Barrington Education Foundation grant brings ancient instruments to life

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Students at Barrington High School have the Barrington Education Foundation to thank for a new, virtual hands-on experience with instruments more than 50 years old.

Last spring, the foundation funded a grant request filed by high school teacher Nahum Mitnik; he received five virtual synthesizers to be used in his electronic music and audio production classes.

The software is a virtual representation of musical instruments created in the mid-to early-20th century that are no longer made, and those that are still around cost thousands of dollars.

The grant idea came about last year, when Mr. Mitnik was searching the web and came across a company that sold virtual synthesizers.

“I came across this company online that released virtual instruments, so as soon as I saw those I was incredibly excited,” Mr. Mitnik said. “I am always looking for other things to enhance the content. Teaching the history behind instruments 50 to 100 years old is kind of boring because kids don’t really care unless there is something tangible that they can do with it.”

The BEF granted the music department at the high school five virtual synthesizers valued at about $500 each.

The synthesizers create the sounds and rhythms of ancient (in the eyes of a high schooler) instruments with the tap of a key, but also give the students the ability to understand the historical aspect of the instruments.

“One example of an instrument is one that we actually talk about in electronic music, it’s a mouge synthesizer, it’s huge, and almost impossible to get one so this gives the kids the ability to play on them,” Mr. Mitnik said.

Mr. Mitnik further explained that in the past, students have been bored because they just want to play with other software, but now there is a more relevant and relatable link between the learning and history behind the instruments to actually being able to use them and incorporate them into the audio projects.

“It brings it to life a little bit more,” Mr. Mitnik said.

Students in the electronic music and audio production classes not only see clips and watch professionals use the real instruments, but also can open up the software and start working with the settings without damaging something that is incredibly old and expensive.

For electronic music, the biggest component is making the connection with the history. In the audio production course, they are used as a way of learning how new and old instruments and software programs interact with each other, and also learning how to configure and come at projects from a very technical point.

“You can have virtual drummers, virtual just about everything,” Mr. Mitnik said.

Last year, when Mr. Mitnik came across the virtual synthesizers online, the music department purchased one to test it out, and soon applied for the grant from the BEF after realizing how interactive and beneficial they would be.

“It enhances. It is what BEF is trying to do. It is not trying to change; it is trying to bring to life what we teach,” Mr. Mitnik said.

— By Katie Marra

BEF, BHS

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