Music meets technology: Engineering students help pianist perform music

Music meets technology: Engineering students help pianist perform music
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POSTED: Friday, March 29, 2013 - 2:04pm

UPDATED: Friday, March 29, 2013 - 2:09pm

At age 15, while a freshman at Brownsville’s Lopez High School, Juan Torres attended a live piano performance for the first time.

Torres began studying piano, and he quickly progressed in his artistry. When he entered The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College in the fall of 2006, though, he chose to major in another interest, because he was born without the use of his legs.

Soon after Torres says he missed the music and began to study the piano again and take it more seriously as a career. However, due to his physical limitation, Torres was unable to advance to more sophisticated compositions that required using the piano pedals.

Torres's piano instructor, Dr. Kenneth Saxon,  worked with him to research a possible solution to accommodate him to use a pedal.

Dr. Saxon asked Dr. William Berg, Chairman of the Engineering Department, to see if any engineering students could help develop a device that would work on an acoustic piano.

Michael Espinoza, 20, a junior bioengineering major  and several classmates took on the challenge after receiving funding from the Gruettler/Guerra Fund, an endowment for the College of Science, Mathematics and Technology.

The students invented a device that would positioned over the pedal and controlled by a "bite switch" allowing Torres the command of the pedals when playing the piano.

On March 4, Torres made his debut with the device on stage at The Arts Center as a warm-up act for Saxon’s Patron of the Arts concert and after the concert engineering students were recognized for their work on the device.

Torres is set to perform a full concert on April 4 at The Arts Center playing pieces by Chopin, Mozart and Astor Piazzolla at 7:30 p.m.

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