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A Conductor’s Major Orchestration

Billinghurst Middle School's Golden Strings perform "Chicken Foot Transplant" by Matt Turner.
A Conductor’s Major Orchestration
"We wanted to save music in schools. A segment of kids only come to school because of their love of music and the sense of belonging from being part of an ensemble."
Steve Martin

What does a conductor do when music starts to fade from the scene during a pandemic? For conductor and owner of GPG Music, Steve Martin, DMA, (ASCAP), it meant a major pivot from selling scholastic sheet music to creating  Our Virtual Ensemble (OVE), curriculum and a platform for performing arts educators to continue teaching and inspiring their students through adjusted learning environments. 

Now Martin is orchestrating the biggest concert of his life — saving ensemble music. Martin bought his partner out in January of 2020, then business for competitive marching band music stopped in March. He worked with Elisa Janson Jones, founder of the International Music Education Summit and currently serving as senior manager of online learning for Conn-Selmer on a virtual platform. Then, for two weeks in the spring,  he and three staff members learned how to use the software for making video products. 

As music educators, they created curriculum aligned with national standards to afford music educators ways to teach better and faster and support students to learn more successfully. The new OVE crew worked with 50 groups, adjusting as participants ran into challenges. Our Virtual Ensemble went live to the public in August. 

“We wanted to save music in schools,” Martin says. “A segment of kids only come to school because of their love of music and the sense of belonging from being part of an ensemble. No kid ever signed up for band, choir, or orchestra to receive solo instruction.”

The Virtual Classroom is an interactive website set up specifically for each participating ensemble, walking students through the process of learning and practicing their music, with areas for instructional videos made by the teacher, and helping the students record and submit their videos for evaluation. The recorded assignments are collected for the teacher to review, and then the OVE team edits the package together to share with audiences. GPG recently signed a contract with Washoe County School District allowing performing arts educators to use the OVE curriculum and platform, with GPG Music donating the use of its scholastic music for teachers.

OVE’s reach isn’t limited to Washoe County, though. Nearly 1,600 performers from 200 bands in 45 states and Puerto Rico are joining in for the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) Intercollegiate Marching Band (IMB), with Our Virtual Ensemble is the presenting sponsor. All participants will be using OVE  to practice music and routines, as well as to submit individual videos. OVE will produce the two-minute video premiering during halftime of the College Football Playoff National Championship game on Jan. 11, 2021.

So far 200 bands, ensembles and groups from a dozen schools are using OVE. In addition, two other major groups using OVE include the National Association for Music Education (NAfME)’s All National Honor Ensemble and the Winter Guard International e-showcase. Local performing arts groups are also welcome, with the Reno Wind Symphony and Reno Jazz Orchestra both learning how to perform virtually with OVE. 

This musical endeavor is certainly on the uptick for saving ensemble music. 

Billinghurst Middle School Golden Strings perform "Chicken Foot Transplant" by Matt Turner.
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