By Serena Mackey
Students in Weeki Wachee, Florida, were looking forward to a new high school in Hernando County School District this fall. They expected large locker rooms and brand new desks; what surprised them when they arrived was a state-of-the-art music program with new pianos and guitars. Thanks to the efforts of teachers, administration, and the Roland Corporation, music of every style is reaching students in this growing area.
Morgan Burburan, Choral Director and Guitar Teacher at Weeki Wachee, attended the Florida Music Educator’s Conference last January looking for a piano that would record and play back her choir’s piano accompaniments, allowing her hands-free directing. Charlie Hunt from the Music Gallery in Clearwater, Florida, introduced Morgan to the Roland RM-700 piano, taking her from “this will work” to “amazing!” Soon after, Roland’s education support team of Ellen Gonzales, Bill Erlandson and Dan Quisenberry collaborated with Morgan to design a mixed-use instrument lab that allowed the school to achieve its unique vision.
“We had to choose between just teaching theory or reaching the kids,” said Morgan. “We chose to step out and meet the kids where they are and take them where they could be.”
Stepping out meant purchasing equipment without extra funds beyond the school’s budget. It also meant capitalizing on student desires and then creating access to the instruments. Mike Miller, who teaches the Band and Keyboard programs, agreed: “When the uninterested kids see the technology, they want to be involved.”
Technology at Weeki Wachee High School reads like a wish list for Santa. The school purchased 24 RP-201 Digital Pianos for their mixed-use lab. Each 88-key, hammer action piano is equipped with metronomes, onboard recorders and more than 300 instrument tones, including drums and sound effects.
The school then added two RM-700 Digital Pianos for the teacher instrument. An educational centerpiece, this piano has hundreds of sounds and rhythms for exploring tones and styles. Its DigiScore capabilities allow teachers to visualize notation, theory exercises and full scores directly through the piano connected to a projector. The RM-700 plays MIDI, audio and WAV data, and its built-in CD burner allows these formats to be mixed, recorded and burned to a CD – all within the piano! The Visual Lesson feature and the education suite both aids understanding for beginners and challenges individual learners.
The new guitar lab boasts Fender guitars, each connected to a MICRO BR Digital Recorder. This perfect guitar companion houses a mini recording studio with four playback tracks, hundreds of built in rhythm patterns and a tuner. The MICRO BR also allows students to load and play MP3 files for play-along and practice, as well as save to SD or USB memory.
This powerful mixed-use lab is easily controlled by music teachers through the RCS-848 conferencing system, allowing students to work alone, in pairs and in groups, all while enjoying two-way communication with each other or their teacher.
“Technology has captured them,” Mike says, “and piano students don’t complain about practicing scales when they practice with built-in drums. As students repeat drills with a cool beat,” he adds, “it’s “almost like playing Rock Band.” “Soon,” he mentions, “students will be placed in ensembles so that guitar students, drummers and keyboardists can all work together, learning how to make music together, imitating real-life skills musicians need.”
It won’t be long, it seems, before the entire school is making music. Morgan says one of her favorite scenes is watching the football players walk into her guitar class excited to try the instruments. For the past few weeks, she has been teaching classical guitar, focusing on technique and scales. “But they put in the work,” she asserts, “because they love the technology.” Students set their own distortion with the MICRO BR, changing the sound of their Fender guitar to suit their personal taste. “I plug into a kid finding his or her own distortion,” Morgan explained, “and eventually they will record music in multiple tracks, saving their music on personal SD cards.”
Students will be able to record and burn their own CDs using either the recording features in the RM-700 piano or one of the school’s three CD-2i compact disc recorders. “Success of the program,” Morgan comments, “lies in the accessibility of the instrument and what their desires are.” Student desires were translated into this monster music program, in part, through support from Roland Corporation.
“Charlie Hunt from The Music Gallery was absolutely wonderful!” And, Morgan states he would come in a day’s notice, offering training and calling regularly to answer any questions or offer help. Roland’s customer service, both Morgan and Mike report, was no less than amazing, and created the structure for success in this busy music lab that is used all day, every day.
In a culture where music programs are being cut, Weeki Wachee is offering students the contemporary options necessary to meet their needs. Morgan is sure their success isn’t magical; it’s intentional. Both the school board and the administration took Morgan’s vision and made it happen. “None of this would have been possible without them,” Morgan continues. “Be willing to cast the vision to your administration,” she advises, “people don’t ask, so they never know what will happen.”
This amazing new learning experience is proof of what can happen when you ask.