It used take a couple hours to get from rural Minnesota to the Cities but thanks to technological innovations like that presently on display in the Yellow Medicine East Band room, the time to access some of the unique offerings of the metro has been reduced to about a second.
Presently, the YME Band Department is in the midst of a second year MacPhail Center for Music grant program, the MacPhail Online Residency Initiative (MORI), funded through Minnesota State Arts Board. Using high definition video conferencing, MORI's purpose is to bring the professional instruction offered at McPhail to rural students, in this case, 125 miles away.
"A lot of kids who live in the metro area have that opportunity to work with or see professionals in action everyday," commented YME Band Instructor Nicole Boelter. "There are so many professional musicians around them and in their schools and in their communities ... whereas out in rural Minnesota that's harder to find."
One week out of the month, Boelter's band students link up with one of McPhail's esteemed musicians. In this instance, performer and clinician in concert and jazz saxophone, Greg Keel, speaks and listens to students through a live-video feed that is broadcast at both sites onto a flat screen television.
The sound quality isn't live, but it is good and Boelter says the video feed delay of about a second is hardly noticeable. Originally, she said she was skeptical that the program was in some form or way trying to replace rural instructors but has since grown into a huge advocate.
"Every director goes into college playing a certain instrument. You learn them all but you're always stronger on your own. My particular instrument was a trumpet, so woodwinds, like clarinet and saxophone are what I would consider my weaker instruments that I teach––that I am not as confident playing. So when I can get a professional saxophone musician to play along with the kids or give them examples of what he's talking about, that's really great."
Boelter says that having a professional to instruct both through example and the dispensation of knowledge helps students to make significant strides in technique, tone quality and in other manners that she does not have the capacity to provide. In addition, the teachings often overlap, reinforcing that which she has conveyed to students in her own lessons.
"There are so many facets to my job that I try and cover and having an expert come in and listen to the group, they'll pick out things that maybe you haven't had time to go over. What's even better is when they repeat the things you've already said. Your students hear it from someone else, and it resolidifies my teachings and what we're trying to work for," she said with a chuckle.
Page 2 of 2 - Yellow Medicine East was one of the first schools to take part in the program, which is now being offered to in Glencoe, Cottonwood, Hutchinson, Willmar, Clara City Brooten, Montevideo and Benson. Whether it will be the last year the collaboration by teleconference is offered is unknown, but Boelter is certainly hopeful that the program will subsist.
"It's just a real neat opportunity for the kids," she said.