Multimedia: Connecting the Sound to the Idea

Robert Winter

Twenty years ago, almost to the day, I was in a seminar with Leonard Meyer, who is visiting here on your faculty this semester. My life has resonated with a comment Leonard has doubtless forgotten that he wrote on a Schenkerian analysis I handed in on the first movement of Beethoven's String Quartet in C# minor, Opus 131. When I got the analysis back, I read Leonard's laconic evaluation: "B plus; good, but not distinguished." I've been trying my whole career to overcome that grade.

Everything I've heard my four distinguished colleagues say has struck me to the core, because their issues (the triumphs, the excitement, and the frustrations they encounter in the classroom) are the very ones that I have wrestled with for 17 years. Before I get down to business, it is still necessary in 1990 to refer to the equipment arrayed in front of me. I'm sure that some of you are thinking, "Well, here's the token computer nerd whom Freeman has imported from the West Coast as dessert." So let me hasten to point out that I make about 25% of my living as a professional pianist; I run a live concert series; and I teach a great deal with live music. I just finished a course at UCLA for 400 students which didn't have one canned note the entire quarter—more than twenty hours of live music. That's hard to put on, even in a place like Eastman! My commitment to live music is at every level, I hope, as deep as that of anybody on the performance faculty here.

Further, I am a poor excuse for a computer nerd. In my Department if you know how to plug the line cord into the wall and how to attach a 50-pin cable, people are mightily impressed. I am a klutz when it comes to technology, and I frequently vent my frustration at the whole apparatus. Look at the forest of cables back here. If I try to sell somebody a nice streamlined car, but it required a dozen protruding antennae in order to run, then no one's going to buy that car. I keep telling the hardware people I meet that if they want this technology in every classroom in America, these cables must be hidden. So we are at a stage that I characterize as primitive. What I am about to show you is a very tentative first step, but I think it does begin to address some of the things that these four distinguished teachers have all come up against at various times in their careers.

The most difficult limit I've always strained against in teaching—even if you have live musicians and even if you are a performer yourself—is the specific connection between ideas about a piece of music, and the music itself. How you connect ideas to sounds is vital for students. Now if you are a vivid lecturer and you know that in this passage by Liszt, for example [Here he plays part of Liszt's transcription of Schumann's "Widmung"], Liszt uses a rhythm of two-against-three and big fat chords to create the impression of the "vibrato" that he notates, then you can make your point about pianistic vibrato in sync with the music, after which your students will go home. But how do they retain the link between this passage and your explanation? If there is a class tape, students may avail themselves of the tape, but how will they remember where Liszt's "vibrato" occurred? Was it here, at the very opening of "Widiming"? Or was it elsewhere? The student has no way of making that connection beyond the one-time exposure.

I'm thinking here especially of Ken Levy's helpful fugue diagram. I've taught that piece with mixed success. It's got a wonderfully spacious subject followed by nine subject entries; there are supertonic and subdominant entries, and there is a regular progression from soprano, to alto, to tenor, to bass; and there are intervening episodes. Many of those things you show in your outline, but I'll be darned if more than five or six percent of the students I've ever taught, after the most inspiring lecture I ever gave, were able to go and actually pick those out. I've got music majors who can't pick them out. I've got graduate students who have trouble picking them out. So the real problem I have always had is connecting the sound to the idea.

The other issue is that of passive recall versus active learning. Let's face it, the environment in which most of us teach, regardless of how innovative we are, saddles us with a single tempo of presentation. When I was a student I used to nod off during some of my seminars, and I'll tell you why. The pace was either too slow for me, or it was too fast. If it was slow, I got bored and tuned out. If it was too fast, you had lost me anyway. In my experience the majority of kids in our classes find us either too fast or too slow. What George [Todd] was talking about, I think, was putting the control back into the student's hands, making the process more active. Most of the time we are all necessarily linear presenters. True, with live performers you can just say, "Five after [rehearsal letter] D." But what do you do with CDs, where the searching apparatus, though a vast improvement over tapes, is very clumsy? The kids may tune out before you find the spot you want to repeat. Moreover, we have our students for 10-12 weeks, maybe three hours a week, thirty or forty hours in all. That's not enough. Many students, if they could, would happily go to a place where they could reinforce what they have heard about.

