Electronic Education

Listen to a sound bite from Kawandeep Virdee, a student of Hilmy last year. Courtesy Steve Hilmy.

Sitting back in his swivel chair with his fully tattooed right arm resting behind his head, Professor Steve Hilmy enjoyed some of his students’ best musical creations, which he taught and inspired them to create.

Professor Hilmy has been teaching “Electronic and Computer Music” at GW for 16 years. For about the last decade, each section has been filled to capacity at 10 students. The class tends to be small due to the fact that the classroom is slightly larger than a closet and filled with electronic equipment.

“For the first couple of years people didn’t really know about the class, but eventually word got around,” said Hilmy, who is known as “kooky” and a “cool cat” among students. In the last five years, electronic music has become more popular and the class has been packed because of it, he said.

Chris Gregory, a sophomore currently enrolled in computer music, became interested in the class after attending their end-of-year concert.

“I’ve always been interested in music and it got me pretty pumped up, so I joined the class,” Gregory said.

Many students do not have much technical or musical experience before taking the course. But it is very hands on and musical equipment is used right away, students said.

“Taking this class expanded my knowledge of available technology and has brought my musicianship to levels I previously did not realize existed,” said John Baker, an alumnus who took the class last year.

Though many students do not know much about music, many tend to know about technology. Students who use computers constantly are often able to learn the technology quickly, Hilmy said. Though technology has advanced in the past 16 years, the changes have only been a blessing, he said.

“It has only gotten better. Really, all you need is a laptop,” Hilmy said. This proved to be true when he played one student’s piece from an iTunes playlist.

The piece, created by 2008 graduate Kawandeep Virdee, was six minutes long and inspired by “Come Out” by Steve Rich. “Come Out” is one of the first electronic music pieces ever created, back in 1966. The only recognizable vocals in Virdee’s piece come at the end. The words smoothly transform from one repeating phrase to other similar sounding ones.

The students in the yearlong course hold a free concert at the end of the year in the Marvin Center, during which each student plays a piece he or she has worked on throughout the second semester.

“Many of my students have no creative outlets and they find it here,” Hilmy said, as Virdee’s piece played.

“His knowledge of music and technology is second to none,” Baker said. “He challenged us to make the unconventional, and most of all he expanded our conceptual perception of what music is.”

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