I have been learning to play for rehearsals and performances of Puccini’s Tosca. It is a great work in every way. Wonderful music, rich sumptuous score, tragic story and……. long. It has been a fun challenge to learn it all and be ready for rehearsals. However, the further along I have gone the more irritated I have become. Nothing to do with the music Puccini wrote, or the difficulty of playing, but simply negotiating the physical score itself. It is a mighty 310 pages! Even though I keep folding back the pages, bending the spine, it keeps closing. Not only that, a fair few of the pages are impossible to turn as my hands are busy at the keyboard. I can ‘cheat’ a little, missing out a few notes here and there and redistribute notes into the other hand, but sometimes you just can’t. Well, get a page turner I hear you cry! Sadly this is not practical for every rehearsal.
Surely there must be another way. With the onward march of technology I am sure it won’t be long before we won’t be needing the physical page for anything. Writing this sends an immediate feeling of a kind of nostalgic loss for the printed score and for books in general. I have to declare here that I do have 100’s of books and many more 100’s of books of printed music. However, I do enjoy my Kindle but somehow feel that it is somehow not quite the same as having an actual book.
There is also something quite satisfactory about photocopying the occasional page and sticking it in the music to help that tricky page turn. Or that hand written line of music scribbled on manuscript paper stuck in for the same reason. It is also often comforting to walk onto a concert platform with the page turner at your side who will assist with all those page turns. I can of course remember concerts where the photocopy fell to the floor, or realising that the hand written extract is not quite as legible as one might have hoped or that the page turner has got lost or turns 2 pages. Oh for a device that will eliminate all this stress so that we can concentrate on the music.
I am sure that such a thing exists already. I have seen concerts here in London where the pianist had an electronic tablet of some kind and it seemed to magically have all the music available to the pianist. How the pages turned, I do not know. This sort of device I am sure will be useful for chamber and orchestral musicians. Soloists tend to perform from memory, even so one has to start somewhere and that usually means with the printed score, with pages that need turning, so even for them an electronic device could also be useful.
My initial reservations are boring practicalities. Plastic screens reflect light whether it be daylight in your practice room or lights on the concert platform. This glare could be a nuisance and a difficulty not found with printed music. All the musicians I know write on their music. Pencil markings on paper are quick, easy and distinctive, making them memorable and thus helpful. Even very fast operating systems are not that efficient. My last practical reservation is about the size of the screen. A more or less regular size for the printed score is roughly A4, however all the tablets I know are smaller.
Having started this article I have had a little look to see what is available. Here’s a list of names for you to investigate. MusicPlayAlong.com. ForScore.co. PageFlip.com. And Tonara.com. They all do slightly different things. For the purpose of this blog the Tonara at first glance seems the most useable.
The auto page turn seems to work well on Tonara which is great. There is a good selection of music for sale and their editions seem to be pretty good, easy to read and not expensive. An advantage over books here is that it is possible to buy individual pieces rather than have to buy a whole volume of works. How about writing on the score? They seem to have this covered with a fairly easy system which allows a simple drag and drop of a wide variety of symbols. It is also possible to record your own performance through the iPad. This is really useful because recording oneself is a superb way of improving, there is nowhere to hide!
This is all very exciting and requires much more investigation, time and thought than I have given so far. Would I use such a system? Well, I have to admit to being a little tempted to try it out. However the colour and quality of the paper, the ink and the physical book that can be held are still very much part of the enjoyment for me. So, in my household the printed score is safe for now. So, back to Tosca and all those pages……