By Jacob Stockinger
After Labor Day, the school year, for both K-12 and high education, will officially start.
Imagine walking into a classroom or lecture hall with more than 30,000 students.
That is what the acclaimed young pianist Jonathan Biss (below) who teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia – the most selective higher educational institution in the country, according to one report – faces when he tackles his first course on the 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven. (Several seasons ago, Jonathan Biss turned in a superb performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Major, K. 467, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)
That Biss will reach so many clasiscal music fans is thanks to a MOOC – a “Massive Open Online Course.”
(Biss is recording all 32 of the Beethoven piano sonatas for Onyx Classics, which will release volume 3 this fall. The Ear finds his performances extraordinary and convincing. You can hear Biss in an interview on the PBS “Newshour” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Then there is another great pianist, Stephen Hough, the MacArthur “genius grant” winner from the United Kingdom, who has done a special app on Franz Liszt’s legendary Sonata in B minor. That too will allow him to reach many thousands of listeners and new audiences who can follow his playing with the score and his own annotations as well as view his finger playing the virtuosic work. (Hough has performed in Madison in both solo recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater and in concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and gave a terrific masterclass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.)
So The Ear wonders: Will MOOCs and APPs come to the rescue of classical music, which seems increasingly to be losing relevance and popularity?
It could happen.
The possibilities have certainly been treated in the media lately.
Here, for example, is a great story, with a lot of specifics and details, about Jonathan Biss’ Beethoven course and the Stephen Hough’ Liszt app, that was published by The New York Times:
And here is a similar story that appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal:
Over 30,000 people have enrolled in the Beethoven course to date: seven times the total number of students who have attended Curtis since the school opened its doors in October 1924.
The five-week course starts this coming Tuesday, September 3, 2013–the first day of Curtis classes–and is aptly named “Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.” Biss has posted recommended reading and listening materials here.
In the course description, Biss writes, “It is not necessary to have studied an instrument or to have any knowledge of music theory to take the course. Rather, it is designed for students of all backgrounds who have a desire to learn more about Beethoven and his world.”
Coursera offers classes that are free of charge and are designed to help the student master the material. A key factor in the design of the Coursera system is the extensive use of interactive exercises. Within videos, there are multiple opportunities for interactions: the video frequently stops, and students are asked to answer a simple question to test whether they are tracking the material.
There will also be stand-alone homework that is not part of video lectures. Students can watch Biss’s lectures at their leisure, but the classes are structured with regular deadlines. Each student who completes the course will receive a statement of accomplishment at the end of the series.
Curtis will a launch a second Coursera class in October titled “From the Repertoire: Western Music History through Performance.” Taught by Jonathan Coopersmith, chair of Musical Studies, and David Ludwig (’01), the Gie and Lisa Liem Artistic Chair of Performance Studies and a member of the composition faculty, the course illuminates Western music history through explorations of seminal works over the past six centuries.
As for the Beethoven course by Biss, here is a preview:
And here is a way to sign up for it:
You can find Stephen Hough’s Liszt app in the app store of Apple and Google’s Play.