I'm going to show you the first product that I authored with the Voyager Company in Santa Monica, California. The hardware platform, by the way, is a Macintosh computer connected to a CDROM drive (a CD player that resembles your CD-Walkman, but with a few extra chips that enable it to talk to the computer). All this CDROM drive has in it is an off-the-shelf recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, a wonderful recording made in 1967 by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Hans-Schmidt Isserstedt, now digitally remastered. The image is projected with an electronic pallet that sits on the overhead projector and projects the computer screen onto a larger screen. The content consists of a Hypercard stack that is about 700 cards deep. Since I've just tried to persuade you that a chief virtue is its non-linearity, there will be some irony in the fact that I am about to give you a linear tour. But if you can imagine that, as a lecturer or as a consumer, you can use it in any order you wish, then it may make more sense.

One final point before I begin. I liked the analogies made for example, by Truman Bullard, to painting. One appeal of this technology is that it involves the "digitization" of all knowledge. In other words, a multimedia apparatus can take text, visual and graphic images, full-motion video, or sound—any of the formats in which knowledge comes—and package them all in a unified digital format so that each can be accessed immediately. In other words, a graphic that Professor Levy would include in his book wouldn't look much different from what I've got here: a "pocket guide" to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It lays out the movements and their general structure, but with a difference! [Here Winter clicks on a line and the music representing that line plays immediately] The teacher enters the classroom with a tape that is inherently linear. But if, God forbid, a student asks a question that takes us elsewhere in the piece, I remain a prisoner of that tape. I either fumble my way through it on the piano, or try to find the place on the tape, or fumble through the CD. But with the new technology I can immediately go any place I want. And if my students don't know what a "movement" is, or don't know what a "coda" is, we have a little 135-term glossary. If I want to find out, for example, what a "movement" is, I just select the term from a pop-up menu. If you happen to hit on "coda," then you bring up "coda." [Here he plays the example that accompanies the definition]

I want to take you next to "Beethoven's World." We were all lamenting at lunch that the way we get around the difficulty of talking about music is to talk about composers' lives, social history, and so forth. But I would argue that this can be done in a very purposeful way that whets the student's appetite for the music. Here's the introduction; let's just read this first screen. It recounts the familiar anecdote (probably true!) about Beethoven's conducting at the premiere of the Ninth. When the piece was over, as several accounts report, Beethoven did not hear the applause, and the alto soloist, Mademoiselle Unger, had to tug him on the sleeve and turn him around. Now you read that in a book and it's fine, but if you don't know this piece or happen to know what the ending sounds like, you don't really know what clinical deafness is. Well, when students hear this (He clicks on the button and plays the riotous conclusion of the Ninth], then they understand that Beethoven was stone deaf.

Now suppose that I have a sort of National Enquirer mentality and I want to know about Beethoven's love life. I want to get right to it; I do not want to have to go to an index. I just enter the word "love" in the "Find" field, and I am taken swiftly and successively to all the mentions of "love" in the text. When I get to Antonie Brentano, I can click on another button and hear via the Macintosh sound chip the incipit of a song that Beethoven dedicated to her. Or take "wars." (He enters "war" in the "Find" field.) Oh, here is Napoleon. Here is a rudimentary reproduction of the celebrated David painting in the Louvre. In a year or two we will be able to take Truman Bullard's slides and paste them right into your programs, thereby enabling students to create their own visual scenarios as they listen. Students will also be able to paste in or draw their, own pictures.

Let's look at "The Art of Listening" by beginning with something absolutely simple. A musical passage does one of three things. It either repeats itself, it does something entirely different, or it creates a synthesis of those two, which we call variation. That concept serves as a frame of reference. Watch the screen. [Clicks on "Play repetition" button; the trio plays] This repetition is perhaps obvious to you and to me, but it's not so obvious to students. Or "contrast." [Plays a closing theme from the first movement] I then take the "Joy" theme and use it to teach variation.

Or take instruments: with the pop-up menu I can access the percussion, for example. How about the timpani? [Clicks on "Timpani," playing the solo timpani passage in the scherzo] What about the Turkish instruments? What do they sound like? [Plays Turkish music in the Finale] I can also see what these instruments look like. Any of the instruments can be called up whenever you wish.

