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My Musical Education Experience

Part 2

By Dr. Randy KaplanPublished 2 years ago 12 min read
Photo Courtesy of Moog Music

This article is the continuation of my musical experience part I. I am still in Junior High School, now in ninth grade. My middle school allowed students to take seventh and eighth grade in a single year if they could do so. We learned the same material taught in a 2-year program of 7th and 8th grade. It meant that instead of attending Junior High school in three years, I would complete seventh and eighth grade In a single year, thereby making the total time in middle school two years. At the time, this was a good idea.

In ninth grade, we worked in our electronic music laboratory. In this first year, we had many activities. These activities included:

* Setting up all of the equipment that would make up our laboratory.

* Connecting the equipment.

* Learning how to use the equipment.

* Determine how we would write musical scores for our electronic music.

* Create electronic music with the devices in the lab.

* Present our electronic music to classes throughout the school.

Our laboratory was equipped with the following:

* Two Sony reel-to-reel tape decks. These would be used to record and play our compositions.

* A signal generator produces instrument-like sounds. The signal generator produces audible sine and square waves - two sound waveforms. The signal generator came in a kit made by a company named Heathkit. Heathkit was a company that sold electronic kits for many different electronic components used in the day.

* The setup included a microphone to record sounds we could not create with the signal generator. We used the microphone to record voice, sounds like a door closing, and a drum being struck. We used the microphone to record sounds produced by handheld musical instruments.

* Various tools for building circuits. We would use these tools to construct circuits that would modify the sound. For example, one of my best friends built a ring modulator.

* We used an audio tape splicing tool to cut a recording apart to rearrange the parts of the recording.

* A reverb or echo chamber adds an echo effect to a sound.

Drawing of Electronic Music Lab (by Author)

Although this diagram may look simple, it is deceiving as to what could be accomplished with this small set of devices. As you can see, there were five major components. In addition, two reel-to-reel tape decks, two speakers, and a sound source — a sound generator and the microphone. This setup was the basis for most synthesizers of the time, although the Moog synthesizer is substantially more complex. As time progressed, we invented our own devices and added them to our lab. Some of the additional devices we built were a simple keyboard and filters.

As you can see in the photo below, the Moog synthesizer was a very complex device. It contained all of the components listed above and more. The tape decks were not part of the synthesizer per se. The history of the Moog synthesizer is found by clicking the following link: Moog History.

An earlier model of the Moog Synthesizer (Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia/Moog Music (

Time to Start Making Music

The lab marked the best time for creating electronic music. In many ways, we were pioneers. I spent all my free periods and those classes I could get out of to be in the lab.

We composed music with our setup. Ms. Hagemann would teach us things about music composition, most of which I didn't know at the time. For example, I never knew that music had a structure (believe it or not). ABA was a standard structure. I started to use various patterns in the music I composed.

During my ninth-grade year, I did lots of experimentation and some composing—the composing created music used to demonstrate the kinds of music we could produce in the lab.

We Played Our Music for one another.

During the time of our composition efforts, we would play our music. The rest of the class would listen and give the composer feedback about the music. Students listening to our music would make suggestions. Ms. Hagemann listened to the music also and made suggestions to improve the piece. Sometimes her questions would result in significant changes to our work. One of the questions I would ask our "audience" was, "what does the music sound like?" They would answer with a description of how they thought the electronic music sounded. Did it sound like a tune they knew? For example, is it "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star?"; or does it sound like some other tune they knew?

As we continued writing, composing, and playing our music to each other, Ms. Hagemann arranged to have the Music Educators Journal do a story about our project. In addition to the article, the publisher was going to include a recording of the music we produced. The record was a 45 rpm flimsy plastic record that contained our music. The journal article described our program and some of the students in the program.

As if the journal article and recording were not enough for my experience, the summer was to include yet another activity that came as a result of the electronic music program. Ms. Hagemann was invited to run two seminars during the summer.

A Summer at the University of Michigan and North Western University

Ms. Hagemann was asked to run two seminars for graduate students in music. The first at the University of Michigan would last two weeks, and the second at Northwestern University would last one week. Ms. Hagemann was permitted to bring two assistants. She chose a nephew and me to go to the seminar with her.

