When Wayne State’s Music Department Chair, Dr. Linda Christensen isn’t coming up with new ways to use their school’s Disklavier pianos, she can be found teaching one of the most innovative class piano programs in the country in a state-of-the-art Yamaha Clavinova lab with computers and network connectivity at each station. In the 2013-14 school year, Christensen added a new twist to the class, inviting collaboration with counterparts at the University of Sao Paolo, Brazil. This article originally appeared in The Wayne Stater. Reprinted by permission.
By Leah Riley
January 31, 2014
, Wayne, NE AND Sao Paolo, Brazil--Collaboration between two foreign countries is usually fraught with deadly secrets, dangers and mysterious politics.
Fortunately, in the case of Dr. Linda Christensen’s piano class, these were not the circumstances of their interaction with Brazil.
The 10 students in Dr. Christensen’s piano class were given a semester to arrange a song to play together on the keyboard for a class at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. The students in Brazil would also create a song to play for the students of Christensen’s.
Christensen, a professor at Wayne State for 13 years and chair of the music department, made sure her students kept a number of factors in mind when undertaking such a project.
“They had to keep in mind what level the students were playing at so that they didn’t write something that was too hard,” Christensen said.
The class at the University of Sao Paulo is a music course of equal collegiate level to Christensen’s. The piece her class chose to play was “Bring Him Home,” from the French musical “Les Miserables.” The students from Brazil played native folk songs.
“Ours was more a well-known tune, but not a folk song. They had three classes that played and all of them arranged a Brazilian folk song,” Christensen said.
Christensen got involved with the project when a professor from the University of Sao Paulo, which is located just outside of the city, contacted her through an intermediary who knew of Christensen’s interest in using technology in her music classes.
“She knew someone who was here in the states, but did not teach at the college level and then that person put her in touch with me,” Christensen said.
Collaboration between two countries with great distances between them is, of course, not without complications.
“They had to keep in mind how to play and everyone stay together. They would also be playing it out loud over the internet,” Christensen said.
The class in Brazil had to keep this in mind as well. The technology of the conference was handled by the experts on campus.
“The technology part of it went very well. The Network and Technology Services took care of that and they did a great job. It was video conferencing that is specifically meant for long distances. It wasn’t a typical Skype or anything like that,” Christensen said.
The most difficult of all these issues to handle was the time difference between the two countries.
“The hardest thing to try and coordinate, was actually the technology between here and Brazil, and the time because they were four hours later than we were,” Christensen said. “So we had to figure out a common time when all the students were available on both ends.”
The time they settled on was 8 a.m. U.S. time. The video conference between the countries lasted one hour and took place at the end of last semester.
Molly Schroeder, a junior, said her favorite part was that each person was required to learn enough Portuguese to introduce themselves.
“They learned to say what their name is and what instrument they play in Portuguese. And the students in Brazil learned to say the same thing in English,” Christensen said. “The teacher there speaks English really well. We tried a little bit of Portuguese. They appreciated our effort.”
Christensen plans to continue the international project with the University of Sao Paulo.
“We are going to do it again this semester. My students are arranging an American folk song to play back to them, and they’re going to do a Brazilian folk song back to us so that maybe we can hear different folk songs from around the world.”
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