On the 27th January, Mozart celebrated his 259th Birthday in style with a global recital commemorating the date. Fans of Mozart from all over the globe came together for a virtual recital with the aim of literally ‘putting Mozart on the map’. Users of the app ‘Wolfie’ chose a Mozart piece from its catalogue, played it, and were then placed on a map along with their recording. The event was organised by Tonora, a corporation who created the piano app Wolfie with the aim of revolutionising music education by using the self-same technology, which would often draw children away from the piano, to encourage practice.
Q: Although Mozart is undoubtedly one of the greatest composers who ever lived, why him in particular? Why is he the one the app is named after, which is leading to the event on his birthday?
Ron Regev, Tonora’s Chief Music Officer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is more than one of the greatest composers who ever lived. A first-rate pianist, violinist and violist, he wrote both operatic and instrumental music of the highest magnitude – a feat no other composer in history achieved on this level.
As the piano was in crucial formative stages during Mozart’s lifetime, his compositions shaped the earliest norms for pianist writing. We find ‘Mozartisms’ in works by Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin, to name just a few of the giants of the following generations who wrote for the instrument.
At Tonora, as lovers of the piano, both performers and teachers, we take pride in naming our first educational app for the piano ‘Wolfie’, and it only follows that we wished to celebrate Mozart and his works during his birthday on January 27th.
Q: Do you think this is the first event of its kind in connection to classical music?
A: Yes and no. There are fantastic music technology centres which have already produced concerts where the performers were continents apart. In my own alma mater, The Julliard School, there is a wonderful Centre for Innovation in the Arts, whose director, Dr. Edward Bilous, has been producing such events for some time now.
But this is the first time that music technology has been used to connect lovers of a single composer throughout the world during a single day. Mozart will be on the map on January 27th – that map, on our website, will show which of his pieces are being played on the Wolfie app – and where. This is a wonderful way to pay tribute to one of the world’s music legends, and show everyone how 224 years after his death, Mozart’s legacy is, simply put, everywhere.
Q: There is a lot of speculation that classical music is becoming less popular (something of which I am sceptical) but do you believe that this is the case? The classical music is becoming more niche?
A: I don’t think classical music is becoming less popular, but people may be encountering it in different ways than in the past. Classical music education at a young age is declining, and you hear a lot about how classical music concert goers are predominantly from the older generation. But I don’t think that necessarily means it’s time to start lamenting classical music.
Classical music lies at the basis of every popular work of music written today. In many cases, the best contemporary music is written by classically-trained artists. And if you want to truly know how to play an instrument, you still have to go through the rigors of classical training.
What we are seeing, however, is that as soon as there are budget cuts, music is the first discipline to be axed, and very few schools still teach music as a mandatory subject. One of our aims with Wolfie was to help address that problem, enhancing and improving the music teaching experience so that more students could be taught more effectively, and perhaps – schools may reconsider cancelling music lessons.
While we are seeing cause for hope – particularly in Europe and the Far East where people recognise the importance of classical music education – we’d like to see more children exposed to the wonders of classical music worldwide. Not just because it’s beautiful and can elevate the soul, but because as multiple studies have shown, music and music training can significantly impact our reasoning and cognitive powers.
Q: How do you think that your app will help to engage more people in classical music?
A: The basic premise of Wolfie is using the familiarity we all have with technology today to make a younger generation feel more comfortable spending quality alone time with their instruments. Wolfie includes digitally enhanced versions of all the elements of music education that teachers and students have been using for centuries, and also introduces additional sophisticated technology to update the experience.
Wolfie drives engagement in a few different ways. First of all, is does away with the need to go out and buy, borrow or photocopy sheet music – it’s all there in one catalogue, with both classical and contemporary pieces, along with the ability to upload scores you already own. More significantly, when you practice the piano with Wolfie, you’re never alone. Annotations from a teacher are digitised to become crystal clear, bright and colourful, and teachers can even record themselves talking and playing to the student. There’s also the Magic Cursor, where the iPad listens to the music being played, and then follows it unfolding on the score, so that when the student plays, Wolfie follows along and flips the pages at the right time – adjusting for changes of tempo, for mistakes, and for skips. Students can also have Wolfie play a computerised version of their piece, in a tempo of their choosing, or they can view a YouTube clip of a performance of the piece. In both cases, they still see the score, and the Magic Cursor follows along. Finally, Wolfie can give you a detailed report on your achievements, and motivate you by awarding badges for progress made.
Features like this not only help students focus on the music, learning notes more efficiently, and gaining better rhythmic precision, but more importantly, they make the experience of learning music more interactive, more engaging and ultimately more appealing for a generation of kids who have been growing up with iPads.