AAPS: Performing arts app will enhance music ed for middle & HS students

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

How will our middle and high school music students continue to perform together from their homes?

It’s a natural question, and now AAPS has an exciting answer.

On Wednesday, the BOE approved the purchase of the UpBeat Music app that will enable secondary music teachers to instruct small group ensembles. Now students in secondary band (including jazz), orchestra, and choir can play together in real-time, while performers can receive instantaneous feedback in the form of an MP4 video after the performance.

“We look forward to utilizing this tool,” says AAPS Fine Arts Coordinator Robin Bailey, “to bring our families and community the stunning performances they are accustomed to in this virtual environment.”

When COVID-19 struck mid-March and thrust the country into a virtual environment, AAPS music teachers managed as best they could to deliver music instruction in the virtual world, says Bailey.

“They learned a tremendous amount regarding the challenges for music teachers and students regarding the ability to hear and make adjustments, to perform together, and to get immediate feedback,” she says. “Therefore we are thrilled and excited to learn that the Board of Education has approved purchasing the technology support we have requested and need to ensure student success in this virtual environment.”

The app is the closest thing to being in the same room with other musicians, explained Jonathan Glawe, director of the Pioneer High School orchestras.

He says Upbeat is more than a band-aid for music teaching during the pandemic.

“It’s a tool that can help revitalize the principles of education practices of the past, and help shape the possibilities for the future of music education and performance,” Glawe says. “Upbeat gives us the chance at maintaining artistic and human connection in our music classrooms now, and further grow them in the future.”

Glawe was introduced to a very early version of Upbeat Music in June and immediately reached out to the developers to recommend the application be developed further to be a fundamental tool for music education.

The application was developed by entrepreneur/musicians Seth Radman and Sudarshan Muralidhar, who started building the app in March to play music when in-person rehearsals were no longer an option.

Since he discovered the app, Glawe has acted as an educational consultant by helping bring awareness of how teachers would ideally use the app in an educational setting.

“Our mutual work together has been hundreds of hours of looking at the application through many lenses- performer, teacher, student, musical coach, conductor, and much more,” Glawe explains. “Through our explorations together, we have also looked at equity and access as a core component to the application, including extensive research on using the application on Chrome books, which is what our district is using this year.”

The app is run from the most up-to-date version of the Google Chrome browser, and helps to solve latency issues that cause students and teachers to not be able to perform online together. It also solves the issue of teachers lining up videos to create virtual performances that students, families, and community expect and enjoy.

Glawe has run about 50 beta tests with educators from around the country on new features within the app, recording demo videos, writing educational scope and sequences that could be used for curriculum development, making tutorials, and much more.

In addition, many of the AAPS high school instrumental ensembles had free accounts to explore the app while waiting for board approval.

“Several AAPS music teachers have been a part of these explorations with me, and I am so proud to say that many Ann Arbor music educators have their unique musical fingerprint all over this application,” says Glawe.

As with any video-based platform, bandwidth can be an issue, so this is being closely monitored as the app is increasingly used, and there is already a list of troubleshooting tips for students if they run into any concerns.

Students enter a video chat room such as Zoom, but when it’s time to make music, each participant records themselves, and the app turns it into a synchronized collaboration for review. It can be used as a rehearsal tool as well as coaching situations, Glawe said.

“Partnering Upbeat with the progressive curricula of our exceptional music staff, the sky’s the limit right now for music in the Ann Arbor Public Schools,” says Glawe, noting that he is grateful to the BOE, Robin Bailey, and Superintendent Jeanice Swift for their support of this endeavor.

As for younger music students, Bailey says she’s also grateful the BOE approved the renewal of Noteflight with Soundcheck, and the purchase of Soundtrap.

Noteflight with Soundcheck will enable teachers to create exercises and adapted parts for differentiation of instruction, as well as to enable the creation of assignments and assessments that give students instantaneous feedback in asynchronous environments.

“It will also allow students in grades 5-12 opportunities for collaborative compositions, fundamental music notation tools as well as provide access to sheet music and method books for instruction,” Bailey says. “With Soundtrap, teachers can collaborate in real-time with student recordings. This program is necessary to obtain recording assignments and assessments.”