A View from the Summit

| April 11, 2011

I am happy and fortunate to have several friends who have little to do with the world of professional music teaching.  Aside from the usual work-related politics stories, I can usually count on (and do count on) our conversations having either little or nothing to do with my professional life.  Recently, however I spent the weekend with a great friend from high school who happened to have several prestigious degrees philosophy, religion, theology, and general contracting (man’s gotta eat).  He related to me a story from one of his mentors, a theology professor at Boston University. It strangely got me thinking about smart instruments and the coming digital revolution.  I’ll relate it more as a question than a story:

A man and his family are taking a vacation in a beautiful mountain park.  They of course decide to visit summit of the park’s most famous mountain.  The man decides to hike to the peak of the summit while his family decides to take the scenic tramway and meet him at the top.  The man sets out and after several hard hours finally scrambles up to the top only to find his family (who had begun their ascension barely an hour before) waiting for him.  They look out on the valley below.  What happens next?

The professor was very clear on what happened next:  Yes, they were seeing the valley, but they were not seeing it together nor in the same way.  Perhaps he was just being selfish, perhaps he was jealous that the other hadn’t “earned” the experience, but I don’t think so.  Having hiked and driven to the same peak on multiple occasions, I know that it is always, always more satisfying when you hike.

This story caused me to look at new digital musical instruments in a different way.  What is the difference between a real guitar and the ipad smart guitar a student?  Is it just a surface difference or are there more profound questions we need to ask ourselves as we introduce smart instruments in an educational setting?  Is the student playing the smart guitar learning about music the same way as the student with the real guitar?

Learning the guitar is obviously more of a challenge  and I think it’s safe to say that learning the guitar as opposed to using a smart instrument offers many more mental benefits.  A further question relates to the ensemble setting.  Is a band of smart instruments really playing music?  There’s something about making music on an instrument you had to learn — really work for and learn — that is difficult to describe and just as easy to see and feel.