Wednesday, October 1, 2014

More musicians going high-tech

The Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra has abandoned its room full of paper sheet music in favor of a fleet of Galaxy tablets donated by manufacturer Samsung. The tablets come with software that allows a conductor to add notations or other changes in a score and automatically send it to all musicians. Courtesy photo

From page A2 | January 02, 2013 |

Did you notice?

When Christopher O’Reilly, a noted concert pianist as well as the host of the popular public radio series “From The Top,” visited the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall on Oct. 25, he used an electronic tablet to display the score when he was performing at the keyboard, and the same tablet to display his script during interviews with the young musicians.

(And prior to that, when O’Reilly gave a sold-out recital in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre in March 2010, he used a tablet to display the score of his piano transcriptions of music by the band Radiohead.)

When celebrated violinist Joshua Bell gave a recital at the Mondavi Center on Nov. 10, his accompanist — pianist Sam Haywood — used an electronic score displayed on a tablet, rather than a printed score on paper, as they performed music by Schubert, Franck and Prokofiev.

Local concertgoers can expect to see more tablets onstage in 2013. O’Reilly and Haywood are pioneers, blazing a path that many other musicians are preparing to follow.

O’Reilly started using a tablet rather than a paper score about three years ago.

“The means by which I receive my performance scores for ‘From The Top’ is the marriage of a tablet laptop (in my case, a Gateway), the scanning and page-editing parameters available in Photoshop Elements (the simplest version of Photoshop), and software called eStand, with accompanying footswitch pedal,” O’Reilly disclosed in a blog post in January 2010.

“The tablet allows me to have the screen pivoted right to the edge of the piano frame for easy reading. I scan two pages side-by-side for each screen I read from, similar to that side-by-side format in regularly printed piano music. eStand stores all the scanned pages in its own format, and these pages (thousands, if you want) are ordered by the program, and scrolled through by means of a foot pedal,” O’Reilly said.

When O’Reilly first tried tablets, he used a USB cable to connect the foot pedal to the tablet. More recently, he’s used what looks like an iPad, with page turns triggered by a wireless foot pedal.

“I can’t imagine whether this manner of reading music (on a tablet) is destined for any long-term utility; I only know I wanted a cleaner, page-turner-free look (for the launch of ‘From The Top’s’ TV version), and simultaneous with that, I found myself with endless accordioned pages of my Radiohead arrangements. The eStand allows me to do away with the paper, and can also accommodate notations (via the tablet laptop technology) applied after scanning. It’s a real convenience for me.”

Haywood started using an iPad, with page turns triggered by a wireless foot pedal, to display scores back in early 2011, and he’s found that some audience members are intrigued by the presence of the sleek glass tablet.

(During intermission at the Bell/Haywood recital last November, several members of the audience — including this reporter — strolled up to the edge of the stage to get a better look.)

“The ones (in the audience) that see it are curious about how it works, particularly the pedal,” Haywood told the Washington Post in an interview last year. “They want to know why I don’t have to touch the screen.

“And with a tablet, I can practice in the dark,” Haywood added.

Joshua Bell told the Post that “I was a little nervous about (Haywood using an iPad) at first. I love technology. And I have an iPad. But in a concert, I was worried that something would go wrong. You don’t want people talking about it during the concert.”

Bell admitted to using a tablet on occasion when rehearsing in private, “but I’ve never used it in concerts.”

Still risky

Indeed, the technology is still being perfected. Garrett Shatzer of UC Davis is one of the Mondavi Center’s “go-to guys” when a page turner is needed for a concert.

“I was told in advance that Sam Haywood might not need me for the November 10 concert, because he was experimenting with an iPad,” Shatzer told The Enterprise. “Mondavi said to be there anyway. And half an hour prior to the performance, they said Sam was having trouble with his iPad. He was on the phone with the software developer, and they got the problem solved.”

So Shatzer stayed backstage during the concert, ready to help if needed.

“Sam placed his iPad on the piano where the sheet music would usually go,” Shatzer said. “Then, to the left of the piano pedals, he had a wireless device. One pedal to go back a page, one to go forward a page — changing the page on a pdf file.

