Machaut to Puccini: A Kaleidoscopic View
Patricia Gray, Rhodes College
Beginning in 1995, the Rhodes College Music Department began to incorporate a variety of computer enhanced materials and activities into music history and appreciation courses. These classes, usually containing fewer than fifteen students, were taught in the environment of a small, residential undergraduate school. The aim was not to create a distance learning environment, but rather to use technology to add new elements of collaboration within the college and the community. In addition, study aids such as audio file dictionaries, online review quizzes, and slide shows added another dimension to work outside class. This paper examines uses of technology that have measurably increased students' positive reactions to classroom activities.
Music history classes have traditionally consisted of lectures illustrated with recorded examples. In recent years computer technology has made it possible to add a variety of activities to the classroom experience that make it much more multifaceted. Some examples of successful practices can be seen in the work done in music history and appreciation classes at Rhodes College over the last five years. Rhodes is small, liberal arts college with an enrollment of approximately 1450 students, 70% of whom are residential. Students have easy access to the Internet at all times. Enrollment in the music classes mentioned is usually about fifteen. Each class has a large web site. These sites contain obvious things like the syllabus and the weekly assignments. However, each site also has distinctive elements tailored to the needs of the particular class.
External links to the author's sites of particular classes:
European Musical Heritage
History of Opera
Musical Heritage of Eastern Europe
Music and Society
Nationalism in Music
2. Collaborative Class Projects
In a small, liberal arts setting the focus of technology may not immediately be distance education. Online lectures and tests administered remotely may not be necessary in very small classes. However, one appropriate focus is the use of computer networking to connect the class with organizations or groups completely removed from the college. This allows the students to feel that their classwork is related in a concrete way to the world outside academe.
In 1995, the Rhodes History of Opera class began a joint project with Opera Memphis through which the opera company allows Rhodes students to attend rehearsals, interview performers, and sometimes participate in productions. In return, we design and administer the Opera Memphis web site. The first project in 1995 was the creation of an online documentary The Rigoletto Project in which each student covered a different essential part of the creation of an opera. Students interviewed performers, the marketing director, a member of the opera board of trustees, and the newspaper critic among others. The interviews, performance reviews and photographs were put online. Students felt a clear sense of pride and ownership in the project. Another benefit was that they gained a very concrete appreciation of the realities of successfully running a regional arts organization.
Opera Memphis web site.
Most of the students in the opera class are not music majors or minors. Therefore, it seemed desirable to design the next opera project to focus on the connections between opera and the various majors of the class members. This web site, The Butterfly Project, centered around the Opera Memphis production of Puccini's Madame Butterfly. It contained articles written from a variety of perspectives.
The Butterfly Project web site. This web site includes Butterfly on the Internet, Performance Reviews, Butterfly in History, Opera Memphis Interview, and Butterfly Trivia.
A senior anthropology major's essay entitled "An Historio-Cultural Perspective on Japan through G. Puccini's Madama Butterfly".
A political science major's essay entitled "Madame Butterfly".
These projects were assembled by having students submit their work in a digital format over the campus network. These submissions included texts, scanned graphics, and lists of external URLs. Computer networks were used to transmit and collect materials for the project. It was not necessary to have project design discussions online because of the small class size and the residential environment. Group meetings were easily organized. The storyboard and the graphic design were created after these student discussions, but the professor made the final editorial decisions. The students demonstrated the product to friends and invited guests at the end of the semester. They seemed to be gratified by the fact that the product would continue to be available on the Web long after the last class meeting and that subsequent classes could build on the work that they had begun.
A second type of collaborative class project was the creation of audio pronunciation guides for the names of composers, works, and musical terms. Ideally, students should learn the pronunciation from native speakers. In order to accomplish this we enlisted the aid of several members of the foreign language department to create recordings for our annotated audio dictionaries. The four sites created so far are:
In the case of the Russian audio dictionary, students created the list of terms, researched the information for the annotations and engaged a Russian exchange student to make the sound files. All the digital components were submitted over the campus intranet and put into HTML by the professor. Similar pronunciation guides for opera related terms were created with the help of members of the foreign language departments. These audio dictionaries are among the most visited sites on the Rhodes music server. The Pronunciation Guide to Opera Terms was recognized by Opera News (November, 1997) as one of the best opera sites on the Internet. These dictionaries of audio files are valuable to each new opera class as well as to visitors who connect by way of the Opera Memphis web site.
Opera Composers and Their Works
links to the Pronunciation Guides:
Russian Composers, Works, and Terms
Czech Composers, Works, and Terms
An external link to the author's Gradus ad Parnassum: Exercises in Music History.
An external link to the author's Piano Literature Score Identification quiz.
The activities described in this paper have been developed to run on a web server in a faculty office. The only other necessary hardware needed is a scanner. Software included an HTML editor and a graphics program. Adobe GoLive, Adobe Photoshop, and Centennia Historical Atlas have been used with these projects. At Rhodes, the HTML code and the graphics preparation were done by the professor. Students submitted digital files over the campus intranet and were involved in the project design and graphics creation. The professor supervised planning and programming sessions in extra meetings outside of class. In order to have a unified and appropriate appearance in the projects the professor made the final editorial decisions about the content and interface design.
If there is a drawback to this process it is the amount of time required of the professor to learn the techniques and to update and supervise the use of these materials once they are online. Students can help with many of technical tasks but the professor must ultimately be responsible for the final product.
The activities described above were conducted in classes of fewer than twenty students. Only one section of each class was taught per semester. Therefore, comparative studies involving control groups were not possible. In an effort to evaluate the effectiveness of the work, students at the end of a recent semester were asked to fill out surveys to measure their reactions to the new tools and projects. They were also asked for their reaction to teaching techniques in other classes they took in the same semester. The survey was given to 28 students who were enrolled in a total of 104 classes. The sample is too small to be viewed as scientific. However, the results do indicate a positive reaction and a willingness to depart from the traditional.
|Most Effective||Least Effective|
|Lecture with Discussion||25%||6%|
|Field Trips and Service Projects||5%||0%|
|Labs and Individual Projects||25%||0%|
Figure 1. A pie chart of the survey indicating student reaction to most effective techniques.
Figure 2. A pie chart of the survey indicating student reaction to least effective techniques.
Teachers may be disturbed that their students view lectures and reading in this negative light. However, these students' perceptions must be taken into account. The challenge is to create a satisfactory balance between the traditional and the experimental. Professors, as well as students, must concentrate on the quality of the content and not the flashiness of the presentation. Teaching students to be discriminating in their creation and use of web-based learning materials should be a primary concern.
Bannon, David. "Point and Click Opera." Opera News .November 1997: 48-49.
Gray, Patricia. "Rhodes College and Opera Memphis Web Project." Proceedings of the 1996 Mid-South Instructional Technology Conference. Murfreesboro, TN: Middle Tennessee State University, March 1996.
Noon, John P. ed. "Case Studies: World Wide Web Project Increases Student Interest in Opera." Syllabus August 1996: 24.
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|IMEJ multimedia team member assigned to this paper||Yue-Ling Wong|