Dr. Oliver Barrett: Using Technology to Provide Access to Musical Instruction

Congratulations to Oliver Barrett, Assistant Director of St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s Brass Band, who recently earned a doctorate in musical arts from SUNY Stony Brook. But completing his degree was not the only success Dr. Barrett realized this spring. He also launched “Upper Neighbor,” a mobile application that helps young musicians practice various instruments with support from expert artists and teachers. 
 
“In brief, fitness apps optimize your exercise, and Upper Neighbor optimizes your practice,” says Dr. Barrett. “Just as with any academic or athletic endeavor, substantial progress on an instrument requires regular practice and expert guidance. Upper Neighbor transforms daily practice, which traditionally can be a solitary endeavor, into an immersive and fully engaging musical experience.” 
 
The project was inspired, in part, by the challenges of teaching music remotely during the pandemic. “Simply put, I created what I needed as a musical educator,” says Dr. Barrett. “Remote learning during the pandemic exposed gaps in online instrumental education, and I wanted to create a platform that helped fill these gaps.”
 
The tool gives students access to lessons and practice routines created by a select group of world-class classical musicians. “I gathered a group of the best instrumental performers I knew from my teaching work at Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the New York Philharmonic,” says Dr. Barrett. (The roster includes Dr. Sam Nester, Director of Brass Band, as the trumpet instructor.) “The spectacular talent of these 11 (and counting) world class musicians is the heart and soul of Upper Neighbor.”
 
The application’s name was inspired, Dr. Barrett says, by his experience living among musicians in Manhattan and hearing their performance practices from the apartments above and below him. 
 
“It is our mission to deliver affordable access to quality instruction for all instrumental music students,” he says. “For many students, the high cost of regular private lessons is a barrier to entry, one that I encountered as a young and enthusiastic musician, and one that stifles diversity on the concert stage. Currently free to download and access, Upper Neighbor breaks that barrier.”

Upper Neighbor is available in the App Store and on Google Play. “The app is in its infancy," says Dr. Barrett, “and we will continue to add more instruments and content in the near future!”