Next, I'm going to take a couple of concepts that I think Ken Levy and I would agree are important in our courses, but which are in fact very, very difficult for students to absorb in any meaningful sense. Take modulation. Have you ever succeeded in explaining modulation to your students in a way that they will retain for the rest of their lives? My experience with even my majors is that half of them graduate still unable to hear any but the simplest modulations. We were working on the problem at Voyager last July 4 [1989] when I said, "let's put our own fireworks on the screen at the moment the modulation in the Scherzo occurs. At least in this one movement they will have an idea of what's going on." [Scherzo plays; the audience laughs at the coincidence of fireworks and modulation] The user can repeat the passage as often as he or she wishes. [Plays music again and the audience laughs again] My father is tone deaf. Now my father hears this modulation, I guarantee.

Or consider modulatory developments. Generally we offer a rhetorical sweep of the hand when we get to the development and say "Now there are a lot of unstable passages with a lot of modulations." But supposing I want to know when the keys are actually changing. Well it's easy to do. [Plays the development in the finale] So, F major, then G major, now C minor, now E-Flat major; A-Flat major and now finally B-Flat minor. In this way our students know when these events happen, so that they can begin to tie a concept such as modulation to real musical events.

I find that I have a difficult time teaching humor. One of the funniest moments in the Ninth Symphony (not a work laced with humor, let's face it) is close to the end of the Scherzo, where Beethoven threatens to bring that duple-meter trio back all over again, and then stops abruptly. Now, I have explained for years how funny this is. I've played it at the piano, and if you could see those catatonic faces, you might think these students are being paid $30 each to mug it. So we provided a "Just Kidding" text screen at the moment Beethoven aborts the trio repeat, and now I hear lots of laughter. [Plays music] Now the audience laughs and they get it because they have the kind of visual reinforcement familiar from television.

I don't know what you do about teaching large-scale structure. It is equally daunting. For example, who here would actually ever dare to teach the first movement of the Ninth Symphony? Ken, it's not in your book, and it's not going to be in my book. I don't think anybody I know teaches the first movement of the Ninth Symphony, even to majors. It is a movement with some ten themes in the exposition alone. Where do they start, where do they end, and how do they relate? The hardest thing of all is to explain the relationships between the exposition and the recapitulation of these huge sonata form structures. If we are to persuade people that it is not a form, but rather a dramatic, revolutionary process that invigorated music for a century and a half, we have to find some way of bringing those relationships across to students. This new technology makes that happen because the relationships can be heard instantaneously—for example, the hushed opening [Plays passage], becomes, at the moment of recapitulation, a thunderous roar [Plays passage]. Students can hear the parallels and differences in these two passages immediately even though they occur eight minutes apart. And while this one's in minor in the Exposition [Plays passage], in the Recapitulation it is in major [Plays passage]. I can make these immediate comparisons in the classroom, and students can digest them at their own pace in the listening lab.

Now, once students have worked through 102 cards of this, they can go to what we call "A Close Reading." There are 350 cards which, if you were so inclined, would take you through the entire piece. I'm going to do about four cards very quickly. Here's the start of the piece. What you get is what we call a card stream. What each card shows is the movement, the Italian tempo marking and an English translation, the measure number you are in, a commentary to that passage, and an overview box showing the overall structure and, in boldface, the current location. Now supposing that on reading this card I haven't the foggiest idea of what a dotted rhythm is. All I have to do is click on either word and a definition pops up; I can read about dotted rhythms. More to the point, I can play the theme with dotted rhythms [Plays theme] and without dotted rhythms [Plays theme].

We've been talking about notation. I think Ken is right. We should keep notation to a minimum, but I also think that we should not spoon-feed kids. You can give them a chance to read music. And they can, with just a little bit of help from their friends. Here is a theme I call the "Defiance" Theme; there you have all 17 notes of it. You see the arrows showing the dotted rhythms, and the longer notes followed by the shorter notes; and now the program "reads" it for me. [Plays I/17-21; the software highlights each bar in succession] Now if you're an Eastman student and don't want to have the "bouncing block" helping you along, you can shut this feature off. But I believe this is an ideal way for a novice to learn how to follow notation.

