Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

Dean’s Incentive Grants Make Debut 

Dean’s Incentive Grants Make Debut 

What do virtual reality, hip-hop music, and research on Parkinson’s disease have in common? All three are the subjects of proposals selected for funding under the new Dean’s Incentive Grants, announced in January. Created to foster innovation, interdisciplinary initiatives, and community connectivity — three of the four pillars of the Dean’s Breakthrough Plan — the grants offer up to $15,000 for faculty-led initiatives and up to $5,000 for student-led initiatives.

Faculty trumpeter Joe Burgstaller’s proposal, titled “Virtual Reality at Peabody,” aims to give prospective students, parents, and others the on-stage and in-studio Peabody experience using immersive, interactive virtual reality technology. “Using this technology, a student considering Peabody could sit between teacher and student during a private lesson, join their section in a large ensemble or chamber music rehearsal, or observe a master class as if they were a participant, even if they are unable to make the trip to campus,” says Mr. Burgstaller. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to explore the potential VR technology might have for Peabody and feel it speaks volumes as to the forward-thinking nature of our industry-leading institution.”

Research into the impact of music lessons on the well-being of patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease forms the interdisciplinary core of a project by Zane Forshee (MM ’01, GDP ’03, DMA ’11, Guitar). Dr. Forshee, chair of the Preparatory’s Guitar Department, and co-investigators, including multi-degree students Shane Coughlin and Jonathan Mo, will test the hypothesis that Parkinson’s patients participating in a guitar-strumming class twice a week for six weeks will demonstrate significant improvement in quality of life and functional movement.

A new two-credit course studying the music, the masters, and the culture of hip-hop will also receive funding. To be offered beginning in the fall 2016 semester, Hip-Hop Music Production History and Practice will be taught by Kevin Gift, a classically trained pianist with a Master of Music from Northwestern, who also performs and produces hip-hop under the name Wendel Patrick. Louna Dekker-Vargas, a double-degree undergraduate flutist, and faculty member David Smooke proposed the project as a way to expand the Peabody curriculum and build bridges between communities.

A total of seven grants were awarded during this cycle, including a research project analyzing creativity by comparing the differences between on-the-spot and prepared improvisation, development of an interactive orchestral education concert that teaches young audiences listening strategies based on cognitive science, the creation of a pilot program placing Peabody students in residential senior/retirement communities (expanding on Julien Xuereb’s work at Springwell, see p. 4), and development of a student string ensemble whose performances will take place exclusively in community venues.

— Tiffany Lundquist