Chris, her nephew, and I would be loading and unloading the car. We received some equipment on loan, which included an Arp 2600 Synthesizer and a new synthesizer from Moog. It was also my job to learn how to use these synthesizers so I could demonstrate them to the classes. Lastly, rs. Hagemann wanted me to show the loaned equipment to our seminar classes and present how we used the lab equipment to produce music.

For the next three weeks, that was what Chris and I did. We unpacked the car, set up the equipment, and instructed and helped the graduate students, as Ms. Hagemann told us. At the end of the two weeks, Chris and I packed up the car and headed to Northwestern University to repeat the same activities over a week.

At the end of the week, we packed the car and headed home. Our three weeks came to an end So did our fantastic experience. Chris and I were tired. It was the opportunity to "teach" Master's students about something I knew very well. I loved the role of the teacher, especially when the students were older. The students liked Chris and me. We were adorable. What was there not to like?

I would start high school in about three weeks, ending my musical education until I started University.

More Music in and out of the University

Once you learn about music and its production, you never forget it. Once you make an instrument produce a sound, it is challenging to forget. I had a longing to be doing something musical. It was in college that I started taking guitar lessons.

When I started taking guitar lessons with a teacher who taught at a music school in Haddonfield, New Jersey, I had just moved to an apartment in Clementon, New Jersey, about 15 minutes from Haddonfield. The music school was conveniently located in Haddonfield.

The Haddonfield guitar teacher taught jazz guitar. I didn't know that it was his specialty, but I was game to learn how to play Jazz. Guitar teachers usually develop a teaching style based on how they are taught. In the case of Jazz (I'm going to call him that because I don't remember his name, and Jazz seems appropriate), he taught by combining playing and writing the music down in a manuscript notebook.

In a lesson, he usually would teach several measures of a song that I would have to replay the following week. That is where practicing came in. That is also where I generally failed my music education because I needed more desire to practice. I spent about two years working with Jazz. I learned some jazz standards, and he also taught me jazz scales and chords. After two years of lessons, I took away very little. It was my responsibility, and I knew that. I decided to take a break from the guitar.

In college, I had an opportunity to take piano lessons. I was interested in the piano so the classes would be a good idea. I needed to take a music course anyway. The piano lessons would require only ten weeks, the length of a term. There were requirements to pass the course, and they were clear. I didn't think I would have a problem passing this course.

Looking back, this was another opportunity I would let fly by. Why? Because, like most other musical episodes, I didn't practice. It just wasn't in my blood. So I took piano lessons and could play the competencies we were required to demonstrate. And after it was all said and done, I never played again. What a bloody waste.

After finishing the piano course, I took a break from any music lessons during the next term. I was always busy. I worked in the University Theater, running summer shows and preparing the theatre for the new school year.

I also was part of the University Yearbook club, responsible for preparing the yearbook for the coming year. When I became editor, it was the 1977 yearbook for which I would be the editor.

In addition to these two responsibilities, I also worked a part-time job to pay my rent.

There would be no time for music lessons. At the end of the summer, I would be able to consider learning more guitar.

More Lessons and a Better Teacher

I did some research to see what my options would be for a teacher. I had already moved back to Philadelphia, so I needed to find a teacher nearby University. Fortunately, I was going to be in luck. I couldn't have hoped for a better teacher. We need to go back a couple of years to understand how I "happened" to find this teacher.

If you happen to be an old Philadelphian like me, and if you know about the musical history of Philadelphia and the "Main Line," you probably know about the main point. The MainPoint was a venue for folk music, Jazz, and other kinds of music that were not as mainstream.

I met my teacher to be at the MainPoint. The MainPoint was a standard venue for Philadelphia. So was my teacher-to-be. Her name was Linda Cohen. She was known in classical guitar and folk circles throughout Philadelphia. Having Linda as a music teacher would be my first experience with someone who was a Beatnik. She was a very cool person, and I don’t mean temperature-wise. She was very quiet and very calm. She never seemed upset and always played the guitar with great precision. She composed music and created different arrangements of class folk music. She was also a known quantity in musical circles in Philadelphia. From watching a Beatnik on television (my only exposure up until then), the words cool and calm described Linda to a tee.