Now, suppose you don't like the fact that I called this a "Defiance" theme you think it sounds more like a "Nervous Frog" theme. If you have a printed book, you could take a red pen and cross it out and substitute your own version. But with the new technology, all you have to do is step over here and unlock the text field. Now you can change the book and no one will know the difference. The whole notion, by the way, of authorship and copyright will be in great flux over the next 40 years.

Again you have the possibility in a digital world of non-linear access. Let's see what the whole development looks and sounds like. This card says that the "tail" of the "Defiance" theme is being developed. If I simply play it [Plays I/218ff.], you may have forgotten what theme this is a tail of. That was, after all, almost seven minutes ago. But I can see and hear the entire theme with a simple click. Oh, there it is! Now I can hear just the tail of it [Plays the tail]. Now let's go back; this time I can hear that tail. I understand what it is; I can see it. I have some sense. And, once again, it doesn't matter one whit whether the student can tell you what double dots mean or what thirty-seconds mean or what 4/4 means. They can now hear this tail.

Or take the fugal aspects of this passage. We can see all the individual voices in notation and generalize about fugues and explain them to students. So I just load it up here and play them one at a time from this primitive Mac sound chip [Plays second countersubject, 1/218ff.]. Students can go back over these as often as they wish and control the direction of their own learning. At another level, suppose I'm following along in the finale in the Close Reading, and I see all these references to "sonata-concerto" form, but I haven't the slightest idea of what "sonata-concerto" really means. All I have to do is click on it. The program will take me directly to a general dis cussion of sonata-concerto back in the "Art of Listening" section. I can read or browse there for as long as I want. When I'm done, I can just click on "return" and take myself right back to where I was, and resume. This is a rudimentary example of "hypertexting." I can do the same with "Coda" in the first movement and many other structural terms. In the finale you also have a language issue. In our program, you can address this in two easy ways. In the "Art of Listening" you have a side-by-side German-English text that you can click on at any point to hear that passage immediately. In "A Close Reading" you can choose either German or English with the click of a mouse. These two options simply remove the language barrier.

Now to the last element of my little presentation. I think we have to remind ourselves that, before we all became part of the educational system, learning was not only fun but occurred unconsciously. So I created "The Ninth Game." It's got about 90 questions, all of which illustrate materials and concepts covered in the program. I'm going to ask you to play along for a few minutes to get into the spirit. Let's have two players. Give me two names from the audience. Who's going to be one player? Give me a name. Thank you, Ralph Locke. Who else? OK, our second player is going to be Kenneth Levy. We'll play for 100 points. Now, there are three categories of questions. Ralph, you get the first question. These are listening questions, the more points the more difficult. Pick a category, Ralph. How many points?

Ralph Locke: Start at 4; I'm scared already.

Robert Winter: In which passage does the clarinet play the melody? Hit the jackpot, Ralph.

Ralph Locke: Passage one.

Robert Winter: Now, supposing Ralph did not think it was "one," supposing Ralph thought it was "two." [Computer plays sound of glass breaking; here the audience laughs] And if it is "one" [The voice of Beethoven says "Sehr gut," the audience laughs]. OK, Professor Levy, pick a category and see what you want to do.

Kenneth Levy: "Knowing the Score."

Robert Winter: OK, how many points?

Kenneth Levy: Six points.

Robert Winter: All right, a bolder choice. The word that Beethoven used in an early sketch to describe the first movement of the Ninth Symphony was "defiance," "joy," "exultation," or "despair." It's a well known fact, Professor Levy. [Audience laughs]

Kenneth Levy: "Exultation."

Robert Winter: "Exultation." [Beethoven says, "Ach, du lieber"] Ralph?

Ralph Locke: "Defiance." [Beethoven says, "Ach, du lieber" again and the audience laughs] Professor Levy?

Kenneth Levy: "Despair." [Beethoven says "Sehr gut"; the audience laughs]

Robert Winter: This little exercise combines elements from "Wheel of Fortune" and video arcade games. Notice, by the way, that every wrong answer prompts an informative, if often irreverent response from Ludwig so that you always close the knowledge loop. Hopefully you learn something from your mistakes. There is much more to illustrate, but I've rambled on for too long.