As the St. Lawrence String Quartet, JACK Quartet and double bassist Doug Balliett readied themselves to perform a stirring rendition of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio” at a Monday afternoon Spoleto Festival chamber music series performance, some in the audience perhaps noted that Barber’s notes weren’t displayed on sheet music but, rather, tablet computers.
It’s part of a trend. More and more classical musicians are giving up their accordion-folded music in exchange for that stolid electronic device that need not be touched during a performance.
No more worries about wind or awkward reaches to turn a page. All it takes is the tap of a toe. Players don’t miss a beat.
St. Lawrence String Quartet violinist Owen Dalby only uses an iPad these days. He started using digital scores when Apple released its first tablet in 2010.
“It was the first piece of technology that you could put on a music stand and just trust that it would hold all your scores,” Dalby said. “I travel a lot with the St. Lawrence Quartet, and so we have maybe 20 or 25 different pieces in our repertoire that are going at any one time. Just the amount of paper to be lugging along on the road was getting a little tiresome.”
Dalby uses a PageFlip Firefly Bluetooth pedal to turn the pages. For him, using the technology required an adjustment period that included a scary moment while performing with the Mark Morris Dance Group.
“Before I got this pedal, I had another one that didn't have these lights on it,” Dalby said. “So, it was a pit situation, and I misfired; couldn't see the pedal, so I turned the wrong page, and basically just improvised until I found myself again — but that was like trial by fire. I think I lost like 10 years off my life that night out of stress.”
Aya Yamamoto is a pianist playing for the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra; in programs such as “Tree of Codes” and “You Are Mine Own.” She uses an iPad, too, but also a paper score for the Music In Time concert “An Elemental Thing.”
“You kind of had to do a little cut and paste, a little craftwork because there are too many page turns, and there's a repeat,” Yamamoto said when describing working with the paper score. “And it basically had to be laid out in a way that I could only do it on paper.”
So sometimes technology doesn’t advance the human condition.
This type of craft work with paper often is demanded by new music, Yamamoto said.
“Composers are coming up with new layouts that are necessary for their piece or their work, that you can't put on a … traditional-sized piece of paper,” she said. “There are a lot of oversized scores, and sometimes people need to cut and paste on cardboard and things like that.”
Ben Roidl-Ward is a bassoonist playing for the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra; he’s using an iPad in the program “Tree of Codes” but sheet music in “You are Mine Own” and the “Mozart and Mahler” concert.
For Roidl-Ward, using an iPad is easier for musicians and better for the environment.
“There's a huge amount of wasted paper that goes into putting together any set of orchestra parts and chamber parts,” he said. “So that's something that I think is a positive about it — to reduce that usage.”
As for the future of music scores, Dalby believes it belongs to the portable tablet rather than printed, folded, taped, cut-to-pieces piles of sheet music.
“In 10 years, you’re going to see very few of those,” Dalby said. “Maybe just in libraries.”
Aaron Halls is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.