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Zukerman Gives New York-to-Canada Violin Lesson on Internet2

By Ulrika Brand

From Dodge Hall, Maestro Pinchas Zukerman instructs violin student Wu Jie in Ottawa, Canada. The demonstration lesson took place on Internet2. Christianne Orto of the Manhattan School of Music is at the podium.

When Maestro Pinchas Zukerman instructed his student Wu Jie to play a scale on her violin, the 17-year-old prodigy from Shanghai giggled nervously. This was no ordinary lesson; her teacher in New York City appeared to her on a video monitor in Ottawa, Canada, and there was a live audience watching in both countries.

From Columbia's Dodge Hall to the CANARIE (Canada's Advanced Internet Development Organization) Inc. headquarters in Ottawa, the event was a broadband demonstration on Internet2, representing an international collaboration between leading arts, research and advanced networking institutions in both the United States and Canada.

After Wu Jie performed the exercise, Zukerman commented: "Your preparation is a little late"; then he demonstrated on his own violin, saying, "I always know exactly where I want to be with the bow."

Zukerman recalled that Wu Jie had become his student after he heard her play at the Calgary Festival in Canada. "I practically fell off my chair," he said. "When you have talent, there's not much you have to do except enjoy it, because it's a gift, a gift to all of us," he said. Jie moved to Canada a year ago from her homeland in order to study violin.

The point-to-point lesson with Zukerman was presented by Columbia and the Manhattan School of Music in collaboration with Internet2 partnered with National Arts Centre, National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and CANARIE. The ongoing cooperation aims to ensure that learning, culture and the musical arts play a significant role in the development of advanced networks.

The lesson was engineered on the American side by Columbia's Academic Information Systems (AcIS) with the cooperation of the Columbia Computer Music Center. Brad Garton, CMC director, introduced the demonstration to an audience that included Marta Istoman, president of the Manhattan School of Music, along with other administrators and faculty from that institution and Columbia. He noted that Maestro Zukerman was no stranger to technology: "He's been using the finest and most advanced technology on the planet--his violin."

Zukerman and the Manhattan School of Music have been pioneers in the use of videoconferencing technology since 1996, enabling the maestro to teach his students while away on concert tours throughout the year. Limited sound quality in the realm of narrowband technologies has previously hindered the progress of music applications. Now, however, advanced high-speed networks such as Internet2 and CANARIE have made it possible to develop the high-quality audio and video-mediated learning technologies required for the advanced study of music. Christianne Orto, a graduate of Columbia's department of music and now the director of recording and videoconferencing for the Manhattan School, approached Columbia's Music Department Chair Elaine Sisman to enlist Columbia's participation as host for the demonstration lesson.

The point-to-point lesson was presented by Columbia and the Manhattan School of Music in collaboration with Internet2 partnered with National Arts Centre, National Research Council of Canada and CANARIE (Canada's Advanced Internet Development Organization).

Alan Crosswell, director of network and computing systems for Columbia's AcIS, described the lesson as a "powerful example of what the Internet will become in the next few years. Three or four years out this technology will be available to the public."

Since its development, Internet2 has provided 180 member institutions, including Columbia, with bandwidth dedicated to education and research. The wider, unclogged bandwidth enables information to travel up to 15 times faster and with greater reliability than on the "commodity" Internet. This speed is especially important for the smooth travel of sound, which requires enormous bandwidth.

Crosswell notes that while Internet2 was primarily funded by the National Science Foundation and developed by and for computer scientists and researchers, creative artists represent one of the fastest growing user communities on Internet2. "This is an example of an NSF research project benefiting the humanities," said Crosswell.

He continued, "Columbia is one of the only Internet2-connected universities in New York City that has the technology to present these interactive demonstrations with ease. To date, we've engineered more than a half dozen of them." These include a recent Peter Sparling Dance Company performance for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters annual membership meeting in conjunction with the University Musical Society and University of Michigan Media Union.

While Internet2's bandwidth is not widely used, there are no quality-of-service guarantees in place (this is one of Internet2's research areas). "If a researcher in California had fired off a large document across Internet2 simultaneously with our event, we would have seen glitches in the session between Pinchas Zukerman and Wu Jie," said Crosswell.

As it was, the only hitch came when the maestro attempted to play a duet of "Twinkle, twinkle little star" with his student. It proved difficult because of a brief time delay in transmitting the sound back and forth.

After the lesson, an audience member asked Zukerman: "Are there any disadvantages to this?"

He responded, "I like to think of it as an enhancement--not a substitute, because there is no substitute for human contact." He added, "I want to hug her, and I can't."

Sisman commented, "The masterclass was a remarkable achievement, showing that the apparatus of technology need not diminish the sense of immediacy and intimacy in the give-and-take of musical instruction and performance."

Published: Jan 19, 2001
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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