Instrumental Music Special Projects
MVLA Foundation Innovative Learning Grant - Spring, 2018
Applicant: Jason Kneebone, MVHS Chamber Orchestra
Project: 3D-Printed String Quartet and Commissioned Work
A heavy sigh of relief could be heard from the podium when, for the first time during an April rehearsal, everything just worked. This was the culminating moment of nearly nine months of design, collaboration, construction, modification, and fine tuning. Once everything was synced up, plugged in, and turned on, we were able to play music on the instruments that we had created ourselves.
“The process of creating a instrument was very eye-opening for me. We often identify hundreds of years of artistic perfection as merely... an instrument. Only when we began the construction did I start to really appreciate the complexity and the beauty of a musical instrument. Making something from nothing, combining bolts, washers, and 3D-printed pieces of plastic - all valued at nothing on their own - when put together together to create a vibration in the air that is priceless. Playing on 3D instruments gave me the opportunity to realize the minute details that allow the unique sound we call music.”
-Nathan Horowitz, Cello
In music, success can be determined in a variety of ways. An ensemble can earn points or strong ratings at festivals and competitions, a group can receive a standing ovation from their audience after a particularly moving work, or a soloist can finally nail an excerpt after months of grueling practice. For this project, successes were frequent. All were satisfying, some were relieving, a few were even surprising.
Ours came at certain benchmarks throughout the process:
The stars had to align since the project relied on multiple outside sources, mainly our 3D engineer and our commission composer. All the way back in September, both were able to fit our work into their busy schedules and jumped at the opportunity to contribute to such a unique endeavor.
Our prototype violin made its first sound in March, after several weeks of construction. We determined that a replacement wasn’t necessary and this instrument was used all the way through the performance.
We received the final draft of our new piece of music in April and were able to dig into it right away. All of our work culminated at our Instrumental Music concert a month later.
The main goal for this project was to fuse music with technology and to introduce the viability of fabricated instruments to our Orchestra students. It was no surprise that the instruments themselves and the way they were made created a huge buzz around the music building, even garnering the attention of our Concert Band students. Everyone’s knowledge of the 3D-Printing process was enhanced by this project and many students adopted a mindset of “If we can do this, what about this?”
“Many people often associate classical music with old European composers and fragile wooden instruments that are hundreds of years old, but I think that this experience really proves that the music itself as a field and concept is still growing. I think that hearing instruments like these being played with their own music will be really inspiring for the next generation of composers.”
-Hannah Spray, Violin
We know that few of our students will pursue careers in music, just like we don’t expect many to become 3D-Printing engineers. We have, however, successfully piqued the interest in how these two fields can intersect. The desired outcome of this project was absolutely met - we managed to create a unique blend of two very different vocations. Musical instrument manufacturing has undergone centuries of modernization even though much of the original process still exists today. Conversely, 3D-Printing is a relatively new technology that is seeing an exponential growth in its applications every year, from being able to create artificial limbs to gourmet food. We now have a group of MVHS musicians who have witnessed the perfect marriage between the two.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, it was super unique!”
-Cecilia Jing, Violin
Where do we go from here? The next steps are to get similar instruments into the hands of students who can’t afford to purchase their own or don’t have a suitable instrument to use at home. This can be further facilitated by finding a funding source for our department’s own 3D Printer. Music-related applications are growing rapidly and the viability of creating our own instruments (or replacement parts) is becoming more and more cost-effective.
Since we received so much great feedback from students, parents, and administrators (even before the world premiere performance when our prototype was making the rounds - it’s now on display in Packard Hall) it has created quite a buzz. We have folks still asking about the project: Will we play the instruments again? Will we play the piece again? The answers are YES! Chamber Orchestra will be playing “Irish Junkyard Jam” on our performance tour of Ireland over Spring Break, 2019. The response to this project was overwhelmingly positive and we’re looking forward to collaborating again in the future!
Special Thanks & Shout-Outs...
The MVLA Foundation - We’ve received several generous grants in the last few years which has opened numerous doors for our student musicians. They’re the reason four beautiful instruments and a brand new piece of gorgeous music exists. Few high school groups get the opportunity to perform a world premiere, especially a one-of-a-kind piece like this. On behalf of the whole Orchestra, Thank You!
Brigitte Sarraf - Our advocate and ‘salesperson’ for this project. The questions were all very helpful and made us think about each step in different ways. Thank you for the continued support!
Grace Icasiano - Our point-person for managing all the moving parts and behind-the-scenes logistics. Thank you for making sure our partners’ needs were met and all parties staying in sync!
Jason Reynolds and Jinxbot 3D Printing - The first team member to jump at the opportunity to work on this outside-the-box project. His expertise and attention to detail made the construction process very smooth. We all learned a lot through the process, too!
Brian Balmages - World-class composer, conductor, and music educator. We were honored to perform his new work. It was a great experience that we will never forget!
Zakriya Bashir-Hill - Our Tech Guru. Zak set aside his string bass to live-mix the premiere performance and spent many hours of pre-production getting the Quartet to sound just right. He also produced our post-production video. Good luck at Berklee next year!