now to learn electric guitar, but there are a lot of places on the Internet that you can use for free. That’s what we’re trying to do this year; we’re trying to get by without ordering a lot of software packages. That’s something we want to add over the years, but that’s all money. Right now, Missouri’s in a real budget crunch and apparently money’s going to be something that’s kind of scarce in the next couple of years. So we’re trying to find alternative ways to do that.

SBO: What are the goals of the music technology program?

McClard: For the music technology class, I’m hoping that more kids take that in the next few years and I think they will now that they see what we’re doing.

One of the ideas that we’ve got is that we want to network our class together with the media department, the business class and the art department. That’s something that administrators are really interested in teachers doing now – the cooperative learning. We have this idea to write a grant for a small business model, where we incorporate all four of the classes together. We would record the music on the CD and the media department would be in charge of burning the CD and packaging it. The business class would be in charge of licensing and taking care of that end, and the art department would be in charge of doing the cover and things like that. That’s one idea we’ve got and if we write a grant for something like that we could probably get a lot of the software and equipment that we need. We’d need to get some CD mass duplicators and equipment to screen-print CDs. For the business class, we’ve checked in to all the licensing and things that you would need to be able to do a CD and there are companies out there that will actually license the songs for you and take care of all the copyrights. We’re looking into doing that and maybe having a CD for every performance we do.

SBO: How has music technology changed the way you teach music? What benefits have you seen?

McClard: Kids are more entertainment-oriented right now. The old way of sitting down with a kid and a piece of music and a music stand and rehearsing music has kind of gone by the wayside. Kids are so technology-oriented right now that if you throw any kind of technology at them they just pretty much teach themselves.

Before we started using MIDI for contest, the kids would always have to have the accompanist there. If you were going to rehearse their solo or ensemble, the piano player would have to be there or you’d put it on a cassette tape. But with the music technology and the MIDI part, I noticed a vast improvement in not only the kids’ playing abilities but also in their preparation for their solos. When I started putting the MIDI files on the Web page, the kids could go home on their own schedules and click the MIDI file and rehearse. When the “Essential Elements 2000” book came out with a CD to go with the method book – oh my gosh, kids just eat that CD up. They love it. That’s the difference between a kid being kind of apathetic toward what they’re doing and being excited. The technology provides the excitement level that I think music teachers need right now. And I’ve seen more interest in my kids, like when we’ve done the multimedia concerts and the trumpet clinic.

SBO: Can you describe the trumpet clinic?

McClard: We’ve got what’s called an ITV lab in our school, which is a distance-learning, virtual field trip technology. It’s a room with a Smart Board – it has a projector that you can plug your computer into and it puts the image of the computer screen up on the Smart Board. From there, you just touch the Smart Board to change Web pages and manipulate your software just like you would with a mouse. It has two 35-inch TV monitors on each side of it and a big screen, high-definition TV on another wall. It’s all wired into its own dedicated Internet line. It’s basically like video teleconferencing and I can connect to any school in the country that’s got an ITV lab. We’re able to see the other schools on the monitor and they can see us. Not only that, it’s interactive. There are cameras on each corner of the wall and the camera focuses on whoever’s talking. So if a kid raises his hand and talks, then the camera will actually pan over to that kid.

The great thing about it is it’s free. There’s really no reason that a music class can’t use this. And the clinician wouldn’t have to travel more than a mile from his house because there are ITV labs everywhere in the country. Most colleges have them. And if it was a college professor giving the clinic then they wouldn’t have to go anywhere; they could just go to the college’s ITV lab. I think this is something that music classes could really use.

This kind of stuff is so new I just don’t think people use it. I was just talking to our Tech guy, and this equipment is not getting a lot of use. It was built just last year. Everything at the school is so new. There’s so much potential for the use of the technology that we have.

SBO: What is the band planning to do for the next multimedia concert?

McClard: We were planning to do “The Lord of the Rings,” but we can’t do it. I’ve always tried to get permission every time we’ve done this, and I think legally I can use three minutes of video – or 10 percent, whichever is less – under fair use laws. But we always try to get permission, so I contacted New Line Cinema and they’ve denied our request, so we can’t do it. I think we’re going to do a September 11th tribute instead. We’ll still perform “The Lord of the Rings” music, but we won’t be able to do the multimedia presentation. The London Symphony Orchestra wanted to do the same thing, and New Line Cinema denied their request as well.

