Days of Future, Passed

Mike Lawson • Perspective • December 5, 2019

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We are now officially entering the second decade of the twenty-first century. That is a little mind-blowing, but it is the decade, which toward its end, will find me turning 60.

Let’s not rush that yet – I just hit 51, and that’s good for now. One thing on the list that will not be clear in 2020 will be my vision. I’ve got old man trifocals now, even after having LASIK in 2003. All things must pass, they say.

Looking back, it is odd to have grown up in an era of decades when we looked forward to the year 2000 bringing us huge space stations and flying cars, talking intelligent computers, robot maids, and video phones. When futuristic things were called “space age” and we actually thought the Carousel of Progress ride at Disney World had some magical insight in the future. Well, at least we got the video phones, but does anybody enjoy using them like it was projected we would?

We no doubt have a lot of new technology that ostensibly makes life better, especially if you’re a musician. As I type this, I am listening to mixes of songs I’ve composed, all done “in the box” with the only real outboard gear being the audio interface that let me connect mics  and guitars. I’m listening to real strings, horns, bagpipes, and a host of other instruments played by real people, from literally around the world, who were able to take part in my personal creative process through today’s tech. So yeah, I don’t have a robot maid, or a flying car that folds into a briefcase, but life is pretty good as a guitar player, songwriter, performer, vocalist, composer, and editor writing about these things.

And if it is good for me as a grown man still making music and writing about it, it is an even better era for students learning to make music in your instrumental programs. Music technology when I was in high school jazz band in the early 1980s was a Cohn Strobe Tuner, maybe a Shure Vocal Master PA system.  We didn’t even really have XLR low impedance microphones, small mixers for bands still came with quarter inch tip/ring mono cables. Grounded electrical plugs? What’s that? Even if a new device had three prongs, we often had to use a ground lift adapter because the outlet was two-prong and ungrounded.

I learned as a teen to touch the strings of my guitar to the microphone before singing to see if they welded to the windscreen, lest I see and feel the dreaded blue arc of death between my lips and the mic in my peripheral vision.

Grounded power outlets are the norm (ok, I hope they are) for schools now. Technology to aid in teaching music has advanced leaps and bounds during the past decade from iPads to spectacular cloud-based teaching environments like MusicFirst, online record apps like Soundtrap, computers with solid-state drives, and multi-threaded computer processors that make composing and recording not only easier and faster, but also less likely to be destroyed by a wayward hard disk failure. So much change, so little time.

So, we close two decades of a new century, expect another new decade of leaps and bounds forward in tools that help you teach your students to be musicians, and tools that let me still be an old guy making music. But don’t expect a robot maid or flying car. It ain’t gonna happen.

Happy holidays, and Happy New Year!

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