Written by: Travis Doan
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – It’s the night of the big concert, and the conductor walks on to applause. He is not carrying the usual score of music, but just a small plastic square. The audience goes silent as the conductor steps up to the dais, sets down the square, and turns it on.
It’s called the iPad, and it’s revolutionizing the classical music industry. The iPad’s ability to display sheet music, along with other applications that allow the user to interact with the music, is altering the way sheet music has been composed and performed for generations. Traditionally, sheet music was written by hand (even after the invention of the printer) on paper or parchment. In the past few decades, computers have become the most popular tool.
However, the iPad provides a more efficient means of composing music, said Thomas Royal, a doctoral student in composition at the University of Florida. “The iPad allows for more easy and interactive arrangement, in terms of ergonomics, that regular computers and paper just don’t really allow for.”
According to Aaron Collins, music director and conductor of the Space Coast Symphony Orchestra, the iPad’s ability to change a note and add markings like a crescendo into a piece of music, and have everyone’s music do the exact same, would be ideal. The iPad also allows for a quick and direct means to access sheet music, without ever having to print, ship or store it. “In terms of production costs, it would be a huge help”, says Collins. “I think it’s the next big thing in music publication.” That means big savings for performance groups like orchestras, which Collins said typically spend from $600 to $3,000 on sheet music for a single performance. That is a considerable chunk of most orchestra’s budget.
And now it is much more profitable for people to do things independently, according to Paul Richards, professor of composition at the University of Florida. “If I get an order for a piece of music through my website, I can just send off the PDF file and that’s it.” The compactness and portability of the iPad means sheet music owners can save a lot of paper, and it doesn’t require storage space or music libraries.
The Paducci App for the iPad allows musicians to access sheet music of public domain classical pieces free of charge from the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP). Musicians can retrieve the sheet music to more than 44,000 works of classical music, at any time and place.
One issue for many performers is the logistics of turning the pages of music in the middle of playing. The iPad not only allows for quicker and more accurate page-turning with the flick of a finger, but there is also a Bluetooth foot-pedal that allows for hand-less page-turning. They are already in regular use by some performers, says Collins. “In one of the groups I’m involved with, four musicians play off their iPads.” On 10 September 2011, violinist Giora Schmidt gave the premiere performance of an arrangement – taking thirty-five pages – of Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor at Bennett Gordon Hall, Chicago, reading the music entirely off of an iPad, and turning the pages using the foot-pedal.
However, the classical music field is a little behind in terms of technology, says Royal. Classical music audiences are usually older and more conservative, and the field is slow to innovate. “There’s a sort of luddite view towards technology.” Yet, said Collins, the change is inevitable. “In about ten to fifteen years, I expect iPads to be in wide use.” That’s not the end of its applications in classical music, either, said Royal. Some performances are already incorporating the iPad’s visual and touch-screen abilities to provide audiences with a more interactive experience.
And according to Richards, the iPad is here to stay. “I’ve got my reservations, but this is definitely the trend. This technology will augment and alter classical music.”