Imagine the classroom...
Imagine the game...
Weird things are happening, and different “staff” members throughout the music timeline are getting sick, not showing up to deliver the final score, composers are sleeping when they should be writing, and musicians are missing from call times before performances! It is the player’s job to fill in wherever the timeline needs, and make sure that the show goes on, the music plays on, and the music happens!
As the students pack up their laptops and gather their belongings, Professor O’Hare of Music History 200 reminds the students they are assigned to complete their first level, “Susanna and the Soprano Premiere,” in STAFFED: The Music History Video Game. Professor O’Hare chose this level so the students could learn about Mozart’s opera buffa, The Marriage of Figaro.
In the evening, students relax in their dorm rooms and pull out their laptops or power up their desktop computers. Most students connect a game controller to the computer, and a few students use the keyboard for accessibility. The over arching story of the game, is that a force is causing the human music history timeline on Earth to be threatened. The player’s job is to stop history from being changed by filling in for key people in history. Hence, the “staffing” troubles of the game refer to the title, “STAFFED,” which plays on the music term “staff.”
Weird things are happening, and different “staff” members throughout the music timeline are getting sick, not showing up to deliver the final score, composers are sleeping when they should be writing, and musicians are missing from call times before performances! It is the player’s job to fill in wherever the timeline needs, and make sure that the show goes on, the music plays on, and the music happens! [ For those who have experienced any Nintendo Mario Brothers video games, the structure is similar, where there is a game map and different levels to jump into. The driving antagonist of the music history game will be similar to Bowser who steals star power, or Shadow Mario from “Super Mario Sunshine” who is blocking out the sun all over an island. ]
When the student opens the game, they see a map of the world with lots of pins in the map. Each map pin represents a level, which is based on a location and time in music history. The student’s job is to complete the assigned level called,“Susanna and the Soprano Premiere,” which is pinned on the map at Vienna, Austria.
The student enters the level, and the setting is May 1, 1786, in Vienna. Making their way through Vienna, the student speaks with passerby to figure out if any weird things have been going on, as the student tries to figure out what part of the music timeline is in danger. As the student explores the level, the overture of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” plays in the background, with an occasional note popping up about the history of the piece. The student learns about the culture, the era, and picks up some background knowledge about Mozart, who is in town that day, set to conduct his new opera in the premiere of “The Marriage of Figaro.” This must be where the antagonist is aiming to remove the moment in musical history!
With this information, the student finds their way to the Burgtheater where the show is to be premiered. As the student stumbles back stage, the ensemble manager is so relieved the character graced the Burgtheater with their presence. The ensemble manager is raging, sharing with the student that Nancy Storace, the soprano singer who is supposed to play the role of Susanna that night, is no where to be found. The student’s character must fill in for Nancy Storace or else Susanna’s part will be missing and the show can’t go on! As the manager prepares the student’s character to be stage ready, the manager gives a brief overview of the opera’s story for context when the student’s character must sing Susanna’s part.
To complete the level and ensure the premiere succeeds as music history has it, the student “performs” under the baton of Mozart. For the student’s characters to successfully “sing” Susanna’s part, they must follow along the score and press the correct controller buttons and cues. As the student presses the correct buttons, their character acting as Susanna moves around the stage singing through each act. The student cannot fail the level and be forced to start over. [ Similar to the game “It Takes Two,” if the student gets “booed” off the stage, they are not forced to start the whole level over again, they must simply pick up where they left off before they hit too many wrong notes. The concept of this level is similar to Guitar Hero, where the player has to hit the button notes as they light up. Different from Guitar Hero, the music notes will be actually in the music score for the player to read. ]
The student gets through the level and the opera is restored in the timeline!
One musical moment saved, many more to go!
The next day in class, the students have all listened to The Marriage of Figaro, and experienced Susanna’s part firsthand. They have also seen the world Mozart was existing in, and perhaps they even bumped into Mozart after the opera, where Mozart thanked them for a wonderful performance, thinking their character was Nancy Storace. Instead of spending class time contextualizing the music within history, Professor O’Hare prompts the class into a lively discussion about Susanna’s character and what her role was in that opera. Having played Susanna, the students talk about how women were treated in the streets of Vienna in the level, and how Susanna was written as a character in the opera. They discuss the role of women and how Susanna’s character was extremely witty and a driving force in the opera. The students drive the discussion with questions and ideas about women and their role in music at this point in time. This offers the chance for the class to look at another opera from another time period to compare and contrast, or the class can jump to another location in music history to look at women’s role during the same time period as Susanna’s character was created. The professor decides which level to assign for the next class by looking at the “game menu,” which has descriptions of each level and what music, composers, performers, styles, etc. are covered.
Welcome back from the hypothetical scenario where a professor and their students use “STAFFED: The Music History Video Game,” for learning about The Marriage of Figaro, which provided a leaping off point for lively class discussion. This is only one out of many, many levels that could exist. Each country could have multiple map pins, each with a different music history attached. In addition to widening the view of what music history is, this video game also offers a unique chance to experience music history firsthand, and from unique perspectives. Andrew Dell’Antonio, among many other music history pedagogy scholars, talk about not just including women and people with different abilities in the canon, but also teaching music history from their perspectives. Not only will these perspectives and experiences be unique, they will be memorable.
“STAFFED: The Music History Video Game” example map.
Image 2: "Singing the notes" as Susanna