Holy Comforter Episcopal School was founded in 1955 with 25 kindergarten students and one teacher. It now boasts an enrollment of more than 525 pre-Kindergarten – eighth graders. A lot has changed in the last 65 years and though HCES has retained many long-held traditions, it has modernized to meet changing needs of its students.
The latest addition is a newly constructed space called “The Commons” which will house an auditorium, art gallery and dining area.
Andy Nathan explained, “unlike a lot of these spaces which are really cafeterias you can perform and show artwork in, this really is an art space that you eat in.” Nathan is one of the music teachers at HCES and he is especially pleased about the acoustics in the space as well as state-of-the-art lighting and sound capabilities. The specialized technology is matched by a unique program he recently introduced to this middle school music students.
Nathan applied for and received an Arts Education Grant from the Council on Culture & Arts. With the grant funds, he was able to purchase five musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) keyboards for students to use for both digital composition and digital performance.
MIDI is a language that allows computers, musical instruments and other hardware to communicate. A MIDI setup includes the interface, the language that MIDI data is transmitted in, and the connections needed to communicate between hardware.
“The keyboard doesn’t make any sound in its own,” explained Nathan. “It’s basically considered a controller. Any musician can take their training and use that to control a sound bank.” The MIDI keyboards are connected to an existing set of school iPads and students use a software system called GarageBand which features a complete sound library of instruments.
“It’s like an orchestra. Imagine if Mozart could be writing his clarinet parts on piano and spitting it out this way as opposed to dipping quill in ink. And if he didn’t like clarinet, let’s try an oboe instead. The palette is endless. It’s like a digital paintbrush for music.”
Though Nathan doesn’t intend for the MIDI to supplant traditional music making skills, he pointed out that the keyboards offer a “plug and play” instant gratification and an opportunity to explore harmonic sequence and musical literacy.
Computers and music are similar in many ways. Nathan said with music, “you’re learning a symbolic language, the most universally written language, historically and, at any given moment. It’s a really neat way to interact locally and globally. Whether it’s digital or analog, live performance or sending your piece halfway around the world, that’s the language.”
Ray Hounshell is an eighth-grader who has experience with a few different musical instruments but enjoys playing bells most. Several years ago, he started developing programs or “code” for his own original computer games. “I noticed that I didn’t have any music for the game, so I found BeepBox and I started making music.”
BeepBox is a free online tool for sketching and sharing chiptune melodies. Chiptune is a style of synthesized electronic music often found in vintage arcade machines, computers and video game consoles. “It’s very simple music. Kind of mechanical beeps,” explained Ray.
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