Segments highlighting UMass Band alumnus Matt Sexauer ’01 are included here. For the full article, please visit “The A in STEAM” at Halftime Magazine’s web site.
For a lot of schools, though, STEAM is more than recognizing the arts as a discipline on par with math or science or about funding arts programs; it’s about finding the intersection between those disciplines.
In some schools, STEAM has risen in the form of music technology programs and classes. At Chelmsford (Massachusetts) High School, students use computer programs to remix their favorite songs.
Chelmsford’s program also prides itself on its ability to reach students who did not previously identify as musicians. Director of Bands Matthew Sexauer, who uses Sibelius and Finale programs to arrange music for the school’s marching band, explains that these particular pieces of software never took off in the music technology class. “Not everybody who signed up for the class can read music,” he says.
Instead, the music technology class at Chelmsford is a general education elective, allowing students who have no previous knowledge of music theory. “It’s all about using your ears, listening, and discovering music that way,” Sexauer says.
The class mostly uses GarageBand to allow students to arrange and mix music. “With GarageBand, the midi tracks, there’s a visual representation of how it lines up with the rhythms, not your standard notation,” Sexauer adds.
Chelmsford also keeps its class relatable to students by introducing them to the basics of music construction through songs they already know. In the past, Sexauer has used songs from artists like Stevie Wonder, Queen, and David Bowie, instructing students to create their own arrangements using isolated guitar, vocal, and piano tracks.
“They’re far more likely to appreciate it if they have the option of using music they would listen to,” he says. “And hopefully they’ll listen to the music they enjoy differently because they discovered something about it.”
Looking to the Future
Many people view technology as the way of the future, and the future is exactly what many of these programs focus on. “It’s the 21st century. There’s an app for everything,” Sexauer says. “The kids are all very computer literate.”
Sexauer has found that staying up-to-date with new technology has not only provided more educational opportunities for students, but it has also made his life as a teacher easier. He now uses computer programs to prepare almost everything for Chelmsford’s marching band. “Any kind of music arranging, I use Sibelius,” he says. “I haven’t seen a handwritten drill in years; we use Pyware for that.”
Matt Sexauer is a former drum major for the Minuteman Band, and marched tenor sax.