Thursday, 17 December 2015

New York! New York!

Transatlantic carol singing
Earlier this week, students from primary schools in the London Borough of Redbridge enjoyed a carol concert with a difference. They decided that rather than just entertain family and friends within their own school community with their choral talents, they would instead join other schools across their borough, with a little help from friends in New York City. 

Through the
JISC booking service, choirs from 13 schools linked up with each other and colleagues from the Manhattan School of Music DL in New York City. After their performances they received feedback from professional singing coach James Rodgers.

As Rebecca Emeny, Deptuty Head teacher at
Churchfields Junior School explains, the experience was a powerful one:

"Our Year 5 and 6 choir were invited to take part in a wonderful video conference with Manhattan School of Music. This was a truly unique opportunity for the children to perform to a world class audience as well as other local schools. A once in a lifetime event that the children will remember long into the future. The feedback was incredible, recognising their musical talent and syncopation. The children felt elated after the performance." 

Churchfield plans to use videoconferencing during 2016 as a way of sharing and developing choral singing with other school choirs in the UK and around the world. 

  Music coaching for secondary school students

The partnership with the Manhattan School of Music also extends to secondary schools in Redbridge. Throughout this term, Year 12 and 13 music students in 6 Redbridge secondary schools will be receiving video conference music instruction, covering band ensemble, choir and instrument-specific workshops, such as in flute, saxophone, trumpet and violin.

In total, there will be an impressive 36 sessions in this highly collaborative project. As Kate Hasler, Head of Music at Woodford County High School for Girls explains, the learning gains for the students have been significant:

"It has been a fantastic opportunity for our vocal students to receive one-to-one coaching from a coach who is not only an expert on singing, but also someone who comes from a different background/educational culture to them, so has some very different and interesting ideas for them to consider. 

"The detail afforded to specific aspects of vocal technique has been impressive, and the students have certainly learnt a lot and had their eyes opened to new ways of thinking about singing.  

Overall the experience been very positive – both for those who have been performing in the workshops and those who have just been acting as an audience have talked positively about the experience and what they have learnt. There has certainly been an additional ‘excitement factor’ involved given that they are VCing to somewhere as glamorous as New York City too!"

Amrit, a Year 13 student at Woodford County has been similarly pleased with the experience:
"Video conferencing has allowed each performer time to work on their pieces individually, which is difficult during music lessons in school.

"Performance is such a big part of being a musician, and focusing on sections of our pieces really helped me to understand my piece as a whole and perform it better."

For fellow Woodford student Ellen felt the use of video conferencing technology gave her an opportunity to gain important insights:

"It is very informative and interesting to find out about how different students from other countries learn music, and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to do so. It is also exciting to learn about how music is taught in other countries and in more professional environments.

"Though in these sessions, I haven’t taken part in the performances, I have gained much more knowledge about life within a music school, and also finding out more about such things as vocal repertoire and singing in the style of different composers. It was useful to be able to watch the performers and take in the same feedback that they got." 

 A visit from Santa

Of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without a visit to Santa, and through the power of videoconferencing he was able to make an appearance for 12 Redbridge primary schools this week. More than 1,500 Reception and Year 1 students took part in an hugely enjoyable interactive event from across the pond. Santa (AKA Rene Charles Carver, Distance Learning & Virtual World's Coordinator at GST BOCES) was clearly impressed: 

“Thank you to the Distance Learning service at
GST BOCES in New York, NYSERNET, Janet (JISC) and VCfL in London for making this happen. Your assistance was invaluable to making it possible for me, from Elmira, North Western, New York in the US, to visit with hundreds of wonderfully bright and energetic children from the Redbridge primary schools. Such wonderful medicine for the heart to hear their cheerful young voices sing Jingle Bells with me! And the highlight was answering all of their marvellously thoughtful questions!” 

 A three year partnership between London and New York    

 The partnership between schools in Redbridge and New York through
Internet2, NYSERNET, GSTBOCES and VCfL has been running for just over 3 years. During this time, thousands of students have used videoconferencing technology to connect to classrooms and organisations via the JISC (Janet) network. As well as for music, students have taken part in a range of programmes and activities covering literacy, energy and climate change and history. The partnership builds on the foundations laid through an initiative launched by Lord Jim Knight over three years ago, through which video conferencing and the JISC network was used to connect schools in New York and London.

Video conferencing in Redbridge Schools and beyond

Using VCfL systems, schools in the London Borough of Redbridge have been taking advantage of high-quality VC technology since 2012. VCfL's hardware systems are also supporting primary schools in Uruguay, where 1,500 students receive English lessons every week, live and direct from teachers based in East London. And from next year there will be a similar project in Brazil.

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