MINNEAPOLIS -- "Jimmy, I love your haircut," teases Karl Wiederwohl as he sets up for a lesson from a sun-filled studio at MacPhail Center for Music. His students set their chairs and music stands and settle in.
Wiederwohl is an accomplished trombonist. Any student would be lucky to have a teacher who has experience as a performer and teacher. Until recently, only students who could get to MacPhail in downtown Minneapolis had that option.
Today, Wiederwohl's students are 125 miles away at Yellow Medicine East High School in Granite Falls.
They are connected to their teacher through a codec, a computer program that takes a signal, digitizes it, enabling someone miles away to watch it without the lengthy delay and glitches of the internet.
At MacPhail, it's called the MacPhail Online Residency Initiative, or MORI.
It allows teachers at MacPhail to work with students outside of the metro. Currently eight high schools are using the sytem through the LIttle Crow Telemedia Network, LCTN.
"We're trying to be a resource for those schools within their music program," said Bob Adney, who coordinates MORI at MacPhail.
It's an important distinction for teachers like Nicole Boelter at Y.M.E.
"To be honest, I was a little worried," said Boelter, who was concerned the initiative would replace rural teachers. However, after seeing the program in action for her band students, she's a convert.
"I'm hoping I can find funding somewhere to continue something like this because to give this opportunity to the rural students, it's just been outstanding," Boelter said.
Currently, the program is funded by the help of a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.
"Whoa, whoa, E flat, remember I said make sure you play E flat," said Wiederwohl after listening to a tuba player at Y.M.E.
He believes distance learning through the codec offers few drawbacks (for instance there is a very slight delay, so Weiderwohl can't count out the beat for his students as they play) while also providing some real opportunity.
"Because I'm not there in flesh and blood, it actually encourages the kids to form their own interpretation and take ownership of their product," explained Wiederwohl.
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