You just have to love technology! Here is footage from a silent film taken in 1914 of Saint Saens playing synced with an audio recording recorded only five years later, giving us an opportunity to step back in time and experience and hear this great composer playing one of his piano works.
Saint Saens recorded 50 piano rolls and 17 phonograph records between 1904 and 1919 despite the fact that he was in his seventies and eighties. His playing is remarkably clean, focused, and very musical. Being able to see his performance in the video footage shows us his relaxed ability to communicate from the piano, much of this due to his very proper posture and positioning.
This is a great glimpse into the very early beginnings of audio and video recording. Enjoy!
I am going to write a series of four articles about the software I use as an active musician. This software has made several things I do significantly easier. I hope this article encourages other musicians to try some of these tools and hopefully find the same benefit I did. The four articles I will be writing are:
I had my "epiphany" while accompanying at a young artist competition at UW-Madison. I had carefully prepared my scores so pages wouldn't stick together and were "dog-eared" so I could turn them despite the fact that my hands were dry from the January cold and occasionally the pages would slip through my finger-tips like ice. Everything went well for multiple rounds of that competition. I even turned my own pages! But, more importantly, I noticed one of the other accompanists. This accompanist who I know and respect had a very busy day as usual at that competition. But, he spent no time preparing his pages so they could be easily turned and he also handled his own page-turning. He did it with his left foot and his music was on an iPad. He was using the app, forScore and an AirTurn pedal. Rather than disregard this "new" music setup as I had multiple times before, this time I was intrigued and started to do some research in the following week.
After a little experimentation with a similar app called MobileSheets on an Android tablet (a device I already owned) I purchased a refurbished iPad 3 and a PageFlip Firefly. From that moment, I guess you would say I "jumped in the deep end." I began putting all my accompaniment scores in forScore and also used two other great apps I'll write about another time for church and jazz music.
I was totally sold. I loved the freedom of being able to turn pages without skipping notes and found the technique to do this with the Firefly was very easy to get used to.
forScore is a "music reader." Its primary purpose is to allow the user to see, play, and practice the music that is loaded into the iPad. I easy converted my scores to Adobe PDF format. If you have access to a modern photocopier, it probably has a scan function and this will create beautiful scans that you can use as backups of your music as well as read these in forScore. In addition to the photocopier, I also had an all-in-one printer/scanner/fax at home that could do the job, but not nearly so well. The size of the all-in-one device was really designed for 8.5x11 or legal sized paper. Most music seems to be printed at a larger size, so my experience with that device wasn't as good. Then, I found Genius Scan for iPod and iPad and that saved the day. This small and inexpensive app created scans that were usually as good and sometimes even better than the expensive modern photocopier and I always had it with me in my pocket. It is a great way to scan music scores into forScore. Between this and reference-copy sites like the IMSLP library, it has been easy to get the scores I need into the iPad.
I find the iPad works very well for music reading. The first question I get asked all the time is whether or not I find the iPad too small to read. The second question I get asked is whether I'm afraid the device will crash in the middle of a performance. Let's answer the first question first of all.
No, I do not find the iPad too small. Here's why. When learning a part with a lot of small and detailed articulations, elaborate use of accidentals, or many ledger lines, I simply turn the iPod on its side in landscape mode. This is a great way to learn and study music and sometimes the music is blown up even larger than the music book in this mode. I'd never perform with the iPad in landscape mode, but I could. I just don't need to, and I only use a 9.5" screen! The landscape mode is simply for learning. There are tools to make markings to help you remember--more on these in the next review--and I've always had the rule that I only want two tries to read a ledger line note. By that, I mean if I can't tell what note it is at first glance, I'm going to write a note or marking that helps me to know. There is no glory in valiantly trying to squint to determine whether the note is on the fourth or fifth ledger line. One to three, I typically wouldn't need to write anything, but four or more, I almost always make a note. That's just my way of reading and I can read my notes in either landscape or portrait view.
Bottom line, is the landscape mode helps one dig into the detail of the rhythm, notes, and articulations. Then, as the accompaniment part is now becoming familiar, I can easy turn it back to portrait mode and I see as much as I need to see. There is always the option of updating to a larger iPad Pro, but I personally like carrying the smaller size around.
