New Peabody program teaches VR and 3D audio

By AKEIRA JENNINGS | October 3, 2019

The Peabody Conservatory has initiated a new four-year Bachelor of Music degree program that exhibits innovation and traditional research.

Titled Music for New Media, the program is designed to allow students with traditional music backgrounds to pair their interests in producing and composing with emerging technologies and digital platforms.

With the rise of virtual reality devices and a growing consumer interest in attaining augmented digital experiences, the need for students who are familiar with these platforms is growing. Led by some of the leading professionals in the music industry, including Thomas Dolby and Emmy-nominated composer Chris Kennedy, students are given the mentorship and resources they need to thrive in the ever-changing industry.

In a Peabody Program Spotlight Interview, Dolby explained that the program is unique among music schools across the country. 

“There is nothing really like it in a top North American university,” Dolby said. “It’s very important for the Peabody Conservatory that they offer a variety of career paths that actually match the needs of the industry and the workforce.”

For students at Peabody like sophomore Ashna Pathan, the program’s ability to acknowledge that traditional and future innovations in music can and should be intertwined, is one of the major reasons why she joined the program.

“When I was applying for college, I knew I wanted to be a film composer,” Pathan wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Most colleges either offered a classical composition program or a modern technology-based program.”

As one of the first students to be a part of Peabody’s pioneering program, Pathan was able to pursue her passions and the growing trends in the industry without having to compromise.

Peabody’s Music for New Media program was the only program she found that taught modern technology while providing foundations in classical music. The closing of many orchestras nationwide and reported lack of support for classical organizations like the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra have led some to question if music alone is enough. 

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Michael Kaiser, chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland, expressed that in the wake of many financial challenges, changes to orchestras and the classical music genre are necessary.

“The next 10 to 20 years are going to be a transitional period for orchestras,” Kaiser said.

The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which is conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Census Bureau, reported that in 2017 only 8.6 percent of Americans had attended a classical music performance. The study also showed a consistent decline in attendance at classical performances since 2002.

While many musicians and classical music enthusiasts may be dismayed by such statistics, Ed Tetreault, the manager of the Recording Arts & Sciences department of the Peabody Conservatory, is excited for how this program and its students will persevere. 

“There is still a space for traditional forms of music,” Tetreault said in an interview with The News-Letter. “You see change happening in that industry and you tend to adapt to changes within that industry. Although the way that we experience music may change, the same skills are there — it just gets utilized in a different way.”

Through programs that explore 3D audio and VR clubs that focus on sound design for video games, students are able to get a head start on the future of the music and technology fields. One of the major goals of the program is to prepare students for the ultimate question of where the recording music industry will be in the next 20 years. 

In the third and fourth years of the program, students work one-on-one with a mentor to help further advance their skills. In their final year of the program, seniors complete Capstone projects that will be a collaborative effort with one of the many prestigious research and technology-based Hopkins programs including but not limited to the Hopkins medical campus and the Whiting School of Engineering. Students are also allowed to collaborate with the Hopkins/MICA Film Centre to create immersive digital environments or films.

For students like Pathan, the Music for New Media and Recording Arts programs are opportunities to become well rounded professionals with unique perspectives of their fields and passions. 

“I added the Recording Arts degree after falling in love with audio engineering through a required class we took freshman year,” Pathan said. “I love that both programs treat us as musicians trained as pioneers in technology. Yes, we learn the technology, but music comes first.”

All students are encouraged to check out the new media Open House on Oct. 14 to learn more about the program and to experience the innovation first-hand.

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