This hackathon brings Chicago's best technologists and musicians together

Written by Sam Dewey
Published on Mar. 09, 2016
This hackathon brings Chicago's best technologists and musicians together

Soon, music-loving techies in Chicago will have the opportunity to hack away on how tech and music can work together in harmony.

On April 9th, the People’s Music School is hosting its second annual music hackathon, a first-of-its-kind event hosted by a one-of-a-kind music academy.  

“This day celebrates the role technology can play in bringing efficiency and scalability to an industry where there really isn’t any,” said Jennifer Matsuzawa, the school’s president and artistic director. 

Hosted by music and art incubator

at Fort Knox Studios, the hackathon will feature prizes and musical performances throughout the day. Developers will work alongside students, teachers, designers, and musicians in search of tech-powered ways to teach and learn music in a 21st-century setting.

Matsuzawa said much of the hackathon’s value lies in working with people outside of the music industry who can bring fresh perspectives and challenge established ways of thinking about how to teach music.  

“The best solutions come from a diverse and integrated mindset,” Matsuzawa said. “You’re not going to find answers to a lot of the problems we face by talking to an echo chamber of music schools.”

Technology, she said, is an ideal hunting ground for those solutions — not only because of the industry’s proclivity for innovation through disruption, but also because of a common skill set both groups rely on for success.

“There’s a high overlap between techies and musicians,” she said. “There is a code in music. When you look at a piece of sheet music, that is data. Understanding how a piece of sheet music can be performed is art, but it’s also a little bit of science.”

The all-day event is free to attend and will commence with live demos of solutions built and designed during the day. Matsuzawa said they’re the first music school in the country to host a hackathon of this kind.

Judges this year include representatives from Carnegie Hall, Spotify, and Northwestern, as well as Chicago-tech staple Genevieve Thiers, the

founder and former CEO who doubles as an accomplished opera singer.

In addition to the hackathon, People’s Music School hopes to become somewhat of a learning lab for music tech innovators to help push for access and scalability. Matsuzawa said they’ve already launched seven pilot programs in partnership with five startups. In exchange for student efficacy data, People’s Music School has been given premium access to software at no charge.

The People’s Music School is the only completely free music school in the country. They offer instruction for over 14 instruments and 30 ensembles. Per year, they teach over 100,000 hours of classes to more than 500 students. Matsuzawa said the average tenure per student is about six years, with a waitlist that mirrors the most competitive schools in the country.

But Matsuzawa said the school’s end goal isn’t exactly to produce the next Grammy winner. Instead, they hope their students find role models elsewhere. 

“Don’t look at Yo-Yo Ma, Coldplay, Billy Joel, or Nina Simone,” she said. “Look at Sergey Brin, Condoleezza Rice, and Alan Greenspan. They were all musicians too, and they translated those skills into excellence in other areas of life.

“That’s what we’re after,” she added. “Problem solving is problem solving, whether you’re looking at code or you’re looking at a bunch of notes on a page. There are ways to break down problems, to reconstruct an answer, to use creativity to build something that seems fresh and new.”

Images via People's Music School. 

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