Archive for August, 2013

There was a discussion thread on ChoralNet earlier this summer where choral conductors shared some experiences and tips for conducting from an iPad.  Here’s the link: Using an iPad for conducting

This comment was posted by Kristina Butler Houston:

I just conducted my first concert from my iPad. I also used ForScore and imported my music either by using my scanner or, for arrangements I had done myself, printing to a PDF file from Finale.

Ken Ahlberg had a couple of posts that caught my eye:

I have spent the past year using my iPad exclusively for both rehearsal and performances and it has changed my life.

I use ForScore as the app to read the music, but when I paired them with the AirTurn foot pedal when at the piano, and the Jot stylus I am able to run rehearsals with a fluidity and ease that was just a dream a year ago.  My previous habit of using only pencil to mark my music so changes can be erased has been replaced with the option to write in the score in a multitued of colors, as will as a choice of thickness and darkness.  The ability to type directly on the score in a varity of fonts, colors and sizes was an unexpected benefit.  Having limitless highlight choices is extremely handy as well.

The option I was surprised to find but which I have come to use often is the “White Out” feature.  When combined with ForScore’s rearrange feature, it is possible to see all of the music that is to be performed start to finish in one continuous path without the need to jump and skip over or back to sections. I was stunned when I realized how much brainpower I use in just keeping on track, especially when leading a piece filled with repeats, del Signe and Coda sections.  I can now hear so much more of my chorus’ singing when my music is a “stretched out” before me.

Little things like the built in pitch pipe, piano keyboard and the metronome are so very handy.  Just last night, I had the lead of our production come to me asking for help during a break, and I was able to show her the part in question, pull up the piano keyboard and help put her mind at ease all while the cast was making noise as if they were at a cocktail party.  There was so need to climb into the orchestra pit to get to the piano.

There is a learning curve to feel comfortable using the iPad, but very quickly I came to realize that I would never go back to a backpack filled with paper scores, and pitchpipes, and metronomes, and colored pencils, and highlighters, and white out again.

I have been pondering the apparent distrust of the use of the tablet by some, and its seeming purpose to cheat composers out of their livelihood.  I, for one, am anxious for more composers to recognize this is a tool we will continue to use and provide ways for us to simply put the music on our tablets.  [Composer] Michael McGlynn has devised a simple yet effective way to get his music in our hands while maintaining control over the number of legal copies distributed.  I am truly unwilling to check out any unfamiliar composers who resist this way of doing things when there are so many excellent composers who are embracing the multitudes who have made the switch.

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Well, the ink is hardly dry on my previous blog post, Web search tips for thematic programming of a concert/recital, and now fellow techie singer Katia H. has created a search tool that searches all of the websites mentioned in my post, in one fell swoop!  It’s over at classicalsongsearch.com.  It’s still in alpha so there still might be some kinks to work out, but give it a whirl and let Katia know if you have any problems or suggestions!

Grazie mille, Katia!

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So one of the things that’s been sucking away at my time for blog-writing these last couple months is that I’ve been organizing and programming a benefit concert.  While hunting for pieces related to the concert themes, it occurred to me to share some of the Google-fu that I use for finding music.  I’m sure these tips are old hat to some of you tech-savvy singers, but others might find them useful.

So, one of my objectives was to find vocal solo or small ensemble pieces from the opera, art song, musical theater, or popular genres on the theme of “gold” or “golden”, since the concert benefits an organization celebrating its golden anniversary season.  I did this by using keyword searches on the following websites:

Several of these sites contain texts in various translations, so I made sure to search for translated versions of my keywords, too.  E.g., in addition to searching for “gold” I would also search for terms “oro”, “d’or”, etc.  (It had to be “d’or” for French since “or” would yield too many search results in English texts!)  Translating the search terms is less necessary for some of the sites, like The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive and  Aria Database because they have English translations of many texts, so my keyword search for “gold” will still yield songs in other languages.  Other sites like Opernführer might only have the libretto in the original language or in German, for example, so translating the search keywords is a definite help there.

As for search engines – some of the sites above have a very good site search feature, e.g. The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive and AllMusicals.com, so you can just go directly to their website and enter the keywords into the search form there.  But sometimes a website doesn’t have a site search feature (e.g. OperaGlass), the site search feature is too specialized for a general text search (Aria Database), or the site search does not return results of sufficient quantity or quality.  In this case, you can do a Google search with the following syntax in order to narrow your search results to a particular site – just include “site:” followed by the domain name of the website to search, with no space in-between:

gold site:opera.stanford.edu

google_search_syntax_example

Once I found song texts that fit my programming theme, I was able to track down scores for songs through online sheet music sellers, IMSLP, CPDL, or by using WorldCat to find scores in libraries local to me.

8/26/13 UPDATE 1: Fellow techie singer Katia H. has created a search tool that searches all of the websites mentioned above, in one fell swoop!  It’s over at classicalsongsearch.com – check it out!

8/26/13 UPDATE 2: Glendower Jones contributed this very useful info in the comments for this post:

This is great advice. Many folks may not know of the many massive reference books on vocal repertoire that were written by Sergius Kagen, Noni Espina, Michael Pilkington, Judith Carman, Graham Johnson, Shirley Emmons and Carol Kimball. A very useful reference is Pazdirek, the BBC Song Catalogue and Classical Vocal Music in Print and of course Groves and MGG. I don’t know, but possibly some of these books may now be on Google books.

These are some of the major references but still only a drop in the bucket. Pazdirek, Universal-Handbuch der Musikliteratur was produced in Vienna from 1904-1910 and contained the compilation of practically every music publisher active at the time. This was reprinted in 1967 in the Netherlands and is now free online. Few musicians know of this amazing work. http://archive.org/details/universalhandboo01pazd

Also, in a Facebook comment, Nicholas Perna adds:

As a shameless plug, I can also recommend readers search for Britten’s entire output using The Comprehensive Britten Song Database! www.brittensongdatabase.com

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I’ve gotten on the Spotify wagon during the last few months.  People have been telling me about it (e.g. here’s an earlier blog post about one musician who uses it for audition prep).  But I was resistant to installing yet another desktop app and creating yet another online account, and I was also unclear whether it was free or paid.  But recently I’ve been looking for pieces to program for a concert, and I got sick of wading through so many low-quality recordings and performances on YouTube.  (To be sure, there is a lot of excellent stuff on YouTube, but for some kinds of music you can waste a lot of time sorting through poor recordings and coming up empty-handed.)  So I finally checked out Spotify and discovered that their free desktop offering is actually quite compelling – you can access tons of high-quality professional recordings of classical and other music and play songs on-demand.  They also have a paid service for $5-10/month with more features and no ads.

Using Spotify on a mobile device is a little different.  Unlike the desktop app, the Spotify mobile app limits you to Spotify Radio if you have a free account, and you need a paid premium account to select and play songs on-demand through the app.  However, I’m going to show you a method for accessing Spotify on-demand music streaming for free on your iPad.  (This might work for iPhones and Android devices too, I haven’t tried it out.)

First, visit the Spotify website and sign up for a free account.

Then download and install the Photon Browser app from the App Store.  (Ok, this part isn’t free – right now the app runs about $5.)  Open it and tap on the gear icon near the top right to access the browser settings:

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Under “Flash Advanced”, choose a value for the “Bandwidth” setting.  Use a higher value if you have a higher bandwidth connection, and a lower value for lower bandwidth.  If you have video playback problems in Photon Browser, try decreasing the “Bandwidth” setting.  I’ve been using 4 and it works ok for me.  Then scroll down in the browser settings window and find the “User Agent” button:

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Tap the “User Agent” button, select “Chrome”, and tap “Done”:

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Then navigate to https://play.spotify.com in the browser window:

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Click on the login link (at the bottom of the white box) and sign in.  You will be taken to the main Spotify screen, but you’ll get an error message that says “To enjoy Spotify, please install Adobe Flash. It’s free.”  Don’t worry – that’s why we’re using Photon Browser.  Click on the lightning icon near the top right to initiate a Flash browsing session:

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The main Spotify screen will reload without the error message and you will be able to access your playlists and search for songs and play them.  All for free – no premium subscription required.

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Using Spotify through Photon Browser does have its quirks.  For example, I sometimes have to tap rapidly and repeatedly on a song name in order to get it to start playing.  If this happens to you, just be persistent and keep tapping:

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Also, the main Spotify screen may be easier to view on your iPad in full-screen + landscape mode.  Tap the expander icon near the top right to enter full-screen mode:

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And here’s how the main Spotify screen looks in landscape mode on the iPad:

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A couple more tips:

  • Anytime Spotify give you a “Please install Adobe Flash” error message, just tap on the lightning icon.
  • In Photon Browser, if you ever get a strange website that doesn’t look like Spotify or any other website you’re attempting to visit, just quit and restart Photon Browser and the flash browsing session.  This happened to me once.

There are still some pretty good reasons to spring for Spotify Premium service on your mobile device, if you prefer:

  • Offline listening – you can download music on-demand and listen to it when you’re offline
  • Much easier to use Spotify mobile app interface than Spotify through Photon Browser
  • With the mobile app, you can listen to Spotify while using other apps (like your score-reading app, e.g. forScore).  I haven’t found any way to do so while using Spotify through Photon Browser – not even this trick works.  (However, Photon Browser does have an interesting split-screen browser feature, which makes me wonder if I could use Spotify in one browser pane while viewing a score in the other browser pane.)
  • Higher-quality audio option
  • No ads

But if you can live with the browser quirks and don’t mind being online in order to play Spotify music on-demand on your mobile device, this is a very useful, convenient, and no-cost way of doing so.

Photon Browser is available for both iOS and Android.  If you try this method out on your iPhone or Android device, let me know how it turns out.

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