Becoming Performance-Ready: Acoustics Demonstrations in Texas on Feb. 12
To practice football, players go to the field. To practice tennis, players visit the tennis court. It’s logical – the best place to practice is where they play. Musicians usually cannot rehearse in their performance space. But technology is opening up new possibilities; music educators in Texas can soon experience the high-tech solution first-hand and hear from one of their peers.
On Friday, Feb. 12 in San Antonio, veteran band director Joel Ashbrook (Central High School in San Angelo) will join personnel from Wenger Corp. in explaining the VAE® (Virtual Acoustical Environment) Rehearsal System he’s using at his school during demonstrations held in conjunction with the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) 2016 convention. This convention attracts more than 26,000 attendees, making it the largest event of its kind in the nation.
Playing in Performance Environment.
In the fall of 2015, CHS purchased a VAE Rehearsal System; Ashbrook says they’ve been really appreciating its benefits.
“The VAE Rehearsal System is outstanding – my students can actually experience playing in a performance environment: maintaining rhythm, tuning and pitch across the band,” he explains.
Ashbrook chooses different acoustic settings to work on improving balance and precision with his students, for example between the drum line and the brass in the marching band. He strongly believes the VAE technology is a great teaching tool.
Before Central’s band room was renovated, Ashbrook found it challenging to instruct students effectively about attacks, releases and articulation. Like most school rehearsal rooms, Central’s was acoustically dry, lacking any resonance or ambiance. The VAE Technology now provides alternatives.
“If I know our marching band is playing at a large football stadium, I’ll select the sports arena setting,” Ashbrook states. “It improves precision, balance and blend issues, such as from the percussion battery to the upper brass.”
Central High School and the larger San Angelo community both lack a good auditorium for performances. For the custom setting that comes with the nine standard VAE performance environments, Ashbrook requested the 985-seat Frenship High School Performing Arts Center near Lubbock, about 200 miles away. Central also purchased a second custom VAE setting – the 1,800-seat Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center in Midland, Texas, about 125 miles away.
Along with serving as Central’s closest performance venues, they are also where Ashbrook’s bands regularly travel for contests. “From a competition standpoint, we now have the opportunity to play every day in a hall that sounds like the stages we’ll compete on,” he notes. “That can’t help but give us an advantage.”
Beneficial to Learning
Ashbrook considers the VAE technology’s record-playback function extremely beneficial to learning. “When I record something I want my students to work on, it’s been an eye-opener for them. I may have explained it a thousand times, but hearing it makes the light bulb go on.”
He recalls rehearsing a long, technical woodwind lick with the band. Students were struggling with clarity: fingering and tonguing were not lining up precisely. Even after Ashbrook worked with them over several weeks, they still struggled.
Finally he asked them to play the lick in four different VAE settings, from a large arena to small, dry room. “Once students could hear themselves in the different room settings, the problem was immediately cleaned up!” he remarks.
“The VAE Rehearsal System really helps my day-to-day teaching,” explains Ashbrook. “Initially I thought the system was just a way to show students how they would sound onstage. But as soon as I was given a demo, I realized how I could use it as a teaching tool.”
Prepare to be Amazed
These VAE Rehearsal demonstrations will be held throughout the day on Feb. 12 at The Pavilion by Hilton, 200 S. Alamo Street in San Antonio, across the street from the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, site of the Texas Music Educators Convention. Four demonstration sessions are scheduled throughout the day; the first starts at 7:30 a.m. and the fourth ends at 7:00 p.m.; presentations run approximately 30 minutes. Pre-registration is encouraged because seating is limited. (You do not need to be registered for the TMEA Convention to attend these demonstrations.)