by Sue Ann Rybak

Coding is the language of the 21st century. Steve Jobs once said, “Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer … because it teaches you how to think.”

Dr. Ellen Fishman-Johnson, director of Arts and Media at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy would agree.

“Students don’t want to learn code for programming’s sake,” Fishman-Johnson said. “They want to learn something that is relevant to them, and iPhone apps are very relevant to them.”

Fishman-Johnson spearheaded Remix Interactive – a live orchestral performance with digitally remixed music and a high-tech light show. Remix Interactive was just one of more than 100 events in this year’s Philadelphia Science Festival, a citywide event that explores how people use science and technology in everyday life.

Fishman-Johnson said the idea for the project came last spring after Dr. Youngmoo Kim, director of Drexel University’s Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCite) Center, showed her an app that he and his students had developed for the Philadelphia Orchestra that followed a performance and then activated program notes depending on the place in the score.

“It was incredibly exciting to think of the possibilities for this technology, and that is when I began to think about triggering an app-based light show rather than program notes,” she said.

Fishman-Johnson pointed out that part of the school’s mission is to challenge students to learn in new and innovative ways. Through community partnerships and collaborations, students have the opportunity to gain real-world experience.

Remix Interactive was a collaboration of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy students, Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School, Drexel University Excite Center and Play On Philly!

Play On Philly!, an innovative musical education program that promotes social progress by providing opportunities through musical collaboration, performed an arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mambo” that triggered the music-driven light show displayed on mobile phone apps of audience members.

Kim said the project Remix Interactive was “an opportunity to invite students into Drexel’s new App Lab in order to learn something that they wouldn’t ordinarily have a chance to – how to create an app from the ground up.”

“We believe that the most exciting things happen when you have a broad, multi-disciplinary collaboration,” Kim said in a statement.

Fishman-Johnson said there were three components to the student-led performance: the creation of the app, the creation of the music and the marketing aspect.

“It’s really about working together as a team in creating this project,” she said. “Everyone had a role to play.”

Fishman-Johnson said Play On Philly! selected “Mambo,” a song from “West Side Story.” To manipulate pieces of the music, students had to learn how to use the application Logic Pro, a program that would allow them to edit and manipulate sound.

Fishman-Johnson, who is a composer, then arranged the music into a 14-minute track.

“I selected one piece from everybody’s piece,” she said.

Fishman-Johnson said in the Remix Interactive video, which was created by Springside Chestnut Hill Academy seniors Sydney Young and CeCe Charendoff, when the audience listens to the piece they will “hear many interesting beats and sounds that fit with parts of ‘Mambo’ in ways you would have never thought.”

Olivia Byron, a junior at SCH said that in the Remix Interactive video this experience taught her “how to manipulate music and mend it – not necessarily into beats – but rhythms and kits and drum boards.”

Aaron Bennet, a junior at Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School, said it was a great opportunity “to work alongside the students of Springside Chestnut Hill in their state-of-the-art facility.”

“The experience exposed me to the true potential and intricacies of music production and style,” Bennet said. “Dr. F-J’s [Fishman-Johnson’s] guidance was always insightful and provided strong direction.”

For more information about the project go to