Wind instrument programs integrate new recording tech into curriculum

Woodwind and brass faculty found new ways to collaborate on musical arrangements

ASU's woodwind and brass programs have made numerous adjustments this fall semester, most notably integrating a collaborative recording software into their curriculum, as it offers in-person and remote learning options.

Along with Zoom and Slack, students have been using BandLab to engage and collaborate on musical arrangements. BandLab is a music workstation that allows for multiple users to work on a single audio arrangement simultaneously.

"We needed some way to connect all these students," said Jason Caslor, director of bands at ASU and an associate professor of music. "So we're using the internet and various digital audio workstations to create recording projects for all 300 students."

Josef Burgstaller, an associate professor in the brass program at ASU's School of Music, Dance and Theatre, said woodwind and brass students design their arrangements together, record them individually and then combine the audio create a cohesive, multitrack recording.

"There's a lot of negotiation that goes on in-person that we've been able to do via this platform," Burgstaller said. "And now (students are) learning how to put video content with it, they're gathering video through, actually Zoom, and they're learning chroma keying and Adobe Premiere.”

Joshua Gardner, a clinical associate professor of music, said these technological skills students are learning with faculty guidance are what prior generations of professional musicians had to develop independently throughout their careers.

"As private lesson teachers, you know, we're used to one-on-one instruction which is unique … there's a lot of back and forth,” Burgstaller said. "And so (BandLab has) allowed us to accelerate that process in a unique way … all of the students have professional-level USB mics and in most instances, they have green screens."

Eliana O'Brien, a senior studying music learning and teaching, said she chose to come back to Arizona from her home state of New Mexico to have the ability to rent instruments from the University for her courses.

“I am doing classes entirely online and practicing in my room and in the ASU practice rooms, although the Arcadia practice rooms are not currently open," O’Brien said. "It's hard because I feel like all of the different parts of my experience here are very intertwined because I live here, and the facilities are really my reason for being here."

Practice rooms are still available for students to use, and the guidelines for how they are utilized "(have) been constantly adjusting to the science and student safety concerns," Caslor said.

One major safety concern of practicing in person is the spread of airborne contagions through various wind instruments, an issue not seriously investigated until this year, with many studies returning varying results.

Caslor said it is one of the reasons why the band program went entirely virtual to begin the year, adding it can return in person "at a moment's notice."

"By starting with something safe and still giving the students the skillset that we think they need to have going forward, and when it's time to get the band back together, we'll be doing that in a heartbeat," Caslor said.

O'Brien explained her studio and jazz courses are entirely remote, and students can individually utilize on-campus facilities while in class or working on a recording assignment.

While O'Brien said her lessons and the studio format have not been altered much, her music education experiences through the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College have been "very frustrating and make me feel very small as a student" due to not being assigned an internship.

Rather than assigning O’Brien an internship, the Office of Professional Experiences within the Teachers College told O'Brien that she could apply time spent on assignments from other classes toward the required internship hours.

"ASU has always been very, very good about providing professional experience to get us prepared for employment, and I think that's why ASU has such a high employment rate, especially in music," O'Brien said. "But the substitution does not work for the arts, where the classroom experience can't be replicated through watching videos or any of the Mary Lou Fulton classes because they’re not within Herberger."

O'Brien said for woodwind, brass and voice students to use the practice rooms, they must book a 90-minute time slot to come in, with 60-minute intervals between bookings for air to cycle through the rooms. 

"The system is incredibly considerate and they've done an excellent job modifying it to fit the feedback they've gotten from students," she said. "I just feel really, almost emotionally overwhelmed with how grateful I am to have access to a piano still … that they've found a way for their students to use their facilities."

Correction: Due to a source error, a previous version of this article included a quote from Eliana O'Brien which incorrectly asserted practice rooms were booked in intervals for air to cycle through hallways, not rooms. The article was updated at 1:22 p.m. on Sept. 28 to reflect this change. 


Reach the reporter at stellefs@asu.edu and follow @samtellefson on Twitter. 

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