The second question: What about crashes? Yes, computers crash, but strings break, pianos go out of tune, and sound systems fail. Many years ago in a recital I accompanied, a vocalist hobbled off stage partway through as the heel of her shoe gave way. Yes, bad things happen, but they usually don't. I usually give my iPad a restart before a major performance or a big day ahead and I'm obsessive to make sure it is fully charged for the day. I also leave WiFi off most of the time as it is a heavy draw on battery. If I have a long day at a music festival or competition, the last thing I want is to be stressed whether my battery will last.
The scariest thing I've faced happened just a week or two ago. My iPad overheated at an outdoor event! I have used that iPad outdoors many times, but never in as direct sunlight on a very hot day like that. So, when bad things like this happen, what do you do? You go on as usual! When a page-turner has skipped pages for me, I can't stop playing. We hopefully keep everything together and try to get back on track. I had five minutes to go before the concert started when the thermometer showed on the screen and it said it needed to be cooled down. I asked the upright bass player to angle his music a little "just in case" and put my iPad in my bag to cool off. It was ready to go by concert time. I took the iPad out of the sun whenever I could during that concert and everything went just fine. You can be sure I'll keep it shaded as much as possible next time I'm in a similar situation. Yes, bad things can happen, but the show goes on. That singer who lost the heel of her shoe finished up a wonderful senior recital with no shoes. We were all treated to a great performance, a good laugh, and an awesome memory!
Because of forScore, my music is well organized by title, composer, genre, and there is even a tagging system so I can pull up a list of all the music a particular student is working on and easily find what we will be practicing. You can also set playlists, which are very helpful for recitals and performances and keeping all the parts in order. I personally use the genre category for instrumentation so I can easily pull up a list of all pieces for soprano or all pieces for tuba. If you are playing only one movement of a concerto or sonata but have all the movements in the same file, you can easily set a bookmark so you can jump right to that movement and this also enables just that movement to be programmed into the recital playlist. The pages don't blow, you don't need to worry about whether the spine of the book allows it to stay open. It just works!
After about a year and one-half of heavy use, my PageFlip Firefly began to fail and I upgraded to the PageFlip Cicada and it too has been a great experience. The mechanical switches in the Firefly were replaced with electronic in the Cicada. It was quiet before, but this made it almost noiseless. The overall design was improved, but my favorite feature added is the LED lights on each pedal. These can be turned off to save batteries, but they are indispensable in a dark environment. I have so appreciated them on a dark stage or in a theater pit! I just finished month 19 with the Cicada and it is going strong and I use it a lot.
I hope this gives an overview of some of the why and how I choose to use the iPad for music performance. In part two, I plan to discuss the editing tools provided in forScore and share several practice tools built into the device that have been very helpful to me. In addition, I'll share some of the tricks and techniques I use.
We began the month with Ives, and I just cannot stop there. Charles Ives brings such a tonal genius to us. I'll be honest. I am fascinated with the concept of microtonal composition. The idea that music in our culture is limited to the 12 "chosen" notes leaves me somewhat unsatisfied. There are certainly other notes there. We can play them on wind and string instruments. But those of us who are limited to tuned bars such as percussionists, frets on a guitar, or the tuning limitations of a piano keyboard are stuck in a world limited to equal-temperament tuning with A at 440 hz. It is a hard to be pianist who is fascinated with these new notes!
That is probably why I embrace those who have taken our ears to new places and found ways to do so, and Charles Ives is certainly one of the best. Ives gives his father, George, the credit for his desire to experiment. His father would hear nearby church bells but be unable to reproduce the harmonic sound produced by the bells on the piano. This led his father to experiment with quarter-tones. His father would ask the question, "If the whole tones can be divided equally, why not half tones?" (George Ives as Theorist: Some Unpublished Documents" - Eiseman, 1975)
Charles Ives wrote these three pieces for a concert in 1925 that showcased a specially-constructed quarter-tone piano with two keyboards developed by Hans Barth. Although, the first two pieces were performed on the concert on this instrument, Ives is unclear as to his intentions, and the published score is laid out for two pianos, one tuned one quarter-tone sharp and the other at standard pitch.
These pieces will stretch your ears a little. You'll hear sounds that we normally say are wrong, but the question "Why are they wrong?" cries out. Could our ears learn and become comfortable with an expanded harmonic language? Probably not, culture-wide, but perhaps we can challenge ourselves to expand our understanding of harmony a little as we enjoy a composer like Ives who takes us to a totally new harmonic place.