SBO: How do you integrate technology into your instrumental music program?

McClard: The technology class is a small part of what we’re doing with our technology. With our total band program there are some other things that we do. I’ve got this digital recording studio. It’s portable and kind of small. It’s something that I can take with me. It’s a Roland 18-track digital recording studio with a 10-gig hard drive built into it. It’s also got a CD burner built into it. If we’re rehearsing in the band room, I take the digital recording studio out to where I’m conducting and I hook up a couple of condenser mics over the band. While we’re rehearsing, I’ll record spots of the music. The digital part of this gives me the option of being able to stop recording and rewind immediately and play back immediately. While we’re rehearsing, we might be having trouble with a spot – I might hear something that the kids aren’t hearing – and I can stop, rewind, and play it back for them instantly right there on the spot. We do the same thing in the auditorium. We hook it up into the sound booth and then we play it back in surround. Really, the playback is almost indistinguishable from the actual performance.

Another thing that I’ve done with the kids this year: I’ve taken the recording studio to the junior high. In the morning, I recorded my high school band playing their spring concert music. And I recorded that onto the first two tracks. Then I took the digital recording studio over to the junior high and recorded the seventh grade on tracks three and four. The eighth grade came in and we recorded them on tracks five and six. And then we took those three bands, which are all preparing for contest, and I was able, at the end of the next day, to give the kids an idea of what the difference is between the maturity level of sound between the high school, the seventh grade and the eighth grade. They could hear the difference between tone quality and we also talked about dynamic control and intonation, things like that. But with that recording studio I can actually give them examples on the fly. It’s right there instantly. We do the same thing for the junior high. It’s different for the kids to be able to hear a recording like that because it’s different than just telling them, “You missed a spot here,” or ” Something’s not jiving right in the music here.” But if you actually play it for them, they say, “Oh, yeah. I can see what you’re saying.”

SBO: What are some of your goals for incorporating more music technology into the instrumental program?

McClard: One goal for next year is to get a software package for the instrumental class, called Sibelius. It’s basically a MIDI music notation sequencing package but it also has a scanning feature that’s neat. Let’s say I have a kid in band who’s having trouble with a part in the music. You can take that part and scan it. It makes it into what’s called a Scorch file and that Scorch file can then be put on our Web page. The kids can go home, pull up the Scorch file and it actually shows the music on the page and it plays it. So if you’re talking about kids learning their parts on their own or doing guided practice at home, it’s good for that. The plug-in for your Web browser is actually free. If the kid doesn’t have the plug-in on his computer, it will tell him to go to the Sibelius Web page and download the plug-in and then from that point, the kid can play his music. That’s something that we’re looking at in the future. Right now we’re just using MIDI files for the practice at home.

Another package we’re looking to get is Cakewalk. I wish we had some of this stuff now that we could be using but they’ve spent so much money on getting equipment and everything that we haven’t really caught up on software. For our recording and sequencing purposes, Cakewalk has more of the sound-sculpting kinds of things. That’s another thing we’ve looked at a little bit in our technology class: we’ve looked at not only the recording studio aspect but also the sequencing and the use of different sounds and instruments put together with different sequences.

SBO: How do you grade student participation in the music technology program?

McClard: I base the grade on their projects. It’s kind of hard not to give a kid an A because the kids are just so excited about doing this – there’s no apathy. They pretty much just go in there with as much enthusiasm as you can believe a kid would have. They’re there because they want to be there, and they’re working hard, and the projects they’ve done have just been outstanding.

SBO: What is the most challenging aspect of directing the music technology program?

McClard: At this point, it’s trying to find software that doesn’t cost money. It’s not that hard to do. There are so many resources on the Internet that are free. One that we use, for instance, is a Web page called Cyberfret.com and it’s got a thing on there for kids to learn guitar chords. It actually plays the chord along with you.

I think the more challenging part for me right now is that we don’t have a lot of the software packages in place that we want to get. The notation and sequencing software that we’re using I bought at the local electronics store for $89. It’s a real cheap little package but it does the trick.

We haven’t applied for any grants yet, but this is something I’m working on with our technology coordinator at the school. We’ve got the idea to do it, and it’s something that we’re looking at for next year.

As a side project, McClard continues his commitment to preserving the quality and craftsmanship of old wooden upright pianos by converting them into desks (www.pianodesk.com).


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