iPads and Classical Music?
31 Saturday Aug 2013
It’s not a very new idea: less paper, all around. Everything is going digital. Everything is displays, not pages. Shifting electrons, not ink.
Except in classical music. I am not address whether this is good or bad, just the way the world is drifting. Classical music (and traditional music education) is often the last to change to anything new, material or ideological. But look out there. It’s happening.
I played a recent concert where a symphony orchestra was on one side of the stage. A rock band on the other. We used our traditional paper parts. The band used iPads mounted on special stands. I believe they had pedals to trigger page turns. I didn’t get a look at their screens, but they clearly had parts written for them, the same as we did.
The iPad screen is smaller than the usual sheet of orchestral music. But I suspect it could make up for this disadvantage by 1) being able to change the size of the music notation (can they do this? Does anyone know?) and 2) being able to turn pages instantly with the pedal.
Boy, is that a big plus. Classical players: how many times have you played a piece (especially in band, orchestra, or chamber music, or pit orchestra) where you had impossible page turns? If you’re like me, it’s, oh, maybe about 1,000,006. Grrr. Sometimes it’s the composer’s fault – writing endless strings of notes with no rests. Sometimes times it’s just the publisher being stupid, careless, or thoughtless. It’s always aggravating. Sometimes you can put a copy of one of the pages so that you can manage the turn. Sometimes you can actually use a scissors and cut the page so that you can turn part of it early. Most of the time you have to leave out a couple measures (depends on the tempo) and jump in as soon as you can on the next page.
If everything was on an iPad, this would never be a problem. Alleluia.
One other thing I liked about the rock band’s iPads is that the small size made them fairly unobtrusive. The orchestra has these big stands that hide them (and their sound?) pretty effectively. If we used iPads for the sheet music it might feel pretty naked without that big black shield in front of us any more, but the audience would probably like it and we would no doubt get used to it, sooner or later. Probably later.
The one thing that really bothers me about iPad-as-sheet-music is: How do you write stuff in the part? I always write lots of little markings in the part: courtesy accidentals, eyeballs (rather than the usual eyeglasses) to point out tricky stuff, accel. arrows, squiggly lines (which mean slowing down to me) over the notes, vertical line dashes to indicate if it’s conducted in one, two, three, or four, what the transposition is in big print at the top of a page, how many measures I was counting before the page turn, and so on. Lots of stuff.
To those of you with iPad experience: is there any way to do this? I am very attracted to the pluses of the iPad-as-sheet-music, but if I can’t write stuff on the part, it’s a deal breaker.
I recently ran across an article on iPads in classical music (“iThink iCan: Is Apple in Tune with Classical Music?”) in the San Francisco Classical Voice (the article is almost 2 years old, so some things may have changed in the mean time). The article says that iPads are already making inroads into classical music: the Kronos Quartet, Borromeo String Quartet and others are using them. The article goes into the use of the iPad well beyond the simple use as electronic sheet music; it goes into the use of the various music software available on this platform, i.e. how composers can use them.
Another idea that is floating around is the iPad as program note giver in classical concerts. Digital Trends had such a recent article: “Are You Ready to Brig Your iPad to a Classical Music Concert?” At a concert this year in London, the composer asked people to bring their iPads to “watch special videos made to accompany the new orchestration” of his piano concerto. As it turned out, almost nobody did. But still. The composer’s “goal was to use video to both gain an audience and to bring in younger people who use tablets every day.”
About.com offers a list of the Best Apps for Classical Musicians. Some of these are only for iPad, some also for iPhone. They include Polychord (chord maker), Cleartune (tuner), Metronome Pro, Pro Keys (recorder, keyboards & other instruments), and OperaBook (program notes on 50 operas).
The British Gramophone site offers a similar list. Includes Musicnotes Sheet Music Viewer (free) – “to store and display sheet music purchased on its sister music store music notes.com. It’s useful for both learning music anywhere and for not carrying piles of paper around.” Apparently you can also upload pdf’s of your own music to it. Also: Notion 3: “best playback sound on the market…” and has a mixing board, many instruments, export options, and more. Pianist Pro is “a virtual piano that really sounds like a piano…with [an] 88 key keyboard, configurable key size, recording and overdub facilities. See the video here. Piano apps are pretty common, but there are also apps like Percussive, which is mallet percussion of various kinds. See/hear the video for it here.
The more you snoop around (Google, YouTube), the more stuff comes up. It’s still early in the game, but folks are coming up with all sorts of interesting applications of the iPad to music. Check out this iBand – 24 kids with iPads performing a piece together.
What does all this have to with horn playing?
The floor is open for discussion…