Wikipedia describes Beatniks as being far outside mainstream society and possibly communist, which was a scary word at the time. If you were tagged as a communist, you set the government to start to watch you at that time. The Beatniks were indeed not ordinary. The thing was that Linda was admired and respected until the day she passed away on January 23, 2009. Unfortunately, Linda smoked cigarettes constantly, and losing her was a sad moment for music, Philadelphia, her family and friends, and me. A photo of Linda Cohen follows from YouTube(

Linda Cohen Remembered (, A George Manney Film Copyright 2007–2009)

I saw her play several times at the MainPoint in subsequent years. She was a fantastic guitarist. I never grew tired of listening to her play, regardless if it was the same music I had heard her play previously. To listen to her was always a pleasure.

A couple of years later, I would begin my lessons with Linda for the next four years. At that time, I was constantly in awe of this woman who was in tune with the music that she played. I highly recommend it if you ever have a chance to listen to her music.

This story doesn't have successful ending. Like many things where I became distracted, I was not meant to play the guitar. I am thankful for the experiences that this path brought me. Thinking of Linda and playing the guitar is a nostalgic moment for me.

I want to say that this story has a successful ending. Like many things where I became distracted, I was not meant to play the guitar. I am thankful for the experiences that this path brought me, and one day I may return to the guitar as I still have too many other things in my life.

My experiences with music went on for another several years. Given all of the years of guitar lessons, I should be able to continue self-teaching myself the guitar. Learning various songs was not a problem, but remembering them took more work. Why? Because I didn't play anytime other than when I practiced. Reflecting, playing before a small audience had a lot to do with improving my playing. I rarely had that opportunity.

My son, now 33 years old, picked up the guitar and never put it down from age 13. His commitment to it was continuous. It was a part of his life. That is one of the reasons that has kept him playing the guitar. I didn't have this commitment.

Nevertheless, I learned several lessons from many years of musical education. All of the work of the studies was well-spent. Here are some of the benefits of having experienced this musical education.

From my experience, if you want your child to play any musical instrument, please, by all means, do not force them to do so. I never had to coerce my son to do so. And to this day, playing the guitar is one of his loves. I can be proud of him for his accomplishments.

I Came Away With the Following Benefits

1. I was able to read music from a musical staff and knew the notation well. From playing the recorder, I learned the G clef. From playing the cello, I learned the F clef. I became proficient at reading music.

2. I learned the importance of practice to reinforce this aspect to my kids.

3. I learned the importance of having formal musical instruction. I stressed this for my son.

4. My exposure to electronic music taught me that there were, in fact, other kinds of music besides classical music. It was through electronic music that I began to appreciate popular music, folk music, and Jazz. Exposure to different types of music opened my ears.

5. When I was at the University of Michigan, one of the graduate students befriended me and let me attend one of her Gamelon classes.

6. I gained an understanding of the way that synthesizers functioned. Learning about synthesizers enabled me to use this knowledge to use the different synthesizers I would encounter. For me, one of the most exciting skills I developed was the ability to troubleshoot the synthesizer equipment if anything presented us with problems.

7. When I was at the University of Michigan, one of the graduate students befriended me and let me attend one of her Gamelon classes. Gamelan is an ancient music, still played by instrumentalists specially trained to play the Gamelon instruments.

Gamelon Musical Instruments (Used under the Creative Commons 2.0 Licensing Agreement) (,_screen_and_puppets_for_wayang_kulit_Mahabharata_show.jpg)

I learned that these Indonesian instruments were sacred, and when you walked around the room where they were, you had to be very careful. To fall on them or cause them to be harmed was a religious violation. The friend I was with made sure I didn’t falter.

When I returned from my trip, I resumed my duties as a tour guide at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. One of my duties was to present the electronic music room to the public. The trip to the University of Michigan and Northwestern University helped my understanding and presentation skills immensely.

This is the end of part 2 of my musical experience. Much happened during this time and continued to occur after this time. Am I a musician? No, that never happened, but this exposure to musicians’ minds helped me understand computers to become a great programmer when the programming field was “growing up.” Programming and using computers have been my career for the past 54 years.

Thank you for reading this story. I kept thinking as I was writing it that it had to be interesting for my readers and I sincerely hope it was. This story took several weeks to write and went through many revisions. I finally had to say enough and this is the result.


If you have any questions or want to comment on this article, please feel free to do so. I would appreciate your comments and questions. You can reach me by leaving a response to this article.


About the Creator

Dr. Randy Kaplan

Welcome to my Vocal page and storicles that are published here. I write about tech, the human condition, and anything else that interests me.

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  • Karen Mengel about a year ago

    Enjoyed your article

Dr. Randy KaplanWritten by Dr. Randy Kaplan

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