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Professor Laura Ritchie, National Teaching Fellow, Teaching Fellow in Music and Coordinator of Instrumental/ Vocal Teaching and MA Performance at the University of Chichester, has been using video to enhance her teaching for many years. We interviewed Professor Ritchie to find out about her recent 24-hour Panopto live stream of a tribute to jazz musician Herbie Hancock.

Before we get onto the topic of your recent live stream, can you give us some background on your use of video for teaching and learning and why you think it’s useful?

Video has been a big part of my own learning since I was a teenager. I used to record all my cello lessons on Super8 video cassettes in the early 90s, so I know from personal experience how useful video can be as a learning tool.

As part of my teaching approach, I record all my sessions so my students can review and reflect. It is so very helpful to review what happens in a lesson or lecture, especially if there is a lot of detail or new information. There is only so much a person can take on board at one time, so having the chance to review is really beneficial. 

I also record all my music performance teaching, allowing students to both hear and see their performance from an audience’s perspective. As a performer, you are always at the centre of your sound, and you are also very involved in sound creation. This means it’s just not possible to listen from the audience’s point of view without recording. A teacher or listener can tell you what they hear, but recording allows you to see it for yourself. As a reflective tool, I think it is invaluable.

One of your recent projects was to run a 24-hour live broadcast of a multi-performer music event. Can you explain the project in a bit more detail and tell us why you wanted to do this?

Firstly, it had never been done before and I love a challenge. 

The starting point was that we wanted to run a project that tied into International Jazz Day. We came up with the idea of students, staff, and guests playing a Herbie Hancock song called Chameleon for 24 hours without a break. Performers did shifts, and we staggered the personnel so the tune kept going, although its timbre, vibe, and instrumentation shifted like a kaleidoscope throughout the event.

Why did we do it? Well, for a couple of reasons.

Educationally we wanted to share our creative process with a broader audience. Sometimes people think of recording as a very formal affair, but actually, making music doesn’t have to be a highly staged and controlled event. Music should make people move, laugh, dance, and want to join in. This was one way to make the event accessible to people all over the world – whether they wanted to just dip in or watch longer segments. We heard about people who tuned in over their breakfast, who had the performance on in their house or who planned to hear certain performers. The live stream allowed people to access the event on their own terms, and that is not the way performances are generally presented in concert halls.

As a secondary motivation, the concert was run as a fundraiser for a primary school in Los Angeles that myself and other University of Chichester students and staff had worked with earlier in the academic year. We wanted to help them to fund some equipment to enhance student creativity and allow the students to create their own videos. Their dream is to build a multimedia green-screen room. It seemed only natural to use video as a way of helping them move towards their own goals for video creation.

How did you get set up for this? What equipment did you use?

We presented the performance as a live webcast using Panopto. We changed over every three hours because with Panopto the live stream is also recorded, so we used a lot of storage.

We used a broadcast quality camera, which had an HDMI interface that connected to a Macbook computer. Our music technology staff very kindly set up the musical equipment and the camera, and taped down all the cables to make sure there were no health and safety hazards, and that was it.

We were let loose to run the event and throughout the 24 hours I manned the computer and changed over the recordings every three hours. The Panopto Support team was also very actively involved – they monitored our feed to make sure all was well, and had helped run a short test in advance of the event.

How did you find working with the Panopto team to get this organised?

They were great. They gave us some advice but as this had not been done before it had a genuinely experimental edge. They were very encouraging and were monitoring the feed throughout just in case we had any issues. However, everything ran very smoothly in the end.

What was the impact?

There was an immense amount of goodwill and bonding between the performers. 24 hours is a long time! The feeling of gratitude that the students and staff would go to the trouble to do this for a good cause was definitely appreciated, and we had tremendous support from our Deputy Vice-Chancellor who stayed until 2:30 am. It raised the profile of the music department and of the jazz programme. Most of all it was great fun.

Which elements worked well and do you have any tips for others thinking of doing something similar? 

One thing I learned while doing the live stream was to delete the recorded files from the local computer after they were uploaded as I filled the hard disk after about 14 hours. Once the files were uploaded I cleared them off and all was well.

Next time we run a similar live streamed performance, we will have someone manning the camera so we can have more close-up shots rather than simply having a wide shot of the room. Also, we hope to bring in international guests to become part of the stream and the performance. That will take another level of thinking through the technicalities of real-time music performance. The plan is to sync with external clocks and have the music for those segments planned, so ‘live’ listening is not required, as there is electronic lag with the sound. It’s complex, but not impossible to navigate.

What’s next for you with video?

My current project involves preparing for a performance of the Kodaly Solo Cello Sonata on 18 October 2019. This will be my inaugural lecture as a Professor at the University of Chichester. I have been recording my practice every day using video, audio, images, and reflective writing in order to detail the process of learning and preparing over time. So far I have shared this with a closed community of creative practitioners via a project called Yapnet but I plan to string the preparation together as some form of publicly available digital output. The lecture is called ‘Learning out loud’ and I will certainly be both streaming and recording it. 

 

If you want to find out about some of Professor Ritchie’s other projects with video, and the experience of some of her students, check out the following blog posts: