Archive for the ‘choral’ Category

Bright lights reflecting off of an iPad screen. Credit: CNET

Today I attended a choral concert where my companion and I noticed something rather mysterious.  There were these big rectangular reflections on the acoustic shell behind the chorus.  And the reflections would move around in a strange and distracting way.

The reflections seemed too odd and random to be an intentional production element with the lighting.  And I couldn’t see anything on the set pieces or in the stage lighting that would cause reflections or lights like that.

Could it be caused by something in the singers’ attire?  There was nothing in the concert uniforms that would provide an obvious explanation.  Watches or other jewelry, perhaps?  The reflections were rectangular and big, and even the sopranos I know don’t wear jewelry THAT big.  😉

The mystery was solved when my companion pointed out that the reflections disappeared when the singers put down their choir folders and then reappeared when they raised them again.  We deduced that it must be the reflections from the screens of the singers who were using iPads or tablets – of which there were several.  The stage lights were very bright, making the reflections fairly prominent.

Unlike onstage iPad face-glow, I don’t know a good fix for this offhand.  You can get matte anti-glare films for your tablet screen (here’s the one I use) and they certainly help with readability of the screen under stage lights, but I don’t know if they help with this kind of reflection.  But it’s just something to be aware of and to try to avoid – an unexpected side-effect of tablet use onstage, that could add an unintended distraction to your ensemble’s presentation.

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Sweet MIDI Player is a must-have app for any musician who uses MIDI practice tracks.  It lets you play MIDI files, change their tempo or key, and mute or adjust volume for individual parts (channels) within the MIDI file.

This blog post is about the iPad version of Sweet MIDI Player, but the app is also available for iPhone, Mac, and PC.

There’s a free trial version of Sweet MIDI Player for iOS which lets you try out all of the features, but only plays the first 75% of your MIDI file.  From there, you can purchase an in-app upgrade to the full version.  It’s a worthwhile purchase if you use MIDI practice tracks frequently.

Here’s an overview of the controls for MIDI playback, transposition, and tempo (tap “Mixer” button at the bottom to display this view):

Sweet MIDI Player

The transposition control (+/-24 semitones):

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The tempo control:

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The instrument selection menu:

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Note: If you change the key, tempo, or other settings, Sweet MIDI Player will prompt you and ask if you wish to save the changes.  If you choose “Yes”, it will overwrite your MIDI file with your changes – so if you care about having the original MIDI file, be sure to make a backup copy of it before you use it in Sweet MIDI Player!

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The “Files” view (tap “Files” button at the bottom) displays your library of MIDI files.  When you install the app, it comes with a few sample MIDI files to try out.  (More on how to import your own MIDI files later in this post.)

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You can create your own playlists:

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Here are screenshots of the app settings.  Click any image for a full-size view:

The app also has a help page, accessible from the “Help” button on the lower left.

Sweet MIDI Player also supports background audio, which means that you can start playing a file, switch over to a different app (for example, a PDF score viewing app like forScore), and the the MIDI file will continue to play while you are viewing the score in the other app.

Importing MIDI files into Sweet MIDI Player

There are several methods for importing your MIDI files into Sweet MIDI Player:

  1. Web browser
  2. Dropbox app
  3. Email
  4. iTunes

1. Importing MIDI files using the web browser

Open Safari on your iPad and navigate to a website with links to MIDI files, for example this one.  Tap on the MIDI file download link.  You should be taken to a page like the following.  Tap the “Open In…” button:

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Then tap the “Sweet MIDI” button:

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Once you’re back in the Sweet MIDI Player app, you should see your new file in the “Files” view.

2. Importing MIDI files using the Dropbox app

As of this writing, the Sweet MIDI Player app does not have direct integration with Dropbox, but you can still use the Dropbox app to import MIDI files from your Dropbox account.

On your iPad, open the Dropbox app, navigate to your MIDI file, and tap on it.  It will download and then you’ll see a “Unable to view file” message, but don’t worry.  Tap the “Open in…” icon in the top right, then tap the “Sweet MIDI” button:

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Once you’re back in the Sweet MIDI Player app, you should see your new file in the “Files” view.

3. Importing MIDI files from email

On your iPad, open the email message containing the MIDI file(s).  Tap-and-hold on the MIDI file icon and you will get the screen below.  Tap the “Open in…” button:

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Then tap the “Sweet MIDI” button:

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Once you’re back in the Sweet MIDI Player app, you should see your new file in the “Files” view.

4. Importing MIDI files using iTunes

The help page for the app provides instructions on how to import MIDI files using iTunes.  Personally, I find this method a bit of a hassle, unless I need to import a large number of MIDI files at one time.

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Alternative App: Learn My Part

There’s another app similar to Sweet MIDI Player called Learn My Part.  It’s specifically geared towards choral singers and also has the ability to repeat one section of a MIDI file and to import and view PDF scores.  However, I still prefer Sweet MIDI Player because I find the controls easier to use and I like having the ability to transpose.

What about MP3 accompaniment/practice tracks?

Sweet MIDI Player doesn’t support MP3 files, but there are other apps such as Amazing Slow Downer, Riffmaster Pro, Anytune, Tempo SloMo, and AudioStretch that play MP3 files and allow you to adjust tempo and/or pitch independently.  I plan to cover some of them in future blog posts.

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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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I was inspired to compile a list of streaming internet radio stations that are of interest to classical singers, after reading a thread on this topic on Facebook some weeks back.  You can listen to these audio streams on your computer using your web browser; on mobile devices, you can use an app like TuneIn to access most (not all) of these audio streams.  For some channels, e.g. Operavore, the player on their website provides more real-time information about the work, performers, and composer than you get through an app like TuneIn.  Other channels do display that information within the TuneIn interface.

If you have suggestions for streaming audio channels that belong in this list, let me know in the comments section.

VivaLaVoce (WETA, Washington DC)

Description from their website: “VivaLaVoce presents classical vocal music in all its forms, from the Middle Ages to the present, 24 hours per day. Featuring Opera, Choral Music, and Art Song, the station offers something for everyone who loves vocal classical music.”

Operavore (WQXR, New York City)

Click on the “Operavore” tab at the top of their website to listen to the streaming audio.  Description from their website: “Operavore is WQXR’s digital 24/7 audio stream, blog and weekly radio show devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns, Marion Lignana Rosenberg and Amanda Angel. The stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings. The show, which launches Jan. 19, 2013, features opera news bulletins from the around the globe, previews of new recordings, and interviews with the players and personalities on the scene.”

MPR Choral Stream (Minnesota Public Radio)

Listen from your web browser, TuneIn, or the MPR Radio App for iPhone.  Description from their website: “We’ve created our 24/7 choral stream for one reason: we love this music. We want to share our favorites and some beautiful surprises with you. What’ll you hear? A big range from Palestrina to Pärt, spirituals to Schubert, and new work by Whitacre, Lauridsen, Paulus, and more wonderful contemporaries. You’ll discover great professional choirs, college choirs, amateur choirs, church choirs… anytime you want!”

radio_opera_logo Rádio Ópera (São Paulo, Brazil)

Description from their website: “Full-length operas 24 hours a day.”

King FM Opera Channel (Seattle, WA)

Description from their website: “All Opera, all the time – only a mouseclick away! Featuring operas 24/7, hosted by Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins.”

King FM Choral Music Channel (Seattle, WA)

Description from their website: “Choral Channel in partnership with Chorus America”

NDR Kultur – Belcanto (NDR, Hamburg, Germany)

Listen to this stream at ndrkulturbelcanto.rad.io.  Description from their website: “NDR Kultur presents the most famous arias from the world of Italian opera. The stars of the international opera stage for an hour draw the listener into the realm of dreams and the ‘dolce vita’.”

http://www.swissradio.ch/menu/discography/klassik/opern/index.htm Swissradio.ch Opera (Switzerland)

Description from their website: “Opera and Operetta: Enjoy with swissradio Opera legendary and rare opera recordings in full length.”

GotRadio – Classical Voices

Description from their website: “Opera and choral music”

ottos_opera_house_logo 1.FM – Otto’s Opera House

Description from their website: “Listen to over 1000 complete and uninterrupted operas from the baroque era to modern days [sic] performances. You will be dazzled by the greatest singers and composers. A great collection of operatic music!”

rd_opera Diveky Radio – Opera (Budapest, Hungary)

Description from their website: “The premier opera recordings from Hungary and around the world”

rd_operetta Diveky Radio – Operetta (Budapest, Hungary)

Description from their website: “Famous operettas from Budapest and Vienna, augmented by well known French and English works”

Radio Caprice (Russia)

Their channels include OperaMass/Chorus/Cantata, and even a station devoted to popera, if that’s your cup of tea.  The TuneIn app was the most straightforward way for me to listen to these channels, since the web page required browser plug-ins that I was unsuccessful in installing.  If you do use the TuneIn app, you’ll need to search on the exact title of the channel in order to find it, due to the large number of Radio Caprice channels, so search for “Radio Caprice Opera” or “Radio Caprice Mass/Chorus/Cantata”.  Speaking of which, the Radio Caprice website lists a huge number of musical genres for which they have channels, 2/3rds of which I have no idea what they are (what is “funeral doom metal”?).

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Credit: apartmenttherapy.com

A little public service announcement…  Last night I was in the audience of a concert performed by the choir that I’m usually singing in.  Being the denizens of Silicon Valley that we are, there is a significant adoption rate of iPads/tablets for reading music in our choir, over 20%.  We generally perform on-book, and from the house, I could see that several singers had iPad face-glow that was bright enough to be seen from the audience.  It was especially noticeable with singers who wear glasses (because of the bright iPad screen reflecting off of their glasses toward the audience) and those who were standing in poorly-lit areas of the stage.  Personally, it did not bother me so much as an audience member because I’m primarily concerned with how a chorus sounds more than how they look, and–let’s face it–as someone who calls Silicon Valley home, I am quite used to seeing the ghostly glow of a electronic display on everyone’s face, all the time 😉  However, if this aspect of your ensemble’s visual presentation concerns you, do make sure that the tablet users in your group 1) turn down the brightness as much as is comfortable for them, 2) not hold the tablet too close to their face (cause you’re not buried in your music during the performance…right?  Right?) and 3) stick to well-lit areas of the stage if possible.

[UPDATE 5/20/13: Hugh S. and Ellen R. wrote in and reminded me of a fourth tip, which is to reverse the colors of your iPad so you have white print on a black background.  Some music reader apps like OnSong and MobileSheets have this as an app setting (as do many eBook reader apps, incidentally) but for apps like forScore that don’t, you can use the global iPad setting at Settings > General > Accessibility > Vision > White on Black (On) to reverse the display for all apps.

Also, as another musician mentioned to me, there are other performance scenarios where we need to be conscious of the light from our electronic devices and its potential for distraction/disruption – for example, using a tablet while playing in the orchestra for a stage production where there is a blackout at the end of the act.]

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Flemish Radio Choir / Credit: Bram Goots

Flemish Radio Choir / Credit: Bram Goots

Here is a new addition to my Pinterest pinboard about Sheet Music on iPads and Tablets.  The Flemish Radio Choir adopted tablet-based sheet music to rehearse and perform their recent concert, titled “Digital Poem”.  They have Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablets running Android and the neoScores sheet music reader platform.  Here is their news release:

Flemish Radio Choir replaces sheet music by tablet

The news release begins as follows:

The Flemish Radio Choir took a further step in the digitization process launched in November by the Brussels Philharmonic, neoScores and Samsung. For the first time, the entire production trajectory of a musical score will be carried out digitally: from the delivery of the music for practising at home and rehearsals through the concerts to archiving after the end of the performance.

The conductor, Nicolas André, comments:

I am pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to use the digital scores. The work by Dufay leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and thus evolves in the course of the rehearsals. Thanks to the tablets and the neoScores software, I can mark up the score quickly and easily, and can pass these on immediately to all choir members, who in turn can immediately access the updated version.

Here is a two-minute video (in Dutch and French) from tvbrussel showing the Flemish Radio Choir using the tablets in rehearsal. At 1:19 one of the singers demonstrates annotation on the tablet.

Vlaams Radio Koor goes digital (2:06)

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And here is a screen capture of a print article (in Dutch) about it (click for larger version):

Credit: Het Belang Van Limburg / neoScores

Credit: Het Belang Van Limburg / neoScores

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