January 25, 2022
From Zoom to Forte: Improving Online Music Education
Director and Faculty of Digital Media Ali King spoke with CIM alumnus Liam Day (BM ’05, Sachs) about performing with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, becoming a dad during the pandemic, and his current role as Education and Artistic Director at Forte, a new video conferencing platform designed for online music lessons.
AK: Hi Liam! What have you been up to since graduating from CIM?
LD: After graduating from CIM and then Juilliard, I spent seven years performing with the phenomenal Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra in Kuala Lumpur. When I moved back to New York City, where my family lives now, I began freelancing, mostly with the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera, in addition to teaching.
AK: How did you get involved with Forte?
LD: Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Forte Mark Murtagh previously worked with my wife at what was then called Juilliard Global Ventures. His first Forte prototype was developed right around the beginning of the pandemic. He asked my wife, who’s a violinist and was pregnant at the time, and I to test it out and share our feedback. Because everything in the city was shut down, I was relying on remote teaching to help stabilize income and stay connected to music, other musicians, and my students. It was a difficult time for so many reasons. What began as casual feedback, turned into me helping Mark run a pilot program with an online high school, which was a great test drive because the students were already familiar with remote education. I joined the Forte team officially soon after.
AK: How have music teachers had to rethink their pedagogy to accommodate video conferencing platforms?
LD: Where do I start? One example is the lack of full duplex audio, or sound traveling in both directions 100% of the time. Platforms like Zoom were designed for business meetings, where people aren’t speaking at the same time (think of the green box that highlights who is currently speaking). However, during a remote music lesson, a student could be playing and simultaneously I might want to share a note about their phrasing. The competing audio cutting out in this instance is a disservice.
AK: Why is Forte better than Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime, etc. for online music lessons?
LD: Forte was built specifically as a tool for music educators and students. We started with the belief that success starts with sound, which is why Forte offers the highest resolution available for a video conferencing platform. We didn’t want the technology to be a distraction, but rather facilitate human connection and communication. So once a lesson begins, the interface fades away and allows the teacher and student to focus on each other. Yes, Zoom has high fidelity and music mode with original sound options, but these often aren’t user friendly. Forte requires no special settings to serve its purpose.
AK: If we’ve learned anything about video conferencing platforms during the pandemic, it’s that they’re always changing. What’s in the pipeline for Forte?
LD: Right now, Forte is best for one-on-one lessons, but we hope to solve latency issues to allow for group lessons and ensemble rehearsal. So many factors can affect latency – from internet speed to device malfunction – and big business is spending billions of R&D dollars on this technology. The immediacy of sound, and how an instrument interacts with the space it’s in, is important to capture whether in person or remote.
AK: Did your education at CIM help prepare you for your role as Forte’s Education and Artistic Director?
LD: My time studying with Michael Sachs at CIM was the foundation of my trumpet playing. His concept of tone production is legendary, and for good reason. Understanding the full spectrum of sound absolutely helps me with the work I do for Forte. It’s all about sound for musicians, because that’s what excites and moves people. Michael has always been there for me throughout my career, and is a mentor and friend to this day.
AK: What are you looking forward to as more people learn about Forte?
LD: I'm excited for people to start using it! We’ve put so much hard work into this. It’s a small team, just four of us and a team of software engineers, which means we’re all personally invested in its success.
AK: Can our readers try Forte for themselves?
LD: Yes, it’s available and free to use; simply create an account at fortelessons.com, and let us know what you think! I’m also excited to partner with CIM on the Winter Forte Pilot for Adult Learners, which is enrolling participants now.