The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Can apps and MOOCs help save classical music? Pianist Jonathan Biss will teach Beethoven’s piano sonatas to 30,000 “students” and pianist Stephen Hough has created a fascinating Liszt app. | August 31, 2013

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.”

jonathan biss at piano jillian edelstein

Using the firm Coursera, Biss’ course on the Beethoven sonatas will start this Tuesday, Sept. 3. There is still time to register as you can see below.

(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.) 

Hough_Stephen_color16

liszt sonata stephen hough app

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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/arts/music/hey-ludwig-theres-an-app-for-you.html?pagewanted=all

jonathan biss mooc 2

And here is a similar story that appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323585604579009041451441648.html

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.

jonathan biss mooc 2

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y134F2WvAGo

And here is a way to sign up for it:

https://www.coursera.org/course/beethovensonatas

You can find Stephen Hough’s Liszt app in the app store of Apple and Google’s Play.

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3 Comments »

  1. […] Classical music education: Can apps and MOOCs help save classical music? Pianist Jonathan Biss will … […]

    Pingback by Sunday Jumble Spoiler – 08/31/14 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog — August 31, 2014 @ 11:24 am

  2. […] Imagine walking into a classroom or lecture hall with more than 30,000 students. That is what the acclaimed young pianist Jonathan Biss (…) when he tackles his first course on the 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven. (…) Using the firm Coursera, Biss’ course on the Beethovensonatas will start this Tuesday, Sept. 3…http://www.scoop.it/t/easy-mooc  […]

    Pingback by Can apps and MOOCs help save classical music? |... — September 1, 2013 @ 11:55 am

  3. […] 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 …  […]

    Pingback by Classical music education: Can apps and MOOCs h... — September 1, 2013 @ 1:23 am


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