It is always fun to look back at pieces practiced and played during the last school year. Much of the instrumental repertoire is quite challenging to play, but I really enjoy accompanying students on this repertoire even though it takes me more time in preparation than vocal repertoire. This year, I had a good mix and looking back at these titles brings back some great memories of student performances throughout the year. I did not try to include choral accompaniments and that would add many more pieces to the list. Only solo repertoire and one duet are included here.
Here is the 2016-2017 list:
Since Independence Day is just around the corner, I wanted to post something that was truly American and by a "truly American" composer. Charles Ives was the first to come to mind. Ives isn't one you'd think of as "truly American" in the way that he was some sort of "patriot." Ives was "simply American" and the impressions and experiences from late 19th and early 20th century America are evident in many of his compositions.
This composition is an arrangement of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" which served as one of our country's "national anthems" until the "Star Spangled Banner" was officially designated the anthem in 1931. The description on the YouTube video shares this composition's story well: "In 1948, E. Power Biggs contacted Ives inquiring if he had composed any organ music that Biggs might perform on his weekly radio program. After Biggs helped Ives recover this long-forgotten piece, he performed it on his July 4th broadcast that year, and the work was finally published in 1949."
This month's feature has been the great song "Turquoise" performed by Erroll Garner. There is no one better to explain a jazz style than Dick Hyman. Enjoy this lesson on the Erroll Garner style.
The spring semester has come to a close. The final performance assessments or juries are completed. The recitals and concerts are complete. There is a sense of relief or pressure that is lifted. It is a moment to pause and answer the question, “What’s next?”
For some, it is easy. There is a recital on the near horizon in the next semester, and the repertoire is mostly (if not entirely) determined. Now is the time to prepare and meet that goal and be ready for that performance. For others, that question is answered for them by a repertoire list given to them by a teacher. Still others, have some choices to make on their own as to repertoire.
But, let’s get past simple repertoire planning and ask that same question, “What’s next?” There is so much more to practice than learning repertoire. What do you really want to accomplish? Are you growing musically? Technically? Do you find yourself expressing better than at this time last year? What might you do next that would really help you grow as a musician?
I think that every single one of us would like to answer that question in a way that shows some significant growth. The average student finishes up the spring semester and has approximately three months until school resumes in the fall. That is three months, or just over ninety days, 2,160 hours, or 129,600 minutes. How will you invest it? Let’s imagine for a moment that you could invest one hour each of those ninety days for practice. One hour of practice per day certainly doesn’t sound like much for an advanced musician, but imagine for a moment, that was the time you had to invest. How would you use it? How would you determine what’s next?
From your very first music lesson, this question was answered for you. You went to a lesson, and you were given an assignment for the week ahead. You were told what’s next. Then, each week, you’d prepare the lesson and depending on how you were progressing, your teacher created an assignment telling you what’s next.
As we advance and become more mature, that decision-making of what’s next begins to fall on us. And that is where asking “What’s next?” begins to be so important. We can make great progress when our teacher helps us to know what’s next in a weekly lesson. Think of the progress if we asked that question every single time we practice and decisively and purposefully set a path to accomplish our goals one step at a time. Even if you do not get to meet with your regular instructor for the entire summer, having a organized method of asking “What’s Next?” can help one to progress in a way that will impress, even shock those who hear us at the end of the summer.
The very best way I know of to be disciplined and purposeful in planning what’s next is through a simple practice journal. Practice journaling is the simple step of writing down thoughts, goals, and plans (the “what’s next”) after each and every practice time. In reality, you give yourself a lesson. Rather than waiting for the “what’s next” one week at a time, one makes great progress when you demand a “what’s next” after each and every practice session. Set goals, make plans, list specific sections and how it should be practiced or worked through. Challenge yourself with your practice journal. Then, each day use it as your gameplan for that practice session. Occasionally, look back and be encouraged as you see the progress that is being made.
Beginning the summer with a practice journal, asking the question, “What’s next?” each day, and faithfully completing your own personal assignments will guarantee that you will come back in the fall as a better musician. We are at the beginning of the summer journey right now. Give it a try, and see if you can notice a difference in your own musicianship and playing.