How many bytes does that buy?

The New World Symphony has received a lot of money – but for what?

The orchestra also received a $5 million grant, from the John S. and
James L. Knight Foundation, to advance its use of digital technology
and transform the way audiences experience classical music.

Alberto Ibarguen, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation, said the
Miami-based foundation chose to give NWS this grant because of the
orchestra’s innovative approach to concerts, such as its use of
Internet2 technology for the remote exchange of master classes,
seminars, rehearsals and symposia.

The orchestra’s new building, NWS officials say, could further change
the way classical music is presented and performed, allowing for
performances throughout the building so the audience can have a
progressive concert experience through different rooms, different
repertoires and various musical experiences.

”That’s very much the kind of thinking that we’re trying to apply at
Knight Foundation to everything we do,” Ibarguen said, “whether it’s
community development, whether it’s journalism, or in this case, the
potential for the arts to transform a community.”

I must be getting a really good deal on Internet service at $30 a month or so. And is NWS the first orchestra to have the ability to provide its audience with "a
progressive concert experience through different rooms, different
repertoires and various musical experiences?" Notice that they haven’t actually done this yet, if I’m reading the quote correctly.

What I find interesting about this grant is that several arts groups
are already using the Internet to “transform the ways audiences experience
classical music.” The Metropolitan Opera is probably doing the most
innovative work, with their live transmissions to movie theaters across
the country. But they’re not even using the Internet do to that.
Orchestras are using the Internet for ticketing, to sell downloads, to
make available new recording technology, and for audience development
of various kinds. And Philadelphia is already using Internet2 to transmit concerts.

By contrast, NWS uses Internet2 for what amounts to teleconferencing.
It’s upscale teleconferencing to be sure, and no doubt it’s very useful
to be able to have teachers and coaches not always have to travel to
Florida to do their teaching and coaching. But it feels to me as if
it’s mostly a gimmick at this point – maybe at any point. There’s a
reason that teleconferencing and videoconferencing haven’t replaced
business travel;  sheer physical presence still matters. I can’t
believe that’s less true of teaching – much less rehearsing and
performing – than it is of business meetings.

As regards the transmission of concerts, Internet2 is not going to be
very useful until it’s more of a public network than it is now; in
fact, until it’s not Internet2 anymore. And, as the Met has proven,
Internet2 is neither necessary nor sufficient for high-quality
transmission to remote locations.

This grant seems to represent a “build it and they’ll maybe find a use
for it” philosophy. Or perhaps it’s just another illustration of how
grants are often not for their stated purpose. I suspect this grant
materialized as an expression of the Knight Foundation’s continuing
support for NWS and for institutions in south Florida generally.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only confusing for those who
might be led to believe that there’s $5 million of value in Internet2
for orchestras in 2008. Except for NWS’ ability to convince Knight to
give them lots of money for it, there’s not.

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