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Finding Our Musical Soul With Technology

For most of the world, music lessons are a luxury of the bourgeois class. Both musical instruments and music lessons are pricey. As the average American moves his home several times during his lifetime, children find that they have inconsistent teachers, and rarely continue playing instruments after high school. Their next encounter with music lessons is when they become parents themselves, running their children back and forth from music lessons. Too many give up after a while in the belief that playing and performing music is a luxury they can no longer afford.  

That is a pity. Music has a way of making our souls sing, and we can derive great pleasure from playing an instrument regardless of the level of mastery. But technologies like video chat and motion sensing devices promise to bring us back to music without the hefty price tag.

The New York Times recently featured an inspired piece on music lessons that are increasingly given over Skype and Videochat, saving parents time and money on commuting to lessons. The article cites the example of a 50 year-old doctor in Minnesota who is learning the bagpipes over Skype and enjoying it just as much as the 13 year old in Virgina whose mother hired a e-violin teacher. The article quotes the mother: “It’s accessibility with quality.”  

But even if the quality of instruction remains the same, aren’t we missing the pleasure of a community that plays together? One look at Eric Whitacre’s amazing virtual choir performing together would make us question that.  Even though all the singers recorded separately, they still derived great pleasure from their participation in a project that was co-created using their voices. See this fascinating TED talk on how he created his global virtual choir.

There is still one problem: musical instruments are expensive. But buying a motion sensitive device like Kinect could one day substitute for many instruments as the device takes our fingers movement as input and creates the equivalent sound much as the real instrument.  Look at this inspiring video that has clips of children playing the violin using Kinect.

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So the next time you hear a public school has cut its music budget, don’t despair. Learning musical instruments can still be very much a part of our lives. And if you want to join a choir with 911 people from 45 countries, team up with Whitacre’s choir until Jan 31st. Click here and start recording!  Age, money, status …. all irrelevant.


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