Masterclasses with film composer Robert Allaire model some advantages of virtual instruction

Robert Allaire Zoom Masterclass

In late March, as Fresno State campus emptied due to COVID-19, Dr. Benjamin Boone, professor of music, faced a problem. He had received a grant to bring Los Angeles based composer and Fresno State alumnus Robert Allaire to do a residency at Fresno State and teach a series of masterclasses. When the in-person classes became impossible, Boone and Allaire moved to Zoom’s virtual environment. To the surprise of everyone involved, that move made the experience better.

Allaire makes his living scoring films, television shows, and video games. He receives scenes, along with notes from the director, and is tasked with setting the mood and translating emotion through music and sound. 

The advantage of the virtual masterclass quickly became apparent as Allaire was able to show the students his studio setup, share his screen, and present samples of his work.

“I was really bummed out when I wasn’t able to head up there,” said Allaire. “But, I’m in my studio right now, I have access to all of my work, I have access to all of my equipment. I can just dig into my projects and screen share, share the audio, and everyone can see.”

Los Angeles based composer and Fresno State alumnus Robert Allaire demonstrates how he composed and scored a scene in the short "Press Start" in a Zoom based masterclass.
Los Angeles based composer and Fresno State alumnus Robert Allaire demonstrates how he composed and scored a scene in the short “Press Start” in a Zoom-based masterclass.

Boone explained, “We took [several] scenes with no sound, analyzed them, he played what the temp tracks were, then what the directors said, then the music he composed, then how he edited those.” 

Later, as students installed music editing software and loading sound libraries on their computers, another advantage of the virtual environment became apparent. 

“One of the pains of teaching in a computer lab is that there will be technology problems, especially if you’re trying to get a classroom of people up and running on a very complex program like ProTools, and importing sound libraries. It can be inefficient and frustrating to sit down at one computer screen, then another, and then another, addressing each problem,” said Boone. “The ability for Bob just to look at someone’s screen share and say ‘Oh, well you don’t have this button pushed, why don’t you try here.’ That was really so helpful.”

Once the students in Allaire’s class got their software set up, they got to work. Over the next three weeks, each student scored two scenes. When they met again, the students took turns showing their completed scenes. Allaire and the students then discussed each sample.

“What I love about this is how different it is from the last one we watched,” said Allaire while giving notes on a student’s scene score. “This is a great example of how [the music] completely changes the way that that scene feels.”

Boone felt that even after the lockdown and students return to class, Zoom would likely remain viable for bringing masterclasses to Fresno State.

“I am a people person, and so I was not an advocate of any type of online instruction before. But now I see advantages to it, especially dealing with film and music technology, and getting input from pros. Even when we go back to face-to-face teaching, I’m going to use virtual instruction more because it opens the door for our students to get input and advice from experts all over the world. In fact, one of my classes is now collaborating with a singer in San Francisco over Zoom for their final project. So why not London, Tokyo, or Ghana?” 

Most of the students agreed.

“I think it is something we can consider in the future, especially with different composers, instead of doing meetings where we’re meeting physically on campus, we could maybe do online sessions. That way, they can show us their work within their own studio. I think that would be very effective.” said Samuel Montgomery, student.

Boone pointed out that the virtual environment could open the door for his students to be able to interact with professional composers who may not have time to visit Fresno. And those masterclasses could also open up to people outside of Fresno State.

“This virtual space is really a way to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world. That would be a really good benefit for our students,” said Boone. “Now that we know that we can work in this way, there’s no geographic limit, so why shouldn’t we put out invitations to people all over the world?”

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Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist

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