The New Jersey Young Composers Project: Music in Cyberspace
by: Dr. James Frankel
Perhaps you are already familiar with the wonderful online collaborative student composition project known as the Vermont MIDI Project, which began in 1994. If you are not, I strongly urge you to visit their website at www.vtmidid.org. What the project does is allow students from member schools around the State of Vermont to submit their digital compositions to local composers who then critique the work and send the students suggestions on how to improve them. The compositions are all created using technology and are in the Standard MIDI File (SMF) or .mid format. MIDI files allow composers to transmit their compositions as an email attachment or as a downloadable file on a website. The advantage of MIDI files is that 1) they take up very little memory, and 2) the chosen orchestrations use what is known as General MIDI (an industry standard) to play back their compositions. General MIDI ensures that the flute parts sound like flute parts and the tuba parts sound like tuba parts. Without General MIDI, the compositions might have a guitar with distortion play the oboe part. Enough jargon.
The Vermont MIDI Project is comprised of student work from three different levels K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. The student compositions are posted in a number of different formats including: a MIDI file, an Audio file, or a Scorch file. For those of you unfamiliar with Scorch, Scorch is a web browser plug-in that allows the user to access and manipulate musical scores online. This proprietary plug-in works only with files created using Sibelius. Check out the website to see how powerful this feature is. It is basically a PDF file that you can play the sound on, and manipulate the data (unlike a static PDF file).
At the end of every school year, the Vermont MIDI Project produces a CD recording of the most outstanding compositions featured during that school year.
Now that we have the origin of the project out of the way, letıs get to the point of the article. I am currently in the process of recreating this project at the New Jersey State level. The project will be open to as many New Jersey schools as possible. To participate, a member schools will have to pay a small annual fee ($30) to cover for the cost of the server space and the costs of running the website. In addition, member schools will have to have the capability to produce and transmit student created MIDI files. Once the school has become a member of the project, student work can be submitted and will be critiqued by a number of NJ native composers who I am currently recruiting. These composers will receive the MIDI files and, just like the Vermont MIDI Project, will return to the studentsı suggestions for improving their work. Once the students feel that their work is complete, they will then resubmit it. At that time their work will be posted on the website according to their grade level for all to see and hear. Unlike the Vermont MIDI Project, visitors to the website will be able to leave comments and suggestions to the student composers. At the end of the school year, a number of the compositions will be selected by the participating composers for inclusion on a CD recording.
I have already secured the URL for the website at www.njycp.org. This website will begin in the fall of 2002. I am currently looking for both funding and composers to work on the project. There will be a modest stipend for those participating composers. If you are interested in becoming a participating composer, please contact me via email.
If you are interested in becoming a charter member school in the project, please feel free to contact me also at the email address listed below. It is my intention to provide my fellow music educators who use technology in the State of New Jersey with a showcase for the technology, which can provide wonderful opportunities for our students, and, more importantly, a showcase for the talents of our music students who show an interest in composition, an often-overlooked part of the music curriculum. I look forward to running the website, and I hope that you will join me on this musical endeavor. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. See you on the circuits!