Our final feature of the year spotlights a few of the innovative and creative adaptations made by Jacobs faculty, staff, and students in response to this new and crazy world of 2020. This is a three-part series, just a glimpse of the many ways that members of our community have channeled inspiration, resilience, and determination to find new ways to keep their art alive and connecting people, even while physically apart.
Part 2: Making Live Music Together
Aram Arakelyan | Lynnli Wang | The Amity Trio | Tom Walsh
Aram Arakelyan: Connecting Collaborative Piano with JackTrip
Aram Arakelyan (Lecturer in Music, Collaborative Piano) and Kim Carballo (Senior Lecturer, Chamber and Collaborative Music, and Coordinating Opera Coach, IU Opera Theater) worked with Philip Ponella and music information technology services to figure out how to make live collaboration safe and possible through a JackTrip setup in some of the collaborative rooms.
AA: There is a number of practice rooms that are set aside for the collaborative piano majors to rehearse in. We decided to take four of those rooms and turn them into two virtual rehearsal spaces. Each of those pairs of rooms have been furnished with equipment—a pair of microphones with a mixer and audio interface connected to a computer. The two computers communicate via JackTrip and Zoom (sometimes Jitsi), and there’s both an audio feed and a video feed between them. The latency in the video transmission is too great, so it’s only there so the students can see each other. For the actual collaboration, however, they rely on the audio, for which the latency is imperceptible. Our students are able to rehearse and collaborate while in separate rooms, and we’re able to have studio class and lessons by connecting to those rooms over Zoom. So it’s been really wonderful.
Yes, these programs need to be manually started and the feeds all need to be connected manually. But I was able to take advantage of MacOS Automator application. All the software is set up under a specific user account on these computers, and I’ve set up automators for each scenario – rehearsal, lesson or studio class – so when you click it, all the software and connections start up automatically.
Project Jumpstart: So you got a little bit engineer-y with it!
AA: A little bit, yeah. I’m no coder, but it all seems to work pretty reliably!
PJ: What was your inspiration to use JackTrip? Had you used it before?
AA: In March and April, we were starting to figure “Oh, shoot, we’re in trouble…if we’re quarantined, everyone can do their work except for the people who need to be with others to do their work.” There’s a local piano-bandoneon duo called Ben & Winnie, they play tangos. And Ben Bogart, who’s a wonderful musician, is also an amazing tech person. He had written an article describing how to collaborate in real time over the internet using JackTrip. Kim Carballo, who knows them personally, found this article. Winnie and Ben had been doing regular livestreams, playing from separate locations. I think Ben wrote this article, because everybody kept asking him how he did it.
I was skeptical, to be totally honest. I had never experienced software that dealt with audio without noticeable latency, even without transmitting over the internet. Thankfully, Kim had a more openminded, “we’ve got to try this out”-attitude. She and I talked and finally tested in April, and from the first time realized that this was an amazing thing.
The implementation became the apparent big question. Do we just teach all the students at JSOM how to use it? How long would that take? And the hardware question was difficult because not everybody has a Mac and an ethernet connection, and Windows doesn’t work as well with audio, and Linux is entirely too complicated. And troubleshooting seemed endless. So that was, and in many ways still is a big question: how do we help more students take advantage of this technology? And how do we as the faculty implement it to teach collaboration?
Then in midsummer, CollabFest happened, the annual conference for collaborative pianists. Because of the quarantine, the organization decided to hold weekly meetings on Zoom, in place of the usual gathering. Upwards of 100 people would meet each week to talk and share ideas. One of the ideas was to create a safe setup for rehearsal by connecting adjacent rooms. There was no mention of JackTrip, since with two adjacent rooms, you can just drill holes in the wall, run cables, and set it up like a booth in a [recording] studio. We even explored that possibility for a while…although the holes in the wall was probably not going to fly. But then we had conversations with Phil Ponella and the music IT team, and narrowed in on using JackTrip and computers instead. I think that was the trajectory between April and September.
Meanwhile Kim and I connected regularly over JackTrip to play, since we had been starved for the experience of making music with another person. But what happened was that every time we tried, something would go wrong, and we would spend the hour troubleshooting. It was like she changed one setting and I changed another setting, and now nothing works. This prompted a lot of reading and research, but ultimately was of huge benefit, because we went through the full range of all the things that could go wrong and came out on the other side with a more comprehensive understanding of how the software works and its possible uses.
PJ: So just a lot of trial and error and patience?
AA: That’s truly what it was. It was kind of an all-consuming thing for a few months.
PJ: What has it felt like to you to be innovative during the pandemic? Has it taken on a new meaning to be innovative and creative during this time, or stay inspired?
AA: I think initially the inspiration came from seeing that a solution to one of our big problems—the inability to be in the same room—exists. From then it came from the “small victories” along the way. I don’t know that I see myself as an innovator, I think in this case, Chris Chafe and the other people behind Jack Audio Connection Kit and JackTrip are the real innovators. I’ve just—again, with the help of Kim, the Music IT, and the Collaborative Piano “support group”—found one thing, and then realized that I can enhance it by implementing this other thing, and then, oh, I could potentially do this other thing to make it more user-friendly, and then kind of “Transformer” it all together into something useful, you know what I mean? As far as innovation goes, it’s more just problem-solving and curiosity.
