Senior Music Education Major Receives Funding to Further Field


Jon Stapleton began producing electronic music in high school; starting in New Mexico and finishing in Lorton, Virginia. As a Music Education major at James Madison University, Stapleton was able to further his interests in music technology. "I wanted to participate more meaningfully in the electronic music community," shared Stapleton, "which led me to building customized electronic interfaces." Throughout his student career at JMU, Stapleton has not stopped building and participating in the music community.

In the fall of 2014, Stapleton presented a project on customized Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) controllers at a Virginia Music Educators Association (VMEA) Research Poster Session. Later, in the spring of 2015, he met with a local Smithland Elementary music teacher, Perry Shank. The two discussed how to improve student classroom interaction given limited instrumental proficiency. After being awarded a scholarship for undergraduate research by the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) at JMU, Stapleton and Shank designed an electronic instrument interface that allows Shank's students to better collaborate with each another and interact with music.

"We wanted to have students think critically and be intentional about how they were interacting with the sound and its interface as they made music," noted Stapleton, "We ended up making a set of tiles that locked together and formed a modular interface," he explained. The small, discreet parts each performed a specific function and worked to "[fill] the role of an instrument for students who didn't know how to play a traditional acoustic instrument or for students who did know how to play but had decided they would rather play the interface," Stapleton said. A later iteration of the interface focuses on buttons, sliders, and knobs, whose functions were programmed into computer software to create sound.

In the summer of 2015, Stapleton presented his project at the Interactive Multimedia Performing Arts and Collaborative Technologies (IMPACT) Conference at New York University. By the fall semester of 2015, he had received additional funding from the CVPA to further his research. "These scholarships do so much to broaden how we approach our discipline," reveals Stapleton. "Pursuing this interest through research has allowed me to talk to a lot of people at JMU about music technology and what it means for our field."

Currently, a case study of Shank's students and their interactions with the controllers is underway. Findings from the study will be presented at the International Society for Music Education (ISME) 32nd World Conference in Scotland in July 2016.

Stapleton will head to graduate school in the fall, but has certainly made the most of his time at JMU. In addition to his research, Stapleton is a woodwind player who was principal saxophone for the Wind Symphony (WS) in his junior year and half of his senior year. He played second saxophone for the WS his sophomore year, and was also principal saxophone for the Symphonic Band. Stapleton has played in saxophone quartets throughout his four years at JMU, in a reed quintet, with the Symphony Orchestra, and in the Jazz Band.

Published: Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2018

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