Disruptive technologies have been shaping education for nearly 20 years, and they continue to do so at a rapid pace. As a result, educators are utilizing advanced video and unified communications in addition to the cloud to revamp the modern classroom.

The Manhattan School of Music (MSM), one the leading music conservatories in the U.S., has been utilizing video conferencing technologies since1996 in an effort to expand their musical arts community internationally. MSM engages in inspiring work, offering much needed musical instruction during a time when many arts programs have been subject to budget cuts.

Recently, the Public Sector View editorial staff had the opportunity to speak with Christianne Orto, Dean of Distance Learning and Recording Arts at MSM. She offered great insight into not only what MSM is doing for their students but also what they are doing to advance the mission of creating an international arts community. Keep reading below to see what Christianne had to say:

Public Sector View (PSV): How has using Distance Learning methods and VTC enhanced Manhattan School of Music’s classroom instruction?

Christianne Orto2Christianne Orto (CO): Our Distance Learning (DL) program has enabled us to globalize our mission, spreading our reach with the musical arts. At MSM, reaching out to the community has been core to our mission and identity. Fundamentally, we are a music school that began nearly 100 years ago; In 2017-18, we will celebrate our 100-year anniversary.

Ultimately, DL methods and video conferencing (VTC) have enabled us to take our mission to the global level by expanding our musical arts community internationally. Our DL program has also impacted our instruction by allowing us to expand educational and artistic resources for our own on-campus students. Students come here worldwide from 53 countries to study with the great teachers here in New York City.

We are also able to expand and enhance student education by accessing faculty and teachers around the world. We are building a global arts community for people that are interested in the arts while simultaneously expanding and enhancing the education of our own international student body.

It is fascinating, to me, that some of our students travel such great distances to study at MSM. They continue to get excited about connecting with musicians across the world like the principal violinist of the Berlin Philharmonic, or musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra, or to connect with a great teacher in Scandinavia or the South Pacific. Their desire and need for access to world-class musicians knows no limits.

I think students also know and understand that with today’s advanced technologies, learning is not only within four walls anymore. Learning is a global endeavor. And, students are here at MSM know that they can have a global education through our DL program.

PSV: You mentioned that the Distance Learning program at MSM began in 1996. Can you elaborate on how the program is being revamped through its use of Music Mode™ in 2005?  

CO: Our DL program is the first of its kind in the nation. MSM is the first music school in the country to explore the potential that video conferencing technology has for music education.

But, we- even in 2005- quickly understood that the technology was limited for our particular vertical and application. The technology was primarily designed for speech and for conference-type interactions. The complexity of musical sound was such that the technology did not support our need.

Of all of the vendors working in video at the time, Polycom was the one who listened to us and our needs as their customer. They worked with us collaboratively to create Music Mode™.

Music Mode™, as you may know, is now embedded in Polycom’s technology, and it enables high quality sound to be transferred back and forth among participants. That was very exciting, and basically enabled our program to go global.

And now, we are here 10 years later after the advent of Music Mode™, and we’ve seen another huge disruption with the move from hardware based solutions to software based solutions within VTC.

At the same time, the demands of our application have not changed. We still require a high quality virtual environment with outstanding video and sound.

Again, working with Polycom collaboratively, Music Mode™ is now embedded in the Real Presence desktop software solution. We are very excited because we are now supported with the latest technology in our mission to continue building a global artists’ community.

As more and more people are migrating toward software based solutions, our application in music can continue to grow and develop because Music Mode™ technology has been transferred to the software environment. At MSM, we see this as extremely exciting.

An additional problem we solved is that we have taken away the need for musicians to have to turn to platforms like Skype for tutoring and instruction. Many hardware based solutions are too costly for individuals to invest in.

But, now that a software version is available, the price point is more realistic. Musicians can now have access to the high quality capability and sound they need at a very reasonable price point. They can do the work they need to do in a very effective, productive and affordable way.

PSV: Music and arts programs are being cut and/or reduced across the country. How does using video and other distance learning solutions help combat this issue of budget and access?

CO: In all disciplines, but especially in the arts, we have a great opportunity to leverage the investments that classroom teachers around the country have made in collaborative technologies and networks.

Yes, we see programs getting cut all of the time, but those of us that run our Arts organization have a great opportunity to bring the arts back into communities by supporting local communities and local arts programs. We do this by engaging locally and also by bringing content and experts in the arts into the classroom through VTC and other advanced technologies.

I am the founding director of MSM’s Distance Learning program. Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen teachers and media specialists overwhelmed by the equipment and pressured to stay current as technologies shift.

To speak to this element, the Real Presence desktop can interoperably connect to class room systems. This makes the Real Presence desktop software that much more appealing.

With this revamped software version of Music Mode, we can get back into classrooms at a reasonable price point with ease of use, without sacrificing the level of quality that we’ve been able to offer.

PSV: Is there anything else you would like to share?

CO: We at MSM think this is a revolutionary step that Polycom has made by adding Music Mode™ to a software version of Real Presence.

We’ve seen market disruption with the Cloud. And, Polycom answered the call by providing high quality solutions to music educators around the globe so that they don’t have to resort to using lower quality platforms.

Teaching artists and students can truly have a virtual environment that will support high quality music performance instruction in art education.

Our hats off to Polycom for meeting the customer demand worldwide.


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