Lynnli Wang: Bringing Music to the IU Campus through the Carillon
Lynnli Wang (MM, Organ Performance) is an associate instructor of carillon at the Jacobs School of Music, an instrument which has taken on even more value in a time where music is safest when performed outdoors and socially distant. Lynnli tells us more about the community-centered nature of the carillon, and how IU students and other Bloomington residents can get involved!
LW: Right now, when concert halls are closed and Zoom live streams abound, the carillon offers a respite from our isolated new “normal,” providing the community a safe, outdoor, socially-distanced way to enjoy music communally. Every Saturday at noon in October and November, we invited the IU community to join us at the “Meet Me at the Metz” concert series, which featured a wide variety of inclusive music from pop songs, folk tunes, and original bell compositions.
Carillons are by nature public instruments, and are meant to be enjoyed by the performer and the audience. IU has really taken that to heart and even kicked-off a new collaboration between its Athletics department and the Metz Carillon: for home football games, the Metz Carillon plays the IU Fight Song every time a point is won – and in a historical upset during the first home game, the IU football team beat Penn State by one point in overtime – what a way to inaugurate a new cross-field partnership!
Members of the community can get involved with the 65-bell Metz Carillon, located in IU Arboretum: students can register for one-on-one carillon instruction; composers can (and are!) writing new works for the carillon; audience members can (and have!) provided song recommendations; and carillon enthusiasts can become a Friend of the Metz! During COVID, all are called to innovate and find a new normal – I hope campus will continue to find new ways to make the carillon part of their life, because the music of the bells can be heard (for a couple of miles around the tower!) even to people who didn’t know about the carillon concerts happening. We may not be able invite guest carillonists from around the world right now to our campus, but we can use the carillon to bring together our community, share some uplifting, hopeful music, and create something wonderful as one IU!
Lynnli is taking students both inside and outside of Jacobs next term, and both graduates and undergraduates – she welcomes anyone with basic keyboard proficiency (read treble and bass clef – and can identify keys on a piano) and with the willingness to climb stairs! She also loves song requests, so please let her know what you want to hear on the carillon by emailing her at email@example.com!
- IU press release: IU football and Metz Bicentennial Grand Carillon ring in season together
The Amity Trio: Long-Distance Chamber Music
When the Amity Trio (Kim Carballo, piano; Katie Dukes, soprano; and Michael Walker, horn) were forced to find new ways to make music together, they jumped on JackTrip and exploring its possibilities for virtual collaboration. They’ve been having virtual concerts ever since, playing together–live!–from their homes in Bloomington, IN and Albuquerque, NM. They shared with Project Jumpstart about their activities, the lessons they’ve learned along the way, and how they’ve stayed inspired during this time:
PJ: How has your trio adapted to the new world of the pandemic, and how did the ideas for these adaptations come about?
Amity Trio: Our last concert together and in person was on February 28. We felt that we had built up some good momentum as an ensemble. When the pandemic hit we were trying to find some solutions. Through sheer desperation, and from an amazing tip from Ben Bogart and Winnie Cheung, we started exploring this (then) obscure program, JackTrip, which allows for long distance sound sharing with minimal latency. The first time we were able to just rehearse together again, it truly brought tears to our eyes. Since then we have done hours and hours of rehearsal, and several online concerts with different modalities. Aram Arakelyan has very kindly jumped on board to be our tech person and general magician in the concerts that we have done in real time and streamed through YouTube. Our most recent concert, The Trees Turned Silver, was a compilation of pre-recorded single shot videos, premiered on Facebook [on December 17]. The concerts and program notes are all available on our website, amitytrio.com, should anyone like to explore the different modalities and see what worked (and what we learned from)!
PJ: What was your first virtual performance like? What are some essential things to know for people who are looking to do virtual performances in the future?
AT: As musicians, we like to control the variables in our performances, with specific day-of-performance routines so that we can do the best work possible. Jumping into this pool was elating, since we could finally make music together again and share it with people through this new (to us) medium, and it was also rather scary since there were so many variables that seemed like they were out of our control. With each subsequent performance we have definitely learned how to manage some of those variables–and how to (try to) go with the flow on those that are beyond our control.
The biggest thing that we have learned (and keep relearning) is to allow about 300% more lead time to set up, troubleshoot, deal with technical issues than what it seems it should take. Once in a while it all goes very quickly and we can have the gift of extra time before the performance, but frequently we are SO glad for the extra lead time because something or another takes an unexpected turn.
PJ: What were some lessons you have learned from these experiences that you will continue to carry with you, even when things go back to “normal”?
AT: As members of a chamber ensemble who are not located in the same place (two in Albuquerque, NM and one in Bloomington, IN), we have typically worked with a very compressed rehearsal schedule, with performance following immediately. Working via JackTrip allows us to rehearse more consistently and with a longer trajectory. Also, because JackTrip is audio only and the video feeds we use in rehearsal are by their nature behind the audio, working this way overtrains our aural communication, which will make performing and recording together again eventually a walk in the park.
