I came across an article by composer and conductor Reginald Unterseher titled “Enhanced Music Scores: more than notes on paper could ever be…looking back on the ‘00’s from the near future.” Written in January 2010, it’s a future history of sorts that describes the transition to digital scores, and, well, digital everything. Some of it is already coming true:
My singers use digital displays rather than paper. The displays are very light, lighter than some of the paper scores they used to hold when we did large works with orchestra, surprisingly thin, and easy to hold for a whole concert.
Some of it sounds technologically feasible but I’m not sure I like it. In this scenario, I’m not so keen on the idea of a conductor remote-controlling my score:
I tell the singers “let’s start here,” touch the spot where I want us to begin, and all their scores go to that place. It flashes a couple of times so they can see exactly where it is. I touched the 2nd soprano and baritone lines and the starting and end points, so they all know exactly which section we are doing. We work through that passage a few times, and it is still shaky, so I assign that spot to their personal rehearsal list. It will stay on that list until they check it off . I have an automatic record of what I assigned, and when they check it off, it appears that way on my list.
Some of it piques my skepticism but also my interest. Like this example, where “phoning it in” could actually be a good thing:
For this rehearsal, I was missing a couple singers due to illness and one due to a business trip. The sick ones were able to watch and listen to the rehearsal on the live webcast, log in to their scores via the internet, and partially participate in the rehearsal without infecting other singers. We missed their voices, and it was not as good as people actually singing together in the same physical space (which I think that nothing will ever replace), but they did not miss out nearly as much as they would have otherwise. The singer out on the business trip logged in later and got to see the podcast version of the rehearsal.
And a big point that he hammers home is…
The transition from paper to digital scores was challenging for publishers and music retailers. It required a new way of thinking about their role and what it is that they sell.
Unterseher has envisioned an interesting future that is not at all implausible from a technological standpoint; in many cases the individual tools already exist. As I see it, though, that future will not arrive without 1) funding, 2) a change in mindset within the musical culture as to how we performers approach score distribution and the rehearsal process, and 3) major upheaval in the music publishing industry, or at least some revolutionary changes.
Read Unterseher’s full article here.