Screens are the new stages: How mobile devices and computers are changing performance
What a great honor it was to be asked to write an article for this series about the future of piano teaching. I feel that so much has already been stated by a number of my colleagues, and of course I concur that we do not have to fear the future and technological change. As others have noted, adapting your teaching to continual changes in technology is a challenge that we all face. While much of the previous discussion has focused on technology in the studio, this article will focus on the recital stage and its significance in the twenty-first century.
Recitals from stage to screen
The recital is a staple of most piano teachers' studios, and it is common for teachers to use the recital as a motivator to drive student practice. Other performance opportunities such as festivals, competitions, and achievement auditions can meet these goals, but the studio recital is the one place where students can gather as a community and perform for one another. As students' families get involved in more activities and other commitments, finding a common recital date where all your students can play together on one program can be quite a challenge.
Fortunately, in this day and age, most of us have mobile devices or stand-alone video cameras that can capture those magical musical moments for friends and family members who cannot be there in person. In the 1990s, when I was teaching in New Jersey, I captured many of my students' recitals on videotape. These families cherished having their own keepsake of their children's performances. Now we can record students' recitals in high-definition video and high-quality audio right from our smartphones.
Cameras on mobile devices have become so ubiquitous that I now only feel obligated to record a few select students. Most students already have family members recording them from the audience. Different teachers have varying opinions of what family members should and should not record in recitals, but my experience has been that most audience members are respectful enough to make sure their cameras are not disruptive to the live concert environment.
If the parents are the ones recording their children's performance, there is a strong likelihood that they will share the video with people in their social networks who are not in yours. This could improve the visibility of your studio's performances and help you reach a larger audience
Challenges in the digital age
One issue with sharing music performances online is whether violations of copyright are occurring. If someone owns the copyright to a piece of music that you or your student is uploading online to share, you should obtain permission to use that music in the shared recording. However, a precedent has been set with the popular video sharing site YouTube, which has both video and audio fingerprinting technology that identifies content in posted videos that may be owned by a third party. Whoever owns the copyright has the option of either having YouTube remove your video or monetize it with advertisements.
Of course, not all content is in the YouTube database. Yet the automation of their content ID matching facilitates the ability of musicians to share covers of others' music while still rewarding the original creators. An alternative solution of automatically removing videos until deals are worked out would be a legal mess to sort through.
What excites me the most about the future is the ease that we now have in broadcasting live performances. I have experimented with live broadcasting services from my computer such as LiveStream, Ustream, and the now defunct Justin.tv. These services are terrific for putting together professional-looking broadcasts that expand the reach of your live recitals and concerts. YouTube now even offers live broadcasting capabilities to channels in good standing.
A setup including a high-definition video camera, 19 high-speed internet access, and WireCast broadcasting software running on my MacBook Pro has enabled me to share amazing live broadcasts of students' recitals. Many friends and family members from far away are thrilled to be able to experience the excitement of the live recital through their computers or mobile devices.
Just as I suggested leaving the video recording of recitals to the audience members, a number of mobile apps have emerged this past year that may free you up to ask audience members to live broadcast the program from their smartphones! Two popular broadcast apps are Periscope and Meerkat. There is even a level of interactivity built in where viewers can comment, like, or virtually applaud broadcasts for the person holding the device to see. Recently Facebook even started rolling out a live video service to users. They had beta-tested it by having only verified high-profile celebrities broadcast live video directly to their Facebook followers, but now regular users like you and me can share live video that is either public or viewable to only a select group of friends.
Is the future online?
So what does the future hold for the traditional recital? There is still value in the communal experience of having a live audience to interact with. Teachers should also expand their programs to include not just people sitting in the seats, but also those watching on their phones, tablets, or internet televisions in remote locations. Offering these solutions in this digital age adds value to your music-making business and lets your community see that what your students are doing is significant. It will get even easier to share as wearable technologies such as Google Glass become more prevalent. Imagine the audience members or even the pianist on stage wearing special glasses where either with a simple tap or blink, viewers at home can experience what it's like live.
At the same time, we are also seeing online video being more accepted for auditions and competitions. More and more schools and colleges are expecting submissions of recorded performances online. The Royal Conservatory recently held its "Share the Celebration" video contest to promote their new syllabus and the Celebration Series. My son did very well in Social Music Works' International Video Upload Competition. It would be in teachers' best interest to demonstrate some proficiency in making sure their students represent themselves as well on video as they do on the recital stage. Just like recitals, it will require practice and rehearsals. When students experience it enough throughout their musical studies, then you will have prepared them for performances that transcend the traditional stage and function in a variety of new, virtual venues.
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