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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 7, No. 2

Capturing the Sound of Music

by Wah Keung Chan / October 1, 2001

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The art of capturing sound for posterity requires both technical and musical knowledge. Entire industries are built around the work of techies who place the microphones and edit the sound waves on computers. With the popularity of multimedia and webcasting, the profession has and will be seeing growth in the coming years.

Many music schools are already offering introductory courses in sound recording. For those interested in a career, there are many technical schools offering one-year sound recording and sound design programs. The 20-year old Sound Recording Program at McGill University, which is based on the European Tonmeister program, is unique in North America in offering both a Master’s and a Ph.D. Degree. Admission into the program requires both a solid background in music and science. “Usually, a Bachelor’s of Music is necessary, and not always in classical,” said McGill’s new dean, Don McLean. “We get a number of Jazz and Pop musicians, and actually we are seeing more and more applicants from Engineering and Computer Science backgrounds.”

Often, a qualifying year is required for candidates to acquire the fundamentals of mathematics, acoustics and ear training. “It’s actually easier for musicians to learn the science than for engineers to learn music,” said McLean. “They are often more motivated.” The rewards can be quite high. With contacts in industry such as Sony and Harmon Kardon, graduates are almost guaranteed a job. “The tech schools have a lot to offer, and are more practical to the popular music industry. The difference is that the people here have a breadth of academic knowledge that allows them to be a leader of the team when they finish.” Having access to 450 concerts given by professionals and the university’s top notch music students is another advantage of the program.

For classical musicians looking for another career in classical music, McLean cautions that most of the graduates work in non-classical projects. “Classical music has the most challenges in many ways. Recording an opera is a huge undertaking. These skills and experiences are transferable to other things.”

“We currently accept 6 people into the Master’s program out of the 50 or so applicants we receive from around the world, and there are 4 to 5 doctoral students. When the new building goes up, the number of people accepted will double.” The new $41 million building which is slated to break ground in the spring of 2002 and open in 2003 will reunite the McGill Faculty of Music with its music library and at the same time prepare it for the technological challenges of the 21st century. Thanks to a $6.5 million grant for the creation of The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT), the new facilities will also give a big boost to McGill Music’s Sound Recording program. Thanks to other fund acquisitions, the $41-million goal has reached the three-quarters mark. The building will house performance and recording facilities in the basement and lower levels, the new library with the latest tech gizzmos in the middle, and offices on top. The jewel in the new building will be a world-class symphony and multimedia hall that fits an orchestra and a 200 member choir. It also functions as a sound recording studio, multimedia performance venue, and an acoustic research space. The hall will be the McGill symphony’s rehearsal room, and McLean plans to train students in studio etiquette to prepare them for the challenges they may face in the outside world.

McLean exudes enthusiasm for the interfaculty, interuniversity and interdisciplinary aspect of CIRMMT because the centre will unite existing strengths of McGill in social science, engineering and music with research in music and internet broadcasting. Also, the Faculty of Medicine, Montreal Neurological Institute and Faculty of Engineering will be involved, thereby underlining the research priorities of the centre.

For more information: www.music.mcgill.ca

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