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Youth orchestra abolishes sheet music

April 19, 2017 by norman lebrecht

49 comments.


From a press release:

As students arrive for this year’s Yorkshire Young Sinfonia (YYS) course and concert with Ray Chen, one thing will be missing … all the sheet music.

Thanks to the music app Newzik, students will be met by a room filled with iPads. The use of digital technology instead of traditional sheet music is still new in the classical music world, with only a handful of professional orchestras trying out this innovation so far. “The use of digital technology for orchestras has been advancing in recent times, but as yet no youth orchestra has actually performed an entire concert using only screens” said conductor Tom Hammond…


Comments (49)

  1. Gavin says:

    So far as I’ve seen these apps are extremely battery-hungry, so I hope the pieces they play aren’t too extended, and I also hope there are boxes of chargers just in case!

    1. David says:

      Using the iPad Pro, we get 5.5 hours of use with the Newzik app open and have a full docking station for all the iPads… saves death by wires!

      1. Kate says:

        Such polarised views here (I think it’s great btw) – it would be really good if you could report back at the end of the course with a really honest review of the pros (no pun etc) & cons, and any unexpected issues/ failures.

  2. Mike Schachter says:

    Not surprising but not without risk. Paper does not need batteries.

  3. Catherine says:

    The distracting lights/glow spoil the listeners (audience) experience and distracts from the music. Surely the children should be allowed the wondrous pleasure of contact with beautiful, organic real music notation which does not frustrate, dim or run out of battery.

    1. Halldor says:

      “Does not frustrate or dim”? Clearly you’ve never hired an orchestral set from a major publisher.

      1. Kate says:

        Absolutely this on hired music! Generations of pencil/ pen markings & multiple rubbings out destroying the paper, or those slightly plasticky pages which you can’t write on properly anyway.

        I think it’s a great idea. So many benefits, particularly for a course like this where the players can be sent practice parts in the same edition, etc. I’m in the process of transferring all my teaching & practice music onto iPad. I get more than a day of battery with pretty solid Forscore app usage with no bulk & easy annotations. Plus my pupils think I’m less of a dinosaur!

        1. Chrissy says:

          I wonder if all the people saying “it won’t work” have actually tried it?

        2. Don Ciccio says:

          But it is precisely these markings that are passed from one generation to another. Without them we would not have scores marked by Mahler, Mengelberg, Bernstein Stokowski, etc. – take your pick.

    2. Max Grimm says:

      “The distracting lights/glow […]”

      Eyelids are a marvelously efficient and expedient way of blocking out most distracting glows.
      The Yorkshire Young Sinfonia does not generally perform in the pit, and I doubt iPads can manage to outshine a well-lighted stage.

      1. Karla says:

        …and absolutely won’t outshine the talented musicians

        1. Max Grimm says:

          Very true. Unfortunately this fact is usually lost on people whose eyes seem to override and nullify their ears.

  4. Myrtar says:

    It’s impractical. iPads are too small to display sheet music unless you’re playing big fat notes like Barber’s Adagio. Even Letter Size/A4 isn’t used by any serious publisher, it’s 9×12 or larger. Two violinists sharing a stand are too far away to read from an iPad.
    The ability to see 2 pages at once comes with benefits that can’t be replaced: following an orchestral cue without being surprised with an entry in the new page, jumps between sections (S / O ).
    What about music that is yet to be engraved? Handwritten + tiny iPad size? No serious orchestra is going to adopt this.

    1. Dmitri says:

      I beg to differ. The a4 sized iPad Pro is more than adequate size-wise. Also the ability to put the device in the middle of the music stand means that are both players are equidistant to the music at all times unlike normally when one or the other has to read from the sheet further away from them. Playing outdoors means it’s naturally very wind resistant. When playing in the dark all orchestras are using some lighting devices that are arguably as bothersome to the audience and other players. And finally any sheet music that exists is easily scanned just as you would copy it.
      The amount of money that an orchestra would save on not having to DHL music back and forth (for the hire material) as well as the amount of paper and ink that would be saved will pay off for the device within a year or two. Arguably there are also environmental benefits of saving paper.
      The hire libraries must come up with a unified solution that will allow them to charge licensing and copyrights fees in order to protect themselves and authors’ rights that is adequate for the new technology.
      I’m absolutely positive that it’s a matter of only a couple of years till this becomes the norm. Software will be created that allows saving of individual conductors’ notes as well as individual players’ bowings/fingerlings for instant reference as opposed to the librarian having to rub everything out before sending it back.

      1. Myrtar says:

        A4 size is inadequate. Staff size is 7mm for Strings, 7mm in A4 is VERY cramped, with complex notation or a lot of divisi it will get all kinds of collisions. If you reduce staff size to minimize this, then it becomes too small to read at a distance, back to 9×12 paper.

        And this is considering that the music is already engraved into software (for which there can be more errors than the original parts already played; scanning is unreliable and can’t comprehend many things). Passing all music into software is extremely expensive and time consuming, that’s why most publishers rent photocopies instead of new versions, because the cost for a library like Boosey & Hawkes to re-engrave their catalog would be in the millions, and it would take years to do this, and decades just to get that money back.