“As far as I can tell,” Shatzer continued, “tablets so far are not very big (in terms of their screen display). They are designed to be portable. I got to see the pdf on Sam’s screen, and it was tiny. It is to remind him how the music goes, rather than read it note-by-note. You would have to have incredible eyesight to actually sight-read the score on that tablet. And his tablet was not the iPad with the biggest screen.”

Shatzer summarized the advantages of a tablet this way: “You can bring thousands of scores with you. And Sam pointed out that you don’t have to worry about pages being blown down and falling to the floor. At the Nov. 10 concert, Joshua Bell had some momentary problems with pages being disturbed by air movement. For me, that would be the biggest advantage by far. And having one less person on stage who might cough.”

And the disadvantages?

Shatzer said, “Simply dealing with the technology. You never know when it might freeze. And if it freezes, you’re done. Also, simply being able to see the music. If you enlarge it, you have the problem of scrolling — and I can’t imagine a pianist scrolling. And using a foot to turn pages means less ability to use that foot on the piano’s pedals.”

Philip Daley, one of the event managers in the UC Davis music department (and a devoted Apple user), said he believes “the future of tablets in scores for performance will depend greatly on being able to display two pages at a time. Hand in hand with display size will be expanding the role of the pdf and digital archiving for future use.

“I use ForScore (an app for musicians) regularly on my iPad, and it is an incredible study tool,” he continued. “I can make all my marks, and then print it to pdf with my marks, which is extremely useful. I’ve seen it used in performance in chamber music, where only one or two performers are present. I don’t think the technology is ready yet for orchestral or choral use.

“More importantly,” Daley continued, “for a number of different reasons, is that we explore using readers and tablets to present the printed program. Not only is it more ecological over a long period of time, but it is important for keeping audiences interested in the program.”


String quartets and other chamber ensembles are trying electronic scores. The Borromeo Quartet, the ensemble-in-residence at the elite New England Conservatory of Music, has been using MacBooks to display scores since 2007.

“I keep my iPad in my bag, of course, just in case I need it,” violinist Nicholas Kitchen of the Borromeo Quartet told the Washington Post. “But playing off the MacBook Pro is easier with the larger screen.”

Kitchen added that “I have probably 40 Beethoven manuscripts in my computer, and we’re reading off them as we play. That’s been stimulating in a way I never could have anticipated.”

And conductor/keyboard performer Jeffrey Kahane caused a stir in November 2011 when he led the New York Philharmonic in a performance of the Symphony No. 33 by Mozart while playing a harpischord, with the score displayed on an iPad.

At least one orchestra has gone all-tablet. In Belgium, the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra decided last November to abandon its room full of paper sheet music in favor of a fleet of Galaxy tablets donated by manufacturer Samsung. Samsung estimates the orchestra will save some 25,000 euros (nearly $32,000 at current exchange rates) due to reduced copying costs. The tablets come with software that allows a conductor to add notations or other changes in a score and automatically send it to all musicians.

Christian Baldini, conductor of the UCD Symphony Orchestra, probably would dance a jig if some beneficent donor gifted his ensemble with the latest in tablet technology.

“I love the idea,” Baldini said. “For an entire orchestra to have the same material at such immediate access would be marvelous. But the most incredible part would be to make a change in the bowings, and for all the strings to receive that instantly, without having to waste rehearsal time explaining everything. (Currently), orhestras spend a considerable amount of time revising bowings.”

But Baldini sees room for improvement in the new technology as well.

“The iPad screen is a bit too small, at least I find it to be so. I think it would be much nicer to have music stands with a built-in screen (an “iStand”!) Oh, maybe Apple is spying on us! If next year, the iStand appears and is a big success, maybe I should call some lawyers!”

Others are waiting for even more advanced technology. Violinist Bell told the Washington Post “the gadget I’m waiting for is the display screen on glasses, or even better, contact lenses. Then I could read music and no one would know at all. I think they do have those sorts of glasses in the military. It would be nice to have the complete score, just hovering in front of your eyes.”

— Reach Jeff Hudson at or 530-747-8055.







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