GRANITE FALLS - Yellow Medicine East jazz band students had the opportunity to get feedback about their performance from a music professional Tuesday morning at their Granite Falls school. The unusual thing about it was that the professional - Greg Keel - was 125 miles away.
Keel is one of many instructors who represent MacPhail Center for Music, a non-profit organization that prides itself on being a community resource for music education and providing access to extraordinary faculty. About half of MacPhail's 8,000 students and clients are served through community partnerships in schools, preschools, nursing homes and hospitals. The organization is funded in part by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature.
Last year, the MacPhail Online Residency Initiative (MORI) program was expanded to offer live video music clinics to a select number of school districts outside of the Twin Cities area, using new technological advances. Nicole Boelter, instrumental music director at YME, admits that she was unsure about the program at first.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
As MacPhail Center for Music instructor Greg Keel listens in the background (on television), Yellow Medicine East music teacher Nicole Boelter directs jazz band students Tuesday in Granite Falls. The cooperation is funded through a grant that allows rural schools to have access to high quality music resources.
"At first, I was hesitant, but now I'm so glad I jumped in and gave these opportunities to the kids," Boelter said. "It's going great. It's just fantastic."
YME got on board with the live video music clinics this past March, after one of the eight selected school districts dropped out. As part of Minnesota River Valley Education District (MRVED), YME received most of the technology required for the program in a grant two years ago. With recent updating done in the district, all of the necessary wiring was also in place. Boelter said the only cost involved the purchase of a microphone that assists the audio communication.
"As a teacher, I can't even begin to even explain how beneficial this is," Boelter said. "I'm the only instrumental teacher in the district now. We used to have two when I started, but now we just have one. There are so many things that I need to worry about and so many things I need to know about."
Boelter works with about 60 band students from sixth through 12th grade in a variety of musical ensembles. Having access to expert musicians in every facet of the band is priceless, she said.
"It's great to have somebody else's experience and really, these are true professionals, working musicians in big bands and stuff up in the Cities," Boelter said. "They're professionals that play in the orchestra and stuff that are working with our kids. Each instrument has their specific person."
Keel, who has more than 30 years of experience teaching saxophone, clarinet and jazz flute to students of all ages, has performed with artists like Aretha Franklin, The O'Jays, Natalie Cole and Johnny Mathis.
"It's nice working with someone who actually plays the same instrument as you," Cassie Struffert said to Keel through the television screen connecting the school to the MacPhail building.
Keel made some suggestions to students regarding their musical parts in "Designated Swinger," including the saxophone section.
"He changed some of my notes to an accent," YME sophomore Cassie Thielen said. "I love jazz band. I think everyone's going to improve as an individual and learn to listen to each other because we're learning to listen to him."
Jazz band member Jimmy Rupp took the opportunity Tuesday to thank the musicians for their support.
"I remember last year, we had a piece with solos and we had to improvise and you really helped us," Rupp said. "It really helped to have someone guide us through that."
Boelter was quick to point out that the expert musicians work with her and her students, enhancing the work they do on a daily basis. Thielen agreed.
"I think it's really cool," Thielen said. "It's really helpful. She is learning a lot as a director and we're learning a lot as students, too."
The program's intent, Boelter said, is not to eliminate music directors in schools. The hope is that students in rural schools especially, have access to the best music resources.
"They can't really direct the kids because there's about a second delay," Boelter said. "Overall, the audio and picture are very good quality. It's way better than Skype or anything on the Internet."
MacPhail is also a great teacher resource, Boelter said, adding that she sat down in front of the television three times last year to speak 1-on-1 with MacPhail coordinator Bob Adney.
"I asked about the best way to tune certain things up and how to better store particular instruments," she said. "Or I'd explain that this was happening to this drum and those kinds of things. To be able to have one source to go to has been wonderful."
Boelter said she not only gets a refresher course about some components, she also gets new ideas, too.
"One thing I really enjoyed last year, and I hope to do this year, is get individual teacher workshops," she said. "I've actually sat down with Bob and talked about percussion and he's answered every one of my questions. I've sat down with others, too. It's wonderful as a teacher to have that kind of clinic session right here in my own school during my prep hour and still be able to teach all my other classes."
The two-year grant, written primarily for group lessons at the high school level, includes at least 60 hours of usage for this school year, Boelter said. YME starting having sectional lessons last week.
"Once a week, students will meet with their instructor from MacPhail," she said. "Once a month our kids will get that opportunity. Plus, I've already set up before our concerts, to listen to our group and give suggestions. I'm really excited."
Boelter believes that music is important for a number of reasons.
"I think music education helps the kids learn group work, how to work together for a common goal," Boelter said. "I think it can really help the self-esteem of students. In band, nobody is sitting on the sidelines. Everybody is working the whole time."
Music and the technology that helps make music education possible is also important to another organization - the 15-member Governor's Task Force on Broadband, all of whom were observing the musical interaction between Keel, Boelter and the YME students Tuesday. The task force, led by Margaret Anderson Kelliher, is charged with the development of broadband policy initiatives that will allow Minnesota to achieve its state broadband needs and goals, primarily that of effectively educating K-12 students in the 21st century.
"They make recommendations to the governor about the areas that they think money should be siphoned to," Boelter said. "They're dealing with technology now and what that can offer the rural schools. MacPhail is able to reach all these kids in schools outside the metro area, so that's what they were showing them."