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Leveraging Technology: A Look Inside Use of Fiber for High School Band

Howard High School’s unusual music program is one example of how fiber optic technology is being leveraged to foster creativity in learning at schools and colleges.

High school marching band adds guitars and keyboards.

Annapolis Junction, Maryland – Howard High School’s music department started the school year with an unusual marching band program that combines brass and drums with guitars and keyboards, thanks to fiber optic connectivity by FiberPlex Technologies.

“We’re reinvigorating the traditional scholastic music program and mixing in contemporary music with the marching band,” explained Christopher Campbell, Band Director for Howard High School, Ellicott City, Maryland, which added to its band program a complete synth ensemble – all able to chime in live and amplified alongside band instrumentation during halftimes on the football field due to FiberPlex LightViper optical technology. “Imagine a rock band on the 50-yard line with a marching band moving and playing around it,” he added.

During a recent game documented in this video, Howard High School incorporated popular music tunes “Where Have you Been” by Rihanna and “The Pretender” by Foo Fighters with the formation of an all-electronic front ensemble. “Because of the kind of music that we’re doing, it gave us strong opportunity for a lot of creative input and thought from the kids,” said Daniel Roberts, Front Ensemble Director for Howard High School. “The kids learned a lot more … they actually became involved in the creative process of that music that we were performing,” he said.

It all started last year when the high school set out to combine traditional with contemporary music in order to engage more students in the school’s music program. The two music directors knew they could add a couple of contemporary keyboards off to the sidelines of the school’s football field in the band pit, and maybe a guitar or two, but the problem was what to do about amplification. Any guitar or keyboard that could be heard over the brass of a full marching band required an amplifier, which, of course, meant some sort of audio snake between the instrument set and the amplifiers to get the sound across.

Wireless communications was out; too much interference. Copper cable was also out due to problems with bulk and signal degradation.

The two were at a loss until a parent suggested an alternative: fiber optic cable. Parent Buddy Oliver, whose son Bo is very active in Howard High School’s Music Department, and who is an accomplished musician himself, is the CEO of optical equipment manufacturer FiberPlex in nearby Annapolis Junction. He explained to Campbell and Roberts that fiber optic cable can transport music error-free and transparently over greater distances, by a 400:1 ratio compared to copper. One fiber cable weighing less than eight pounds can transmit the same data as two, 40-pair copper cables weighing 700 pounds. Also of interest to the school administrators is optical fiber’s environmental profile. Fiber strands are made from sand, a sustainable resource, unlike copper, which is a limited resource that is expensive to mine.

“Being in the optical transport business I see it as an obvious choice for applications like this, certainly. But speaking as a musician and parent, this is a great way for students to experience music differently and maybe get involved in music where they might not have otherwise. It demonstrates to the students that all that science and math they are taking can be leveraged to create high end technology with real practical (and cool) applications,” stated Oliver, who helped configure the school’s sound system. The system includes a LightViper™ optical snake system that collects all the signals from the keyboards, guitar and bass on the field and transports them up to a mixer in the stands where a student technician can sit in a prime mixing position. The resulting ‘mixed’ signals are sent back down the fiber to amps and speakers on the field for the musicians and crowd to hear.  The whole project was facilitated through the professional staff at Mid Atlantic School Equipment Company out of Virginia.

“We just started the mix of synth and marching band for halftime programs last year, and got a fantastic reception. We were told it was quite revolutionary,” said Campbell, who recently rolled out the small spool of fiber from the music room to a 20-workstation music lab just down the hall, where students can network into Pro Tools and music notation programs for arranging and writing music on their own. “There’s a sense of community and culture of learning that happens when you get kids together to create something that they feel passionate about, and that’s what we’ve done here,” added Roberts.

Howard High School is just one example of how fiber optic technology can be leveraged to foster creativity in learning at schools and colleges. FiberPlex makes fiber optic products and systems for government agencies as well as for houses of worship, corporate facilities, broadcast applications, and K-12 and higher education.

About FiberPlex Technologies, LLC (www.fiberplex.com)

FiberPlex Technologies, LLC is a leader in digital transport and communications technology. The FiberPlex name has been around for a quarter of a century and is known for its secure fiber solutions to the U.S. government. Recently, FiberPlex extended its secure communications and fiber optic products to the commercial and AV sectors. As a fiber optics expert and equipment manufacturer, FiberPlex educates businesses, houses of worship, hospitals, financial institutions, campuses, broadcasters and live production firms on how to leverage fiber optics technology for large bandwidth delivery as well as to lower security risk and increase profits.

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