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Seneca Middle School Orchestra Program Gets “Loopy”

posted Feb 13, 2017, 6:53 AM by Deborah Wickliffe   [ updated Feb 13, 2017, 6:54 AM ]
Middle school students typically think of orchestra instruments only in the context of classical music. However, the students at Seneca Middle School recently learned how limited that view truly is. The school’s orchestra program was privileged to have renowned Cellist Sharon Gerber as an artist in residence in their classroom for a week. She and the school’s Orchestra Director, David Warlick, embarked upon a “grand experiment” as she introduced the basics of arranging and sound creation through the use of “live looping” – all as a way to, as Gerber put it, “spark their minds and see the possibilities” by using modern electronics to marry the old and the new of classical and contemporary music.

Gerber began the week by teaching the students about the art of live looping - a method of recording and performing music - sometimes by a single performer or sometimes by a small group - by recording and building layers of music in front of an audience to create a performance full of sound and with the illusion of additional musicians. This technique uses a piece of equipment, appropriately called a looper, which records and then plays back the recorded tracks while the musician then plays along with it live. She explained and then demonstrated to the students that a good loop needs four underlying tracks – a rhythm line, a bass line, harmony, and textures (typically a high pitched sound(s) which cuts through the overall arrangement). Once all were recorded, she then accompanied the loop with the melody line – all of which created a full-bodied arrangement of music as if she had an ensemble group playing along with her.
She began this instruction with the traditional classical music associated with the stringed orchestra instruments these students are studying – the violin, viola, cello and double bass. Even though the students were immediately enthralled with this new process, she truly got them hooked as she included the popular music of the band Coldplay into the equation. The class period seemed far too short as they all experimented with the various elements, combinations and creative sparks that looping allows. Although the week came to a close all too quickly, the students were thrilled to share their new-found knowledge and skills with their peers as they put on a mini concert during two lunch periods on the final day. Their peers were equally enthralled. 

Gerber said about the goal of the week, “I love working with young people and really hope to spark their creativity and show them that there is no limit to the possibilities with classical instruments. I hoped to help channel their energy into something productive and explore the creative and healing power of music. The goal of a musician is to communicate through music. Adding technology just gives us more tools to communicate with.” 

Gerber is a perfect example of that philosophy. She is a classically-trained musician who earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Cello Performance from Bob Jones University and the Berlin Conservatory of Music in Germany, respectively. In addition to working with students through the Artist in Residence program, she works as a freelance cellist who also does solo and studio work. As an example, she has recorded with the Chicago band Sleeping at Last whose music often appears on such television shows as Grey’s Anatomy and she has also composed the film scores for two recent documentaries – one about the holocaust and the other about an orphanage in Africa. In addition, she has also recorded four CDs of her own original compositions and arrangements for cello and piano. She has also studied, taught and performed music in Europe, Canada and throughout the United States. With that resume and breadth of experience, she certainly has found a variety of ways to communicate through music and thankfully she has found the perfect way to pass that passion for musical creativity on to the students she touches.