The market of people interested in repertoire for horn, piano, and soprano is pretty specific. The rehearsal and performance strategies we are using now will carry into our post-pandemic music making; via these virtual performances we can reach our national and international target audience/interested market much more consistently and immediately.
We often refer to this as a game changer for our ensemble, already, and it was worth the blood, sweat, and (many) tears at the beginning.
PJ: How have you stayed innovative, creative, and inspired during this pandemic?
AT: It’s not all the time that we’re all three inspired, but there have been many times that we co-inspire each other. One of the perks of being in an ensemble like this is that we usually take turns being in the dumps, and the others inspire hope and creativity by the nature of the overall joyful dynamic of the group. Given the nature of this particular year, we are all even more grateful to be able to continue our work together precisely because of how it lifts each of us up in mind and spirit.
Other ways that we have developed creativity, innovation, and inspiration this year include:
- Collaborating with other artists, composers, and scholars on project and repertoire development. We have commissioned and performed four new works since the pandemic hit, and have done interviews to spotlight several scholars and composers. (Those are all available on our website as well: www.amitytrio.com)
- Challenging ourselves in things that we didn’t have time/energy to do before, on projects and skills that are really useful in the long term so worth taking the time to develop now that we can: learning about new computer skills/technology/camera angles/lighting/video and sound editing.
- Many FaceTime calls. Many, many, many FaceTime calls.
- Brainstorming/dreaming about future projects and starting to put the initial details in place for those to come to fruition.
- Each of the individual members of the ensemble have had more time and attention to dedicate to the ensemble’s development. This has helped us to deepen our commitment to our mission of advocating for new music from underrepresented voices. Related to that, we have been researching and learning more about what it means and how to develop equity and inclusion in running an arts organization, outwardly facing in repertoire programming and internally through board development.
- Cooking. A lot.
Tom and Julie Walsh: Masking Up the Jazz Ensembles
You’ve probably already heard: Tom Walsh (Professor of Music, Saxophone, and Chair, Department of Jazz Studies), along with his mother Julie Walsh, dreamed up a clever instrument mask design that, along with bell covers designed by the Costume Shop, made it possible to keep this semester’s jazz ensemble performances going strong. Professor Walsh reflects on the mask design process and on the amazing media coverage it has received since then:
TW: I do want to say that a couple of the stories don’t give adequate credit to my mom. A couple of stories say that I designed the mask, but I don’t think that’s true. I posed the initial question: “How would you play a wind instrument with a mask?” She had the idea for a flap. Then I can up with the ideas that evolved the mask to its current state. She did all the design and made the masks.
The Costume Shop has also done all kinds of work: they created bell covers for the jazz ensembles, which have been made available to all wind players. They made special “flute masks” that some students have used in the jazz ensembles and an end cover for the flute. They made masks for the Opera Theater and then went on to make a couple hundred masks for the Marching Hundred. And, of course, they made 5,000 masks for the campus over the summer.
PJ: What has the experience been like to be innovative and creative during the pandemic?
TW: It was really great to be able to collaborate on this project with my mom. Sharing ideas and working the problem was fun and there was a sense of urgency around what we were doing. Our biggest challenge was that she is in Louisville, two hours south of Bloomington, so we couldn’t just try a lot of things and go through a lot of updates. Each update required either sending a new mask in the mail—which took a week—driving an hour to Salem, Indiana to meet, or for one of us to drive two hours to get together briefly. In the end, it was incredibly rewarding to have the masks work and for the students to adopt them so readily and successfully.
PJ: What are some lessons you’ve taken from this whole experience that you’ll carry with you into the future?
TW: First, collaborating with others who have the know-how to execute an idea is essential. Being able to ask a simple question of my mom, who already had expertise in sewing masks, and then being able to bounce ideas around, and then being able to revise the original idea a few times were crucial steps in the process. Neither of us would have come up with this on our own.
Likewise, working with Dana Tvetkov’s team in the JSOM Costume Shop to develop the bell covers was a process of bouncing ideas around, testing multiple options, and then choosing the best option. It was by sharing our different areas of expertise that we were able to create the final result. So, the lesson to me is that even though we live in a world with a big emphasis on Do-It-Yourself, it’s really valuable to find people with expertise in what you are trying to do and work with them to create what you want to create.
The other part is the persistence and desire that is needed to see something like this through from the idea phase to producing the masks and bell covers and then implementing them–getting everyone (faculty and students) on board with using them. There were multiple points along the way where we could have given up. Fortunately, everyone was very motivated to make this happen. That persistence, that desire, was the energy that saw the process through from idea to implementation.
- KHN: Musicians improvise masks for wind instruments to keep the band together
- IU News: Music in a pandemic: Jacobs School professor designs mask to help protect wind musicians
- Find photos, videos, and instructions for manufacturing on Tom Walsh’s wind instrument masks and bell covers site
Thank you to everyone who spoke to us for these interviews, and for the inspirational work you’ve been doing! Stay tuned for our final installment of this series next Tuesday!