The connection was personal for PACMI instructor Michael Shinn, whose parents, Drs. Ron and Barbara Shinn, founded the Institute. Michael, now a Juilliard faculty member himself, had studied with Martin as a student and really wanted to give the young pianists in Alabama an opportunity to experience working with the teacher he credits with many of his own successes. Further, Martin, who routinely traverses the globe, teaching at elite institutions and festivals, is actually an Alabama native. For the PACMI students—many of whom live in small towns and rural areas—Martin would represent an inspiring story of homegrown achievement by someone with a shared background.
As a Yamaha artist, Michael Shinn is aware of the many advantages of Disklavier—he and his wife, pianist Jessica Shinn, have even recorded duet content for DisklavierTV. They also knew that asking Prof. Martin to make a detour to Alabama in the midst of his already-set summer teaching schedule might be impractical. Putting all the pieces together, it became clear that using a Disklavier would be the solution they needed.
Introducing the technologies of the Disklavier is always exiting, but never as thrilling as when it sparks the interest of high-achieving young artists like the ones at PACMI. Of course the Disklavier would be central to the masterclass, but the students, mostly new to Disklavier, wanted to know more. What's under the hood? Why is there a remote? How will it work?
So, we had a little petting zoo of sorts, and all the piano students got to experience Disklavier technology firsthand. Though many students had at least basic knowledge of the MIDI technology at the core of the Disklavier, most assumed it was reserved for games and more utilitarian tasks like note-entry in notation software. Few realized the power of combining MIDI and a true concert-quality instrument like the DCFX for true artistic growth.
Fifteen year-old Alvin, a star athlete who is relatively new to the piano, had the ear-opening experience of listening to his own performance played back in high-resolution detail—for better or worse.
A more advanced student, high school senior Caleb Harris, learned how to use the Disklavier with the Visual Performer iPad app, creating a multimedia show to accompany his Debussy.
"It's just overwhelming," gushed Savannah Howard, a precocious 14 year-old from tiny Eufaula, AL, who lit up at the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the technology. By combining a mashup of MIDI software (Home Concert Xtreme and Garritan Personal Orchestra) with the Disklavier's MIDI output, Howard experienced playing with orchestra for the first time—a virtual orchestra with thundering timpani and lush strings keeping pace with her every turn.
With a little more familiarity with the Disklavier, the students were free to save their anxiety for the actual masterclasses. So as they warmed up their fingers and straightened their hair, Prof. Martin was hopping off a plane and into the piano salon at Yamaha Artist Services, Inc., in New York City. Here, he sat down at the DCFX E3PRO, loaded a few scores on his iPad, and began the masterclasses.
Martin dug deep into the students' repertoire, alternately peppering the students with vivid instructions (he is well-known for his colorful analogies), and modeling passages to define musical ideas. As the Alabama audience marveled at the keys and pedals moving in sync with the larger-than-life projected video conference with Prof. Martin above the piano, the technology and the distance began to evaporate. Soon Martin and each young pianist fell into a back-and-forth routine you might expect from an in-person masterclass.
At one point, when it was time to talk about pedaling in Chopin, Martin even discovered that he could actually do MORE teaching with the distant piano, since the student could actual see the pedal move (as opposed to being covered by the teacher's foot!).
By the end of the second day's masterclass, it was clear that the students had all experienced something that changed their perspective, both in how they approached their repertoire, as well as the role of technology in the future of live playing and teaching.
Here at the DEN, we are equally eager to see what the future brings for PACMI and its delightful young artists!
Now in its 16th year, PACMI is a one-week program offering approximately 25 students an opportunity to fine tune their performance skills, as well as study music history, theory, ear training and keyboard literature. Recitals are free of charge and open to the public. The PACMI staff features members of the Samford piano faculty, including Dr. Ronald Shinn and his wife, Barbara Shinn, Dr. Kathryn Fouse, Dr. Donald Sanders, as well as the director's son, Dr. Michael Shinn and daughter-in-law, Jessica Shinn, who are both Juilliard faculty members and co-founders of the pianoSonoma festival in Sonoma, California. Learn more at http://www.pacmi.net.