Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Trip to D'Addario in Farmingdale

Hey everyone!
I am sorry it has been so long since my last post. I have been swamped with the organizational details of my Charity Bike Ride for the National MS Society, "Tour de Teacher" in Durham, NC. The event was a huge success and I will post more info about that event in the days to come.

Today, however, I want to tell you a bit about my recent trip to the D'Addario factory and headquarters in Farmingdale, NY. I headed up there with three goals for the trip: film a bunch of video content for the D'Addario website, take photos for a new set of classroom posters, and serve as guest speaker for the Nassau County Music Educators beginning of year dinner.

We definitely accomplished all of our goals while there. We managed to film a ton of educational videos on both bowed electric string instruments and effects processing and more traditional violin pedagogy that should be helpful to students and teachers, alike. We also got a great start of the photos for these posters. One will be focusing on bow hold and bowing terms and the other will be a fun look at the "Geometry of playing the violin." Finally, the dinner was a wonderful event and it was a pleasure to meet the good folks that are teaching music in Nassau County , Long Island. I was particularly please to meet Martha Boonshaft, wife of Hoffstra Music Professor, noted speaker in the field of Music Ed., and friend, Peter Boonshaft. I think my remarks were well-received and it was a real pleasure to be there.

All of that being said, the part of my trip that will probably remain with me the longest had nothing to do with any of my goals for going. My friend and host, Rob Polan, gave me an extensive tour of the facility and it was really enlightening. First of all, I was struck by the sheer number of employees at D'Addario. Sure, there were business offices like any office building. But it was the folks on the manufacturing line that really struck me. In a down economy, this group was moving fast. They were clearly happy and motivated, pleased to be working for a wonderful employer that cares about quality, efficiency, and the employees. I was struck by the level of artisanship of the ladies that were "silking" the violin strings. (Yes - it is done by hand, folks!) I was struck by the skill and speed of the people running the string winding machines, sometimes creating 3 strings simultaneously. The engineering and efficiency of the plant is simply stunning. (For my students that are considering engineering as a career, this should be a required tour. It was fantastic to see these machines that are made, right there in the plant, to suit the specific needs of the individual products. It was simply stunning from start to finish. I was struck by the number of people that were working, the volume of strings being produced, the high tech engineering that went into the production, and the general spirit of the workforce. Very cool. It made me totally proud to be associated with the D'Addario Company and I appreciate them in an entirely new way today. I have always been proud to be associated with the strings. Now, I am equally proud to be associated with the business model from top to bottom.

One thing that Rob pointed out during the tour is that D'Addario is always looking to be more efficient and has recently adopted a model called "Lean Manufacturing." The idea is that you carefully explore the efficiency of movement on the floor of the manufacturing facility and place workers and machines in the optimum environment for efficient work-flow. I couldn't help but to think that the education community has to do a bit of that, too. We really need to rethink the way that we are delivering information to our students. Are we really using our class-time efficiently? Is the old classroom model still the best classroom model for education as we move further into the 21st century. I truly believe that we must increase of efficiency of content delivery in our classroom. Which, brings me around to one of my original goals for the trip: video content for the web. D'Addario's goal is to provide video content on their website that will make string education more efficient. Students can go to the web to get solid string instruction and content. Then, when they go to school, the teacher can focus on the students individual needs. The teacher becomes the tutor, mentoring the students, rather than repeating content that can be efficiently delivered on the web. Will video content ever replace the teacher? Certainly not. But, when effectively used, teachers can focus on the true task at hand, the individual needs of the student, not repeated content delivery. For more information on this concept, I recommend that you check out an enlightening book about efficiency of content delivery in the 21st century entitled "Disrupting Class," by Clayton Christensen.

For now, thanks to all of the good folks at D'Addario for making me feel so at home for the past 2 days.

I am sure there will be much more to come on this topic.


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