Michael Martin, music teacher at Rugby School, Warwickshire, introduced the school’s first suite of Macs in 1994 to expand the horizons of the school’s already outstanding music department. They now have 22 iMacs housed in two music suites. Here Michael tells us about how the school uses the equipment and the impact it has had on student work.
“Since first establishing a music studio at Rugby School in 1994, we have been using Macs for sequencing and, as the technology developed, for multi-track recording. However, in our main music classroom we initially used a suite of PCs to run Sibelius and Logic. This enabled pupils to do sequencing and notate their compositions. The PCs worked fine for what we then needed, but at that time we were not doing much in the way of multimedia projects or recording audio.
“With an ever-increasing number of pupils taking a keen interest in Music Technology, and with Logic (our sequencer of choice) being no longer available for the PC platform, we decided to replace the PCs with Macs. We also set up a Mac Server within the department and we’ve now been successfully running 22 iMacs (spread over two IT suites) for the last few years.
“This system has worked very well and all pupils and music staff have their own login name, home folder and individual password. The server is backed up daily (using Retrospect) with an additional copy kept off-site for extra security. We also have internet access available from the main school network via a proxy server. This has the advantage that all monitoring of internet usage is done by the school IT department.
“For our curriculum, the first years in the school usually start by using GarageBand, which then leads naturally into Logic Express and, for those doing more ambitious projects, Logic Pro. More recently, in a move to introduce Sibelius earlier (and to establish the use of notation for composition), pupils have completed a project where they have first used Sibelius to compose a ternary composition using drones and the pentatonic scale. They have then exported this into an audio file and used it as a soundtrack to a slideshow that they’ve created in iMovie. This is where the Macs are particularly strong, because audio files imported into iTunes and photographs (or screen grabs from the internet) imported into iPhoto are all instantly available in iMovie (together with a startling array of sound effects!). The pupils enjoy this sort of project and come up with very professional-looking results.
“It’s an added bonus that they can very easily export the finished product into a cross-platform movie format and, of course, the iMacs are ideal for displaying [students’ work] at parents’ meetings. For those taking GCSE music, nearly all of the compositions are done using Sibelius, though a small minority sometimes use Logic. These compositions can then be exported to audio files and also sent through the Mac Server to the Dropbox of the teacher responsible for assessing them. In the sixth form, A-level composition and AS Music Technology students continue to make extensive use of the equipment and they are able to use either of the IT suites, or the studio, during and outside lesson times.
“Last term, one of our senior pupils won the Classical/Contemporary class in the Sibelius Student Composer of the Year competition and, not one to rest on his laurels, has now created a musical (using Sibelius), which will be performed by other pupils in the School Arts Festival at the end of the summer term. Also in the same Arts Festival, there will be the annual Music Technology Concert. This is a showcase for the Music Technology pupils, plus an opportunity for others in the school to join in with various performances highlighting the use of technology. Items in the past have included straightforward rock band performances (mixed live) to mini recitals using sequenced effects and voices being processed live through the Logic Pro native effects.
“Because watching performers manipulate computers on stage can be a bit boring, we also add lighting effects and use a big screen to display what’s happening on the computer. For instance, we have programmed sequenced backing tracks to switch automatically to various screensets in Logic, and then have musicians play the solo parts live. The projector screen also gives us a chance to show some of the slideshows with soundtracks made by the younger pupils. We are now experimenting with ways of using MIDI controllers in a live situation, including a Yamaha Wind Controller, a MIDI foot controller pedal, Wii games controllers and even iPhones!”