Of Note
May 9, 2006
Borromeo helps Department of Education push the boundaries of Distance Learning
Using Maine's ATM network to get MUSIC, not money

The German poet Goethe described a string quartet as "a conversation with four educated people." What a conversation the Borromeo String Quartet began in May with students and teachers at nine distance-learning sites throughout Maine!

The conversation was the result of a year-long discussion between Distance Learning Network (DLN) specialists from Maine's Department of Education (MDOE) in collaboration with PCA Great Performances' 75th anniversary celebration events.

PCA Great Performances wanted to extend the reach of its educational programming as a "thank you" to its founding members and music teachers with a week-long string residency. One of the goals of the residency was to create as many opportunities as possible for students and teachers to interact with the quartet and to hear them play.

Maine's DLN wanted to push the boundaries of its Asynchronous Transmission Mode (ATM) system with a new initiative. The network includes 91 sites throughout Maine's 16 counties. Using ATM technology, people in the farthest regions of the state are linked together for meetings, professional development opportunities and academic courses.

DLN specialist Steve Vose worked with and trained PCA Great Performances' Director of Education Barri Lynn Moreau to offer this unique music education opportunity on May 9, 2006. Barbara Moody from MDOE helped set up the room for sound checks and served as assistant director for the broadcast.

Luckily, the Borromeo String Quartet has experience using this kind of technology. They presented a program over a similar network in Hawaii a few years back. Nick Kitchen, the quartet's first violin and "tekkie whiz," was eager to broadcast the history of the string quartet presentation across Maine and give students the chance to interact with the quartet.

"The danger of not doing programs like this is that there are people who might enjoy what the arts promise, but they will never know what's out there because they don't have the exposure," said Kitchen, first violinist with the Boston-based Borromeo String Quartet."

Pineland Suzuki students from around Augusta were the "in-house" audience, but the larger audience included Waterville High School, Bangor High School and Mount Desert Island High School--all linked interactively with the quartet. In addition, Lewiston Regional High School, Ellsworth High School, Narraguagus High School and Washington Academy received the broadcast. Students had opportunities to see and speak to each other in various schools around the state and were also able to talk to members of the quartet.

Although there were the usual slight technical glitches, the program was well received. Students rated it as "Great!" A 12th-grade music student from Waterville High School says, "I was very impressed with the quartet's presentation. These were clearly four musicians who loved what they do . . . and loved sharing it with others. Being exposed to this performance has helped me greatly as a musician."

Music educators were thrilled with the presentation and the opportunity for students to be coached by the string quartet. "In the Augusta area, where we have very few chances to hear such great music, it was an especially unique treat," says Betsy Kobayashi, Pineland Suzuki director.

"To have programs like this gives students the excitement to go on. Most of the students are the only one in their school who play a string instrument, and it is not always the cool thing to do. Borromeo was definitely cool. I am sure that they made many new friends for chamber music," Kobayashi says.

One parent marveled at the change in her son's technique and self-confidence after the Borromeo experience. "My 13-year-old son was able to participate in the 'studio audience' during the lecture/demonstration, and then attend a master class. He really enjoyed it, and said he couldn't wait to go to school and tell people about it."

According to this parent, the session had a real impact on her son's playing. "Yesterday afternoon at an informal solo recital, he played the Bach Gavotte he had played for the quartet earlier in the day, and he had already incorporated their suggestions regarding telling a story, leading the dance and the 'pinky circles'."

A second day of residency activities in Augusta was followed by two more days of events throughout Maine, concluding with a free Borromeo String Quartet concert in Portland's Merrill Auditorium. The auditorium was packed with 1,200 new "friends" of the Borromeo String Quartet, including residency participants from the capital area.

The entire residency was underwritten by the generosity of the Evenor Armington Fund, the Vincent B. and Barbara G. Welch Foundation and the Fisher Charitable Foundation. Based on the success of the residency, PCA Great Performances is looking forward to a future residency with the Borromeo String Quartet to support Maine ASTA string and music education programs throughout Maine.

Barri Lynn Moreau is director of education and family programming for PCA Great Performances in Portland, Maine. She is an arts advocate, former teacher-administrator and music lover.
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