I survived 2012. This is how it was!

The New Year means it's time to have a look back over the past year and see, through my blog posts, what has taken shape and what I have to say for myself! January started with a very well deserved "Shout-out to VaultPress" after they marvellously got my website back up and running after a meltdown!

3100508059_5c99a0f9e1_zFebruary is the start of the school term and I posted about the preparation work I do for schools.

My typing fingers must have been tired at the end of March - it started with two popular posts, iOS apps for music professionals and Digital music stands vs iPads, following on from, again, two very popular posts I did in 2010.

2012-05-15 APO Open Days 236

Following that were four posts on current projects - "Working on workshops" looked at some teaching workshops I was involved with, "An opportunity to make the floor rumble" talked about my upcoming new work for the Auckland Philharmonia and the Auckland Town Hall Organ. I conducted at the Bay Of Plenty Music School once again and my post, "Bay Of Plenty music school hit Rotorua!", pre-empted my visit there, and finally "Opening up an orchestra" reviewed the first two Auckland Philharmonia Open Days were I ran the "meet the composer" area.

In April I reviewed my time at the Bay Of Plenty Music School in "Making music in Rotorua" and posted photos in "Checking out the pipes" after an inspiring tour of the Auckland Town Hall Organ.

My Confession image May is music month and "A month of New Zealand music" checked out the events me or my music was involved with. It's also 48 Hour Film Festival time and our film this year was "My Confession…".

In June I talked about my involvement with Auckland Symphony's "Night Of The Proms" concerts in "Promenading in the colony" and I posted "Questions for a composer" after answering questions for a student's school assignment.

In July I posted my one word review of each piece from the "Nelson Composers Workshop 2012" where I was very happy to go this year as a mentor.

APO "Tiraki" workshopAugust is KBB Music Festival time and I also posted on the ongoing saga regarding the future of Sibelius in "What the heck is happening with Sibelius!". My piece, Tiraki, started to take shape after another workshop with the Auckland Philharmonia.

September was rather dormant on the blog front but in October I reviewed “What Lurks Among Saints” after being invited by a student I met earlier in the year.

The-Hobbit1In November I had the privilege of "Playing my role in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", and I posted about the experience.

December was busy with a number of projects. In "Little pieces of Christmas" I talked about a bunch of Christmas arrangements I did for the Auckland Philharