Archive for the ‘listening’ Category

Credit: Exploratorium

Credit: Exploratorium

Opera singers get a brief mention in one of the online exhibits of the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco.

Now, it IS a really brief mention.  And the scientific explanation is somewhat (over?-)simplified.  But I guess you could use it to explain opera singer anatomy and acoustics to your kid!

At any rate, I think it’s cool to see opera singers highlighted in a science museum exhibit in any way, shape, or form!

And dude, I think I know that guy in the picture (and yes, he is in the biz…)

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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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This is for you opera/theatrical types out there.  After being in an acting class this summer, I was curious if iTunes U had any courses on related topics. I discovered that the National Theatre has a collection of video clips on iTunes U on every aspect of theatre, including:

Also, I found these other iTunes U courses and podcasts:

Remember, even if you’re not an Apple user, you can still access iTunes U content for free on a PC or Android device.

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open_university

I just stumbled onto a free online course, Schubert’s Lieder: Settings of Goethe’s Poems.  It’s offered by OpenLearn, a website that hosts free online courses offered by The Open University.  I haven’t delved into the course yet, but it could be useful – here’s the course description:

Schubert’s Lieder: Settings of Goethe’s Poems

This unit looks at the short poems in German that were set to music by Franz Schubert (1797–1828) for a single voice with piano, a genre known as ‘Lieder’ (the German for ‘songs’). Once they became widely known, Schubert’s Lieder influenced generations of songwriters up to the present day.This unit then discusses a selection of Schubert’s settings of Goethe’s poems, and recordings of all of them are provided. You can find the poems, in German with parallel translations into English and the music scores of four of the song settings, on the unit home page. You are not expected to be able to read the music, but even if you are not very familiar with musical notation, you may well find the scores useful in identifying what is happening in the songs.

By the end of your work on this unit you should:

  • have learned about Schubert’s place as a composer in early nineteenth-century Vienna;
  • have learned about the place of Schubert in the history of German song and the development of Romanticism;
  • be able to follow the words of songs by Schubert while listening to a recording, using parallel German and English texts;
  • be able to comment on the relationship between words and music in Schubert’s song settings.

The course was created by Dr. Robert Philip.

Description of OpenLearn (from their website):

OpenLearn gives you free access to learning materials from The Open University.

We launched OpenLearn back in October 2006 thanks to a grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Our shared vision was free online education, open to anyone, anywhere in the world. OpenLearn is the result and we have since reached over 23 million people.

In the first two years, OpenLearn grew to include over 8000 study hours of learning materials from Open University courses. The website continues to grow with new course materials being published regularly in our OpenLearn ‘Try’ section.

Description of The Open University (from their website):

The Open University is a world leader in modern distance learning, the pioneer of teaching and learning methods which enable people to achieve their career and life goals studying at times and in places to suit them.

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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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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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One annoyance I’ve had with the iPad is that normally there isn’t a way to simultaneously listen to YouTube recordings in the background while using other apps.  If you try to switch to another app while the YouTube video is playing, the audio will stop.  I ran into this situation a couple of time recently: once when I wanted to listen to a Le nozze di Figaro YouTube clip while viewing the Bärereiter score on the excellent Neue Mozart-Ausgabe website, and another time when I wanted to listen to a bunch of Wolf lieder on YouTube while reading their texts and translations on The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive (also an excellent site) and consulting a song literature reference book that I digitized and put on my iPad.

I did some Googling and discovered a few ways around this limitation.  It may depend on what version of iPad and/or iOS you have.  As of this writing, I have an iPad 3 running iOS 5.1.1 (because I’m jailbroken, and like a fool, I neglected to upgrade to the latest jailbroken iOS 6 version (6.1.2) before the window closed).  Here are some ways to get around the YouTube hurdle:

Jasmine app, which is an alternative viewer for YouTube and currently available on iOS 6+ only.  I’ve heard that it’s supposed to support background audio – but I’ve also seen app reviews suggesting that this capability might have gone away in the iOS 6 version (possibly due to limitations in iOS 6).  At any rate, if it doesn’t work, you won’t lose, because the app is free and I’ve also heard several users sing its praises as a great alternative to YouTube’s native app/website.

Play Tube app, which is another alternative viewer for YouTube.  This is what I use, since it also supports iOS 5.  The background audio definitely works for me.  I fire up the video in Play Tube, and once it’s done buffering and actually starts playing, I can switch over to my other apps like forScore, Safari, or iBooks in order to view scores, libretti, and other reference materials while listening to the recording on YouTube.  You can also create locally-stored playlists within the app and have those play in the background.  I think there is also a way within the app to log in to your YouTube account and create/manage/play the playlists in your account, but I haven’t tried that yet, so I can’t confirm.  Sometimes there is a little hiccup in the audio the first time I switch from Play Tube to a different app while the video is playing, but it’s not too big a deal.

There’s also a method for playing background audio from YouTube that’s documented in a number of places on the web and doesn’t require installing a new app:

  1. Open Safari and navigate to the YouTube website.
  2. Find the video and start playing it.
  3. Double-click the Home button on your iPad to bring up the recent apps bar. The audio will stop.
  4. Switch to the other app you want to use.
  5. Double-click the Home button again on your iPad to bring up the recent apps bar.
  6. Swipe left to right on the recent apps bar until the music controls appear.
  7. Press the play button. The audio will resume and you can now use the other app while the audio plays in the background.

Frankly I don’t like this method as much because it requires more tapping and swiping than just using an alternative YouTube viewer app.  Also, you have to go back to the music controls and press the fast-forward button to advance to the next track in a playlist.  But it’s useful as a backup method if for some reason you can’t use an alternative YouTube viewer app.