Music to my ears: Foundation grant breathes new life into GBN classroom

Jason Heath points to one of the gyroscopes student Michael Gershuny is composing with as his classmates Callum McLaughlan and Johnny Bear listen in.

For many students enrolled in Jason Heath’s electronic music production classes, they have never played an instrument, read music or sang in any of the school’s many musical groups.

However, they are musicians -- talented ones at that.

“A lot of it is just going with the flow. The creative process can’t be too rigid,” explained sophomore Michael Gershuny over the sounds of his latest production. “We listen to the sounds of other artists and start thinking of ways to put our own spin on their music.”

On a recent spring day, Gershuny crowded around a table with fellow student Callum McLaughlan to tinker with their latest composition. Their workstation was a symphony of music and color as the two manipulated different machines and meticulously evaluated each sound.

Technology is a key component to creating any new musical arrangement in Heath’s classes. And thanks to a recent grant from the District 225 Foundation, students now have access to a new tool meant to make the creative process much easier and more innovative.

This school year, Heath was awarded a $2,000 Innovation Grant to purchase Gyroscopic Music Controllers, a three dimensional tool that, through the use of LED lights, helps students remix music.

The Glenbrook High School Foundation seeks resources to enhance, enrich, and expand access to programs in Glenbrook High School District 225. Each year, the foundation reviews proposals by District 225 faculty and staff members for the Innovation Grants, which are meant to provide support for the development of projects, activities or initiatives.

The devices, which have a similar look and feel to that of a video game controller, plug into a computer and allow users to assign each button a specific color and sound.  By memorizing what each color symbolizes (i.e. red means kick drum), students can create complex compositions literally with the click of a button. 

“This technology enables students to rethink what it means to improvise, compose and program music; uniting music, digital media, computer programming and live performance in a bold, multidisciplinary fashion,” Heath said. 

In addition to the actual technology, he explained one of the benefits of having the gyroscopes is how easy they are to use. Some of the equipment and software in his classroom can often be overwhelming, particularly for a first year student. With the gyroscopes, essentially anyone with video gaming experience can understand how to use the devices.

They also offer another visual element to a student’s performance. The lights can be programmed to move whenever the gyroscopes are moved or to the actual beats in the music. With many inspiring DJs enrolled in Heath’s classes, this effect is something they are seeing many main stream artists incorporate into their performances (just Google Deadmau5).

“We went from producing music on Garage Band to having the best software in the industry,” said sophomore Johnny Bear. “Having access to these tools is extremely important to us.”