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Music Beat

December 24, 2011

Movie and music production class taking off in Walton

There is a new group of talented young people in Walton, who are making soundtracks, animations, original sound recordings, mashups and remixes. They are not part of a big entertainment industry company. Instead, they are seniors at O'Neill High School in the Walton Central School District, working with English teacher Clarence LaParr in his digital media, audio/video production class.

LaParr, a 2005 graduate of the State University College at Oneonta with a major in adolescent English, said O'Neill High School had installed a Macintosh lab last year that allowed students to become involved with many innovative projects. The audio/video production class offers students wonderful opportunities to be creative, but it also functions as a powerful means of keeping students involved with all their schoolwork. This is one of many electives the school offers to do a better job of engaging students academically.

Approximately 50 percent of the students in LaParr's class are active in band and orchestra and the general music program at Walton. All students work with free software installed on Macintosh computers, including GarageBand, iPhoto and iMovie. Students make their own original music "tracks" and they re-mix tracks composed by others. They create the audio and video components for short movies.

Students use stop-motion animation with iMovie to create short videos accompanied by music they have created with GarageBand. They produce multiple layers of audio tracks and effects and learn how to put sound in stereo and adjust volume levels. They are able to add instrumental sounds to songs to fit the images in the movies they make.

The audio/video production class meets every other day from 8:15 to 9:35 a.m. Students enjoy working in the new Macintosh lab and have used the class to prepare projects for other classes, as well. They go well beyond the usual PowerPoint slides, using music, animation and video to prepare presentations on historical subjects and research projects. Often, the presentations are made using modern commercial musical styles. Students write their own rap music and compose hip-hop instrumentals as a musical bed for the rap. Classes are small, due to the size of the computer lab and the intensely involved nature of the work.

For their first video project, students used handheld digital cameras to take 700 to 1,000 pictures of a subject. Those pictures were imported into a computer and edited and aligned to look like seamless animation. Cartoons in the 1930s were made in a similar fashion, using hundreds of drawings shuffled quickly to appear to be moving characters. Students spent about 10 80-minutes classes to prepare an animation that lasts about one minute.

Walton school teachers and administrators were quick to see how LaParr could use the new Macintosh lab to share projects with others.

LaParr was asked by a colleague to work with students to construct a "newspaper" in video format. The middle school is working with LaParr and his students to produce a video and music to support an anti-bullying campaign. Walton school officials are eager to use their new Macintosh lab to enhance the education of Walton students.

LaParr is very enthusiastic about the benefits available to students through the audio/video production class. He said, "This class leads students to think about preparing themselves for future careers. They see it takes a lot of work but it's possible. Students in this class learn more from experimenting than from hearing lectures. I give them advice, but they learn from trial and error. There are 10 students in the class and they help each other. They learn that they can accomplish whatever they want, as long as they're willing to do the necessary work. They have fun but they're also producing very imaginative projects."

LaParr already has plans for helping his students in the audio/video production class to produce movies and music, and the Walton Central School District intends to expand this method of instruction.

Perhaps we'll soon see the creation of the Walton Film Festival. If so, I intend to be at the opening ceremonies.

Dr. Janet Nepkie is a member of the music industry faculty in the music department of the State University College at Oneonta. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/musicbeat.

Tips for students

Build on the skills you've learned from Mr. LaParr. Consider creating longer songs and movies.

Study additional components of movie-making, including directing, cinematography, sound production, editing and producing.

Write a script for your movies, or a narrative that gives life to your images.

Learn how to work effectively with a team to tell a story.

When you've created the best movie you can make, consider looking for reaction from a larger audience. You might start a mini-film festival, or a minimalist media festival. Learn from professionals how to promote your festival to gain a large audience and perhaps some influential critics or journalists.

Learn how to obtain licenses to use other people's images or music as part of your own work.

Look for professional mentors. Start to build your own network of entertainment industry professionals.

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