        I’m all for technology, but this is solving 1 problem (bulky, physical paper) by adding a couple others.

        1. Bill says:

          “A4 size is inadequate. Staff size is 7mm for Strings, 7mm in A4 is VERY cramped, with complex notation or a lot of divisi it will get all kinds of collisions. If you reduce staff size to minimize this, then it becomes too small to read at a distance, back to 9×12 paper.”

          I don’t know about the other apps, but ForScore also has a mode where you put the device in landscape orientation and see the top or bottom of the page, with the page turn advancing you to the next half. I don’t do this because I have never found it necessary, but when doing so, the music image is substantially larger than it is on the printed page, even without cropping margins. I just pulled out a piece of vintage orchestral music printed on 10×13.5 paper, and the image on iPad is 9 wide vs 8 wide on the paper in this mode, without cropping off the margins. If you do crop the margins and keep portrait orientation, the actual printed area of the music is very slightly larger than the size of the screen image. The only parts I have encountered in several years of doing this where visibility was a problem were problematic on the paper originals as well.

          “And this is considering that the music is already engraved into software (for which there can be more errors than the original parts already played; scanning is unreliable and can’t comprehend many things).”

          Nonsense. Start with a good part and a competent operator and you will get a fine scan that shows all of the detail. There is no need to engrave the part into software; an image of the page in a PDF file is what you want for most apps.

          ” Passing all music into software is extremely expensive and time consuming, that’s why most publishers rent photocopies instead of new versions, because the cost for a library like Boosey & Hawkes to re-engrave their catalog would be in the millions, and it would take years to do this, and decades just to get that money back.”

          I’m not asking them to re-engrave their catalogue. With the flatbed book scanner at the local library, I can scan about 150 pages per hour from oversized music. And often I don’t need to scan anything, because as a budget-conscious orchestra, we often play music by well-known composers that our audience enjoys. IMSLP.org has a vast library of music which can be downloaded and used with very little effort and no cost.

          We rent from Boosey & Hawkes frequently, and always receive original parts; I cannot ever recall getting a modern photocopy for a rental from any rental agent.

          “I’m all for technology, but this is solving 1 problem (bulky, physical paper) by adding a couple others.”

          Almost any solution to a problem involves making trsdeoffs. The trick is evaluating which tradeoffs make sense for your needs, and not everyone should make the same choices. My colleagues and I do what we do because we find it makes our lives easier, on average, not harder.

    2. Max Grimm says:

      “iPads are too small to display sheet music […]”

      Well, then there’s always this…
      http://slippedisc.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/violinist-electronic-tablet.jpg

      1. Myrtar says:

        Lol Max, that looks affordable for orchestras around the world, I can definitely see this in rural China and Venezuelan orchestras from El Sistema.

        1. Max Grimm says:

          My comment is a direct response (in not all too serious a manner) to the impracticality of screen size that you talked about, not the hypothetical affordability of such a device for rural/youth orchestras.
          The device pictured in the link I posted is in fact not intended to be a general substitute for paper-based sheet music but functions as an aid for a Chicago Symphony violinist who is ocularly impaired and could not continue performing with out the screen.
          http://csosoundsandstories.org/alison-daltons-vision-cso-violinist-innovates-as-her-eyesight-evolves/

  5. Gemma Ashcroft says:

    Haters gon’ hate.

    In my opinion there’s no harm done in exposing young musicians to new technology – they will then be able to see where this idea started as it develops into something more refined. Interesting discussions to be had if they are asked to evaluate the tech – if they then choose to go back to paper then that’s fine. Nothing lost on the musical experience as other courses have used traditional parts and I’m sure there will be a box of back up music.

    Audience experience, although obviously not invalid, is secondary when working educationally.

    Bravo YYS for being so forward thinking and trying a new way of engaging young musicians.

  6. Peter says:

    We are far from having the technology to use anything but paper for reading and annotating (!) printed music efficiently.
    Current hardware is too complex, too short lived and unreliable due to electricity consumption, and too complicated to efficiently annotate and amend.
    The day will come, but for the time being still nothing beats printed paper, pencil and eraser.
    It’s a bit different for traveling soloists, for obvious reasons.

    1. Alexander says:

      + 100

  7. Catherine says:

    I send children to youth orchestra to get away from technology.

    He who pays the piper calls the tune.

    1. Gemma Ashcroft says:

      Why do technology and music need to have barriers between them? Does music need to be protected to preserve it’s elevated status as a higher level art form (as some think it is)?

      You may cal the tune, but the piper can interpret that tune in many different ways, as we are well aware as musicians.

    2. Paul Davis says:

      Surely: he who pays the paper……

  8. JBB says:

    How many times can one of those devices hit the floor before it becomes unusable?

    1. Steve P says:

      Depends on the protective case. Short answer: not often.

    2. Bill says:

      I drop my iPad as often as I drop my violin. Both are expensive tools, treated accordingly. The clown who would knock my paper part off my stand is the same clown who could send that stand crashing into my violin, so I take precautions to prevent such accidents regardless of the material my music is on. I have yet to play in a stiff enough air current to blow an iPad off a regular music stand, but if I had such a need on a regular basis, there are mounting brackets available, just like there are for microphones, etc.

  9. Beverley Wood (Mr) says:

    There are many valid points above. I only want to say two things which are really incorporated in those comments. 1) I am sure they work well – otherwise they would not be used – or tried, even. 2) The only thing is – what happens if they go wrong? Apart from the music dropping off the music stand – the only way that paper would actually fail would be if someone set light to it.

    1. Bill says:

      You’ve never played off music printed on loose pages, I take it. Pages get lost, out of order, upside-down. Or with a stand partner who is an inept page-turner…I’ve had some so bad that I gently suggested they set up their own adjacent stand with their own part so that I could turn my own pages or go electronic.

      1. SVM says:

        It does not take much effort to ensure that pages are in the right order and the right way up. Far less effort than setting up a screen with the right music &c. When page-turning loose scores for others, I have rarely encountered any serious problems. The trick is to check beforehand (usually takes only a minute, so can be done even if turning up at the last moment, although I tend to agree with Donohoe’s suggestion that page-turners should attend a rehearsal, or part thereof; see

        https://web.archive.org/web/20160430020735/http://www.peter-donohoe.com/sites/default/files/profile/2672/downloads/theartofpageturning.pdf

        )

        A competent composer or orchestra manager would ensure that the pages are kept together; a comb-binder is cheaper than one electronic gadget, failing which there is always tape or paperclips! In short, this problem occurs only when there is sloppiness somewhere down the line; the equivalent level of sloppiness in preparing digital versions would be far worse, so digital versions are no cure for cutting corners.

        1. Bill says:

          “It does not take much effort to ensure that pages are in the right order and the right way up. Far less effort than setting up a screen with the right music &c. ”
          I get an email from the librarian with a PDF file. Tap on the attachment icon, tap Open in ForScore and I am done.

          As for the printed pages, I get an email from the librarian, now I have to go to a place with a working printer and print out a set of pages. Many of the printers will not handle duplex printing, or require me to print every other page, then print again on the back side. Time and expense are non-zero. And I don’t have a comb-binder machine, nor do the other members of the orchestra also printing out their own parts. I could tape the pages together, put them in sheet protectors in a binder, 3-hole punch them and put them in a binder, etc. All much more tedious than the two taps mentioned above, and several have their own drawbacks, such as needing to remove pages from sheet protector for marking, holes encroaching on music, etc. Been there, done that, don’t like it.

          “When page-turning loose scores for others, I have rarely encountered any serious problems. ”
          I am referring to turning pages in an orchestral setting. Completely different animal. However, the fact that I see pianists now using iPads with no human page-turner suggests to me that some of them find it a better solution to turn their own pages.

          “A competent composer or orchestra manager would ensure that the pages are kept together; a comb-binder is cheaper than one electronic gadget, failing which there is always tape or paperclips! In short, this problem occurs only when there is sloppiness somewhere down the line; the equivalent level of sloppiness in preparing digital versions would be far worse, so digital versions are no cure for cutting corners”

          That composer or manager is not out on stage or in the pit when the music folder gets dumped and all those pops tunes get shuffled.

          The digital equivalent stays in the order set until it is changed, no matter what order I happen to practice or rehearse the music prior to the gig. And I don’t have pieces hiding inside other pieces…

          I’ve been playing off paper music in orchestras for 43 years. I’ve seen plenty of things go wrong. I’ve been playing off iPads for almost 6 years. The mishaps I have encountered while doing so have been minor, and overall, it makes my life easier, not harder. Completely my own choice to use it.

  10. will says:

    How do they write the bowings in?

    1. David says:

      Not only can you write bowings in, but they sync to the rest of the section. You can find find out more about how Newzik works here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfqpUuDnr5w

      1. Peter says:

        That people don’t understand the role of handwriting in cognitive processes is just sad.
        Same idiocy happened in American schools long ago when they killed cursive writing and are now about to kill handwriting altogether. Because over there they do not understand the cognitive process.

        A mark you wrote yourself is something you remember well (because of the physical act accompanying its creation).
        Something that appears on your screen on the other hand (because it syncs automatically from the concert master’s device) is something far from having the same effect on your cognition.
        People are idiots. Technology is great. But if we are monkeys, we don’t really know how to use it to our advantage. And how NOT to use it as well.

    2. Shahar says:

      By the annotation tool and there are stamps of the bowings symbols as well.

    3. Steve P says:

      Apple Pencil is really awesome.

  11. Steve P says:

    I use an iPad Pro with forScore app and an Bluetooth foot pedal for page turning. I haven’t used this setup for any classical jobs, but it works very well for commercial gigs. Not having to worry about standlights, pencils for marking music, sudden air conditioning / wind gusts blowing music off the stand, or shuffling music between songs makes it very practical.

  12. Bill says:

    As someone who uses an iPad Pro + ForScore + Apple Pencil combo for orchestral, chamber, and solo work for several years now (started on a smaller iPad before the Pro came out), I am entertained by all the comments telling me that this is impractical, couldn’t possibly work, etc.

    Yes, the screen size is somewhat smaller than large format music paper – but you can magnify the music image (generally the large format paper has ample margins, just wasted space) to have the actual content filling the screen, which makes the differences rather slight. No need to bother with stand lights in dim venues. Battery life might be an issue if you play 7 or 8 hours without any breaks, but if you do, you’ve got other things to worry about. Annotation of parts is not quite as quick as with a pencil, but the result is neater, and time to make the marks is rarely the limiting factor, I find. I think the fact that several colleagues have bought their own setup after playing a rehearsal on the same stand with me speaks for itself.

    I did have a nice time last night finally getting to read a string quartet for which one of the parts had been misplaced. As I hadn’t scanned it, I couldn’t simply grab a backup copy, nor do I have the convenience of being able to pull out the other parts when I want to look at them, or be able to look at the parts in a web browser when away from the music stand. Nice being able to instantly send a copy of a marked part to others for review or discussion, and no worries about losing or damaging expensive originals. And being a member of a number of orchestras which either distribute music electronically (forcing everyone who wants one to print their own paper part) or provide unmarked paper parts and a scan of a marked part (be your own librarian), the electronic option is much less work.

    As for seeing what is coming, ForScore offers an option to do half page turns. I find that a modicum of practicing my part eliminates page turn surprises (which can still happen with paper parts).

    1. Steve P says:

      First time I showed up with my iPad rig I got some stares from the cover band I play with in the summer; now, every horn and string player in the group has a setup like mine.

  13. Frankie says:

    All of these ‘nay-sayers’ should declare whether they have any experience of i-Pad notation systems. I suspect that the answer would be ‘zero’ – they haven’t a clue what they are talking about!

    1. Myrtar says:

      What is your experience of re-engraving symphonic scores of 300 pages? Do you know how long it takes, how complex it is, how expensive it is to a publisher to do this for 1 piece? Now multiply that by the number of pieces in a publisher’s catalog. That’s right, many zeros.

      It looks pretty on the iPad, but it’s too expensive to re-engrave, and using scans means you’re infringing the author’s copyright. The iPad is too small for most musicians in an orchestra (Strings require 7mm staff size) and bigger devices are even more expensive.

      It’s all very neat, but way too expensive for this to get any traction.

      1. Bill says:

        “What is your experience of re-engraving symphonic scores of 300 pages? Do you know how long it takes, how complex it is, how expensive it is to a publisher to do this for 1 piece? Now multiply that by the number of pieces in a publisher’s catalog. That’s right, many zeros.”
        Again, all I need is an image of the page. No re-engraving required. I can even use a cell phone picture in a pinch.

        “It looks pretty on the iPad, but it’s too expensive to re-engrave, and using scans means you’re infringing the author’s copyright. ”

        We have had no trouble securing permission to scan rental parts for use during the rental period without risking damage, loss, or marking of the rental sets. Much of the music we perform is no longer restricted by copyright. The composers of my acquaintance are happy to provide music in electronic form. Your mileage may vary.

        Side note on rental parts and markings: I regularly see rental sets where the parts are not marked consistently from stand to stand. So much for getting markings straight from the great masters (as if those parts were still circulating in appreciable numbers), and so much for making everyone’s lives easier by starting from the same spot! Electronic distribution scenario has everyone using an image of the section leader’s part.

        “The iPad is too small for most musicians in an orchestra (Strings require 7mm staff size) and bigger devices are even more expensive.
        It’s all very neat, but way too expensive for this to get any traction.”

        I’m a violinist, so perhaps the worst-case scenario as regards needing space above the stave. I do this nearly every day. I’m arguing with someone who says it won’t work. I don’t know about you, but I tend to believe the person who is doing something rather than the person who insists that it cannot be done…

        1. Myrtar says:

          You’re just arguing with someone who has inside knowledge about the engraving industry and publishing.

          “Again, all I need is an image of the page. No re-engraving required.” Unfortunately you don’t really understand the difference between engraved software and an image, I won’t bother to explain. What’s the difference of scanning a bad part and using the paper version? Besides the fact the iPad is smaller than actual paper size printed by professional publishers, 9×12. Yes you can zoom, and you’ll get a surprise at the turn of each page because you can only see 1 page at a time. If you need to jump from figures or S/O or repeat bars, good luck managing all that with such a small view.

          You can drive a car by only looking through your iPad’s camera and nothing else. It can be done, so why not just do it?

          “Much of the music we perform is no longer restricted by copyright.” – much of the music professional orchestras perform is copyrighted, maybe you’re performing PD music because it’s just cheaper, and that’s fine. Some of the composers we publish demand that their works are properly engraved and the parts are printed in the finest paper and everything is done in really high quality. Some of today’s blockbuster movies have our scores as their soundtrack, no complaint from the musicians!

          “I regularly see rental sets where the parts are not marked consistently from stand to stand (…) Electronic distribution scenario has everyone using an image of the section leader’s part.” – maybe you have a small repertoire, there are plenty of works where different stands have different parts, even within the same instrument category. So the 1 part fits all, doesn’t really fit.

          I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m saying that we are far away from getting it done. The expense, material required, digitization of the catalog . You’re probably one of of those musicians who thinks IMSLP is heaven sent even though the major part of their files are incomplete, corrupted, brand new engravings done by complete amateurs with missing parts, ERRORS with no errata in sight, it’s a gamble. Maybe your orchestra is OK with it, the ones I work with aren’t and won’t even touch it.

          And regarding the iPads, do you actually think that community colleges can afford an iPad for each musician? Or orchestras in China, Venezuela, Ukraine, afford an iPad or any screen for the matter, per stand? In your own little world, this all makes sense. If you were a publisher that gets music performed all over the world, every single day, maybe you’d understand the task at hand. Can it be done, but is it necessary? Is it vital? Please…

          1. Bill says:

            “You’re just arguing with someone who has inside knowledge about the engraving industry and publishing.”
            Oh, well, pardon me. Where are my manners?

            ““Again, all I need is an image of the page. No re-engraving required.” Unfortunately you don’t really understand the difference between engraved software and an image, I won’t bother to explain. ”
            Oh, please do explain. All the years I spent working with computer vision and typesetting software could scarcely have given me any understanding. I suppose my experience typesetting music doesn’t matter either.

            “What’s the difference of scanning a bad part and using the paper version? Besides the fact the iPad is smaller than actual paper size printed by professional publishers, 9×12. Yes you can zoom, and you’ll get a surprise at the turn of each page because you can only see 1 page at a time. If you need to jump from figures or S/O or repeat bars, good luck managing all that with such a small view.”

            Just measured the stack of parts on the stand. I guess those European schmucks like Henle and Bårenreiter aren’t professional publishers, only the quality names like International!

            Then I measured the active screen area used for music display, and compared it with the area actually occupied by music in a range of parts, orchestral, chamber, and opera, published from late 19th century to last year. Guess what? The width available is within 1/4 of an inch, and the length within 1/2 inch.

            But again, no reason to take the word of someone who actually does something over the word or someone who does not, right?

            “Much of the music we perform is no longer restricted by copyright.” – much of the music professional orchestras perform is copyrighted, maybe you’re performing PD music because it’s just cheaper, and that’s fine. Some of the composers we publish demand that their works are properly engraved and the parts are printed in the finest paper and everything is done in really high quality. Some of today’s blockbuster movies have our scores as their soundtrack, no complaint from the musicians!

            Some publishers do that for every composer, not just those who raise a stink. In return, I buy their publications whenever possible, and recommend others do also.

            No, we perform PD music because our audiences show up in larger numbers when we do! The stuff we have to pay rental fees to play correlates very well with the lower turnout programs. Of course, with conductors who fancy themselves to be composers, or even just champions of living composers, there is a natural interest in programming newer stuff. Ironically, the orchestra which concentrates on obscure stuff drawn largely from the Edwin Fleischer library consistently draws a big crowd, and the expensive mainstream 20th century rentals draw relatively anemic crowds. Are all other factors equal? No, probably not, but I’m happy to be proven wrong by audience members turning up in larger numbers than expected. Even when we get a bigger crowd, it often doesn’t offset the rental expense, or the expense of hiring additional musicians.

            “I regularly see rental sets where the parts are not marked consistently from stand to stand (…) Electronic distribution scenario has everyone using an image of the section leader’s part.” – maybe you have a small repertoire, there are plenty of works where different stands have different parts, even within the same instrument category. So the 1 part fits all, doesn’t really fit.

            Then everyone uses an image of the appropriate part. No problem, just a reduction of the time savings from marking. Aside from Strauss’ Metamorphosen, I am hard-pressed to think of much I have heard or played where every stand had a separate part in the strings. Again, if this is a real issue, the ability to use a tablet does not preclude using paper on occasion.

            “I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m saying that we are far away from getting it done. The expense, material required, digitization of the catalog . You’re probably one of of those musicians who thinks IMSLP is heaven sent even though the major part of their files are incomplete, corrupted, brand new engravings done by complete amateurs with missing parts, ERRORS with no errata in sight, it’s a gamble. Maybe your orchestra is OK with it, the ones I work with aren’t and won’t even touch it.”

            Ah, weren’t you accusing me of having a vested interest? it seems you’re just a publisher’s shill.

            I don’t know what you were doing, but when I go to IMSLP, I see exactly what is on offer and a description of the source. I agree, parts that some person typeset and uploaded generally need careful checking. You know what else generally needs careful checking? Commercially published parts. The vast bulk of published music comes with no errata whatsoever, just errors.

            In any case, if the conductor programs something thinking we can grab it for free from IMSLP, but the parts are unsatisfactory, or not present, we look to another source. Sometimes what is available on IMSLP turns out to be superior to what is sent by the rental agent! A few Rachmaninoff pieces played recently had hand-copied parts from the rental agent, but engraved versions were available on IMSLP. Having paid the rental fee, i see no defensible reason for insisting on using the rental parts when a better copy is at hand.

            Yes, I do feel IMSLP is a blessing. It provides a means for musicians around the world to discover and share countless works that publishers have largely abandoned.

            ‘And regarding the iPads, do you actually think that community colleges can afford an iPad for each musician? Or orchestras in China, Venezuela, Ukraine, afford an iPad or any screen for the matter, per stand? In your own little world, this all makes sense. If you were a publisher that gets music performed all over the world, every single day, maybe you’d understand the task at hand. Can it be done, but is it necessary? Is it vital? Please…”

            Totally missing the point. No one is forcing orchestras or publishers to go electronic. NL posted his usual clickbait title, someone jumped in to express their opinion (one not backed by experience, at that) about how this seemed unworkable, and those of us with experience have been arguing otherwise. Some of my groups have embraced electronic distribution of music for very practical reasons, many of which do not depend on the players using a tablet at all. For those who do, the bring your own device model has worked satisfactorily, and I have not seen anyone decide to switch back to paper. Some high end publishers are making their offerings available in both electronic and paper form, with very interesting developments in the works, Music publishers didn’t immediately switch from hand-engraved copper plates to modern systems, either. No one is proposing the immediate abandonment of paper music by all.

            “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things; for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order; this lukewarmness arising partly from the incredulity of mankind who does not truly believe in anything new until they actually have experience of it. ” Machiavelli

  14. SVM says:

    For orchestras, using screens for performance is madness. I am not doubting that there are some benefits to them, but there are a number of significant flaws, such that screens pose an unacceptable hindrance and risk (at least, for larger ensembles):

    1. Even a screen with stable software and good battery-life is not as reliable as paper; in a concert situation, where many people come together from afar for a limited time, the absolute priority has to be to minimise the risk of failure. “The software crashed” or “the battery died” is not an acceptable excuse for a concert being cancelled. Page-turns may go wrong, but a competent musician can recover from such setbacks; the point is that *total* failure is *extremely* unlikely in respect of sheet music. Davies’s account of the LSO keeping the show going during a power-cut highlights how it is possible to keep the show going:

    https://lsoontour.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/bad-light-stops-play-eventually/

    [I dread to imagine the implications of an orchestra’s screens all going blank, say due to a “software upgrade” or “network failure”; far worse than a power-cut]

    2. Any serious amateur or professional orchestral player should be perfectly capable of turning pages quickly and efficiently (and the kids had better learn to do it sooner rather than later), or writing out the odd extra note/cue where the page-turn is inconvenient. Any competent publisher (or self-published composer) should be able to engrave sheet music in such a way as to minimise the inconvenience of page-turns. Fold-outs and the like can be done reliably. Loose sheets can be taped together or comb-bound. In other words, the big selling-point of screens, to obviate page-turning, is of minimal importance if everyone does their job properly.

    3. Music cannot easily be lent/borrowed via screens — for a start, it would rely on every orchestral player, deputy, and freelancer owning the same hardware and software. Moreover, material transferred through digital means can be more easily copied illegally (of course, so can sheet music, but that requires the effort of going to a photocopier, and positioning each page over the plate so that it copies in full). Even if a means of digital transfer could be found, can it handle being set up and sent on short notice, without losing precious hours/days “getting them onto the system” (for example, supposing a player needs to find a deputy for an imminent performance; it is simple enough to hand-deliver sheet music, but can a file for a screen piece be transferred so easily *and* legally?)?

    4. As others have already said, many screens are too small. For chamber music, A4 may be adequate, but orchestral parts tend to be on larger sizes, such as B4. Percussion parts may need to be even bigger. Conversely, parts for choral singers, in general, want to be in smaller formats.

    5. Screens assume one part per player/desk. What about percussionists (or, for that matter, other players) who have to move to different stage positions? Will the extra screens be reliably on exactly the right page, and be sitting there ready (and not on sleep or reset) 25 minutes into the piece?

    6. If mislaid, lost, or stolen, a screen represents the entire programme — with sheet music, at least, it is very unusual to manage to lose everything at once (if you do manage such a feat, you are unlikely to be in work for very long, and rightly so). In other words, screens represent a single point of failure.

    7. How are performers going to notice bowing *changes* (NB: I am not talking about pre-determined bowings marked in advance of the first rehearsal — which may have been copied-out by the librarian, not the players — but about changes thereto) and the like if they have not physically gone to the effort of marking them by hand? Bowings do change during the rehearsal process, after players may have become accustomed to playing a previous bowing. So, these changes must be done by hand (outside players may not have the benefit of physically marking the bowing, but they will see the inside players doing it, and thus be alerted to the change quite explicitly), not “synchronised”, otherwise the player might forget in the heat of the moment.

    8. “Synchorised” markings may be a good thing to an extent, but each individual has his/her own way of marking which works for him/her. In amateur ensembles, the level of knowledge may vary, and in professional ensembles, there may be a great diversity of backgrounds/languages/conventions brought to bear (professional orchestras tend to recruit internationally).

    9. A serious amateur or professional orchestral player should be capable of annotating a sheet of paper extremely quickly. Can a screen be annotated with a new bowing in a very short rest, without the player missing a note?

    10. Are the gadgets for annotating screens as sensitive and thin as a pencil? Can a cautionary accidental with parenthesis be squeezed between two noteheads without looking like a random blob?

    11. Screens may offer some benefits in respect of marking cuts and interpolations (unusual in symphonic music, but not uncommon in theatre and opera, moral rights notwithstanding), but can cuts and interpolations be made instantly in the middle of a rehearsal (or just before the last-minute deputy goes on stage), or do they depend on the librarian painstakingly reformatting the files (and potentially wiping the annotations in the process)? Anyhow, cuts and interpolations are easy enough to implement on sheet music, even if you are out of paperclips (for cuts, just fold /en masse/ the sheets with the cut material and you are done; for additions, keep the loose inserts between the relevant pages — again, they can be secured together by folding, if necessary).

  15. Bill says:

    “For orchestras, using screens for performance is madness ..screens pose an unacceptable hindrance and risk ”
    Maybe you should let the orchestras make their own decisions? Just a thought.

    I am not doubting that there are some benefits to them, but there are a number of significant flaws, such that screens pose an unacceptable hindrance and risk (at least, for larger ensembles):

    “[I dread to imagine the implications of an orchestra’s screens all going blank, say due to a “software upgrade” or “network failure”; far worse than a power-cut]”

    Good news, then. None of the software I have seen for this purpose uses the network for anything except distributing parts. I did see a jazz band using a setup where the keyboard player had control over all of the screens, but it was not suitable for orchestral use. You don’t do a software update for your production hardware right before the concert (or before you need to take a trip, or print your annual report to shareholders, or file a tax return, or anything else) and you do a test installation first. Just like you don’t try out a new variety of strings by putting on a set before your big concert, or borrow a different instrument without time to get acquainted.

    ” Any serious amateur or professional orchestral player should be perfectly capable of turning pages quickly and efficiently”

    I agree, but that doesn’t make it so. Every conductor should be able to manage rehearsal time well, give clear cues, describe what they want with a minimum of talking, and so on. I step on a pedal and the page is turned, instantly, with no need for either player to stop playing. I can even choose to turn just the top or bottom half, as previously mentioned.

    “Any competent publisher (or self-published composer) should be able to engrave sheet music in such a way as to minimise the inconvenience of page-turns. Fold-outs and the like can be done reliably. Loose sheets can be taped together or comb-bound. ”
    Performed a modern violin concerto a few weeks ago where the solo part had no time for page turns. Soloist saw my iPad and wanted to know how I turned pages. Demonstrated the foot pedal (I had a copy of the solo part) and he immediately wanted to know where he could buy such a setup. His part was sets of facing pages taped in Manila folders, tossed off the stand as needed (including once by the conductor while the soloist sustained a high note before diving into the next movement without pause). Trivial with the pedal, anything but with paper.

    “In other words, the big selling-point of screens, to obviate page-turning, is of minimal importance if everyone does their job properly.”
    Maybe you think that is the big selling point, but I find that other attractions are of more benefit. I also find that counting on others to do their job properly is a path to misery, and anything I can easily do to reduce the impact on me when they do not is worth considering. For example, I am regularly lending my old iPad to someone in the orchestra who has forgotten a part at home, or a substitute who didn’t receive the only printed copy of the part prior to rehearsal. My iPad weighs the same whether I take only my part or take every part in the orchestra, including the conductor’s score.

    “Music cannot easily be lent/borrowed via screens — for a start, it would rely on every orchestral player, deputy, and freelancer owning the same hardware and software.”

    You know this how, exactly? PDF files are the lingua Franca. Generally you don’t even need a special music reading program – they just add convenient features.

    “Moreover, material transferred through digital means can be more easily copied illegally (of course, so can sheet music, but that requires the effort of going to a photocopier, and positioning each page over the plate so that it copies in full). Even if a means of digital transfer could be found, can it handle being set up and sent on short notice, without losing precious hours/days “getting them onto the system” (for example, supposing a player needs to find a deputy for an imminent performance; it is simple enough to hand-deliver sheet music, but can a file for a screen piece be transferred so easily *and* legally?)?”

    Simple enough to hand-deliver the music? In my experience, when someone needs to make a sudden substitution, it is often anything but simple to deliver the printed part in time. Orchestra librarian or the player who needs a deputy emails a PDF file to the substitute, they can print or load on their tablet as they choose. Or beg the librarian to print one out and bring it to the service. “Getting it into the system” is about as complicated as looking at the photograph someone attached to an email.

    “As others have already said, many screens are too small. For chamber music, A4 may be adequate, but orchestral parts tend to be on larger sizes, such as B4. Percussion parts may need to be even bigger. Conversely, parts for choral singers, in general, want to be in smaller formats.”
    I have previously punched holes in this assertion. Large format tablets work fine. My son plays percussion, and I scan all of his parts. Have yet to encounter one printed on larger format than everyone else has. Doesn’t mean it never happens, of course. But here’s the thing – if you have some outlier situation where the tablet approach just won’t work, you can still use a paper part!

    “Screens assume one part per player/desk. What about percussionists (or, for that matter, other players) who have to move to different stage positions? Will the extra screens be reliably on exactly the right page, and be sitting there ready (and not on sleep or reset) 25 minutes into the piece?”

    If you want your tablet not to sleep, turn off the auto-sleep function. If someone makes a tablet that does not allow that, make sure not to buy one for use in this manner. Just like with printed music, the percussionists will have to make sure they turn pages at the right time. Again, nothing preventing one from using a paper part if it is a better fit.

    “If mislaid, lost, or stolen, a screen represents the entire programme — with sheet music, at least, it is very unusual to manage to lose everything at once (if you do manage such a feat, you are unlikely to be in work for very long, and rightly so). In other words, screens represent a single point of failure.”

    All of the recent incidents where someone has forgotten their music that I have seen, they didn’t forget just one piece, they brought the wrong folder, or discovered that someone else had taken the folder out of the car. And if the parts were all in electronic form, they can be loaded again on a spare tablet, which takes up much less space than a complete set of parts for the entire program.

    “How are performers going to notice bowing *changes* (NB: I am not talking about pre-determined bowings marked in advance of the first rehearsal — which may have been copied-out by the librarian, not the players — but about changes thereto) and the like if they have not physically gone to the effort of marking them by hand? Bowings do change during the rehearsal process, after players may have become accustomed to playing a previous bowing. So, these changes must be done by hand (outside players may not have the benefit of physically marking the bowing, but they will see the inside players doing it, and thus be alerted to the change quite explicitly), not “synchronised”, otherwise the player might forget in the heat of the moment.”

    You were saying about people doing their jobs properly? Pay attention when the section leader or conductor prescribes a new bowing or articulation!

    ““Synchorised” markings may be a good thing to an extent, but each individual has his/her own way of marking which works for him/her. In amateur ensembles, the level of knowledge may vary, and in professional ensembles, there may be a great diversity of backgrounds/languages/conventions brought to bear (professional orchestras tend to recruit internationally).”
    Really grasping at straws…professional orchestras by and large do not have players marking their own parts except if a change is made in rehearsal, or a personal marking added (a fingering, perhaps a reminder about a beat pattern or the like).

    “A serious amateur or professional orchestral player should be capable of annotating a sheet of paper extremely quickly. Can a screen be annotated with a new bowing in a very short rest, without the player missing a note?”

    Usually some notes will be missed whether paper or electronic if the change is anything but trivial, and the ripple effect of propagating the change back through the section ensures that even trivial changes are disruptive.

    “Are the gadgets for annotating screens as sensitive and thin as a pencil? Can a cautionary accidental with parenthesis be squeezed between two noteheads without looking like a random blob?”.

    Yes, in fact it is better because you can zoom in before marking!

    “Screens may offer some benefits in respect of marking cuts and interpolations (unusual in symphonic music, but not uncommon in theatre and opera, moral rights notwithstanding), but can cuts and interpolations be made instantly in the middle of a rehearsal (or just before the last-minute deputy goes on stage), or do they depend on the librarian painstakingly reformatting the files (and potentially wiping the annotations in the process)?”

    Conductor announced several cuts the other night in the opera we were rehearsing. I pulled out my pencil and marked them in, just like I would on paper. Then I switched to a different tool on the palette and erased all of the cut music entirely, removed a page or two consisting of nothing but cut music, and sent the result to the other people using iPads, all done while someone in the back of the winds was asking for the cut to be repeated because he didn’t understand the description.

    ” Anyhow, cuts and interpolations are easy enough to implement on sheet music, even if you are out of paperclips (for cuts, just fold /en masse/ the sheets with the cut material and you are done; for additions, keep the loose inserts between the relevant pages — again, they can be secured together by folding, if necessary).”

    Yes, this sounds like it would work fabulously for cutting 30 bars in the middle of a page, or extending across the bleed, or a page turn…all cuts I have made in the last few programs. I haven’t encountered (or even heard of others encountering) the bulk of your objections, however.

    “That may very well work in practice, but it will never work in theory!”

    1. Myrtar says:

      Sounds like you have a financial interest in this, because your answers are utter nonsense. And nice way of dodging most of SVM’s points.

      1. Bill says:

        Uh, which points did I dodge?

        Yes, here’s my financial disclosure:

        1. I met one of the principals of the company that makes the Bluetooth pedal I use at a trade show. I spent $100 on his product. I am eagerly waiting for the royalty checks to start coming my way, but after 5 years, I am starting to wonder if he has lost my address.

        2. Like nearly everyone who owns a mutual or index fund invested in the US stock market, I have a minuscule ownership stake in Apple (currently the most valuable company in the world by market capitalization). A thousand orchestras buying 100 iPad Pro + Pencil setups each is 100,000 tablets out of quarterly sales of approximately 9,000,000 tablets for Apple alone. A small fraction of a fraction of their overall business, and the profits are divided by 5.25 billion shares. Financial return to me: too small to measure.

        3. I paid $5 to the ForScore app people. My reward has been that they continue to produce and support their software, and if numerous new customers come along, I imagine they might continue to do so. Oh, if you buy their app, Apple will pocket 30% of the sales price, and another inconsequential fraction of that will make its way to me and all of the other Apple shareholders.

        When next week’s checks come in, I should be able to order the new yacht, stop messing up a good thing for me, okay?


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