New HMS space sounds great for students


Sixth-grade brass students at Hinsdale Middle School are spending their Tuesday morning class playing "Spirit of the Stallion."

"I'm trying a new metronome sound, so let's see if we like it," band director George Andrikokus says and hits a button on the Yamaha Harmony Director instructional keyboard. "It's a little bit easier to hear, right?"

The sound of the metronome is crystal clear from the speakers in the back of the band room at the new HMS, which opened in January 2019.

The quality of the sound system is even more obvious when he plays a YouTube video of another band playing.

"You heard the crescendo, right?" he asks his student. "Basically all I want you to do is imitate what they are doing."

Having the sound come from the back of the room is an advantage, Andrikokus said. "It encompasses you as opposed to having it come at you," he explained. "That's just a little thing that has made a big adjustment."

All three music rooms (band, orchestra and choir) at the school are equipped with wireless and Bluetooth capabilities that make incorporating technology seamless, Andrikokus said.

"How fast this system works is just amazing," he said.

The ability to record students playing and give them instantaneous feedback is big advantage of the new space, orchestra teacher Gretchen Pearson Nerad said.

"That's a capacity we didn't have in the old building unless we used our cellphone," she said.

She still uses her cellphone to take video of the students, which she plays back through Apple TV on the big screen to reveal the students' posture and whether or not they're bowing in unison.

"That's also provided some really good discussions in class and great instant feedback for them," she said.

The new building features separate rooms for orchestra and band and two small practice rooms for lessons. The old school had a shared room for classes and a small shared space for lessons.

"Now we have space for everyone to teach simultaneously," Nerad said. "That allows us to have the most opportunity to meet with kids and use our schedule to the maximum capacity."

The rooms were designed with built-in storage, which means instruments are less likely to be damaged and teachers don't have to try to supervise students as they run to different places to grab their instruments.

"We have a safe location for every instrument at this point, which is fantastic," Nerad said.

The storage cabinets are acoustically outfitted to deflect the sound, Andrikokus noted.

"Everything is very intentional," he said. "The architects (Cordogan Clark) did a great job planning this space. Everything we can do to make it easier for kids to hear and listen to each other is the goal."

Choir and drama teacher Ashley Sipka also praised the design team for creating a floor plan that allows her to teach three different types of classes.

"This was an interesting challenge for the architect because my room is used for both general music and drama and choir," she said. "It's not a typical choir room because it had to have desks for written work for general music and drama. I think they did a really good job of meeting me in the middle."

The room has raised seating so choir students can see her direction and hear the piano.

"We use every inch of the space, to be honest," Sipka said, adding that she sometimes takes her students to the stage to sing as well.

"They installed a movable soundproof wall between the stage and cafetorium. Lunch can be roaring on the other side of the wall and I can have a quiet space to actually practice on the risers, she said.

Sipka agrees with her colleagues that the recording feature will be an asset to students, especially when they are trying to polish their pieces for an upcoming concert.

"It's a cool feature," she said, noting that she has yet to be trained on its use. "I've listened to it. The sound quality in here is fantastic."

Nerad said the new space has made a huge difference for students.

"I feel like even when I was going to college, I didn't have spaces like this to play," she said. "It's a really wonderful place to be in and I think the kids really, really appreciate it, especially those that were in the old building. They can really tell the difference."

Andrikokus agreed. "The kids deserve it," he said. "The community deserves it."

(Reprinted from: The Daily Hinsdalean, “New HMS space sounds great for students,” by Pamela Lannom, January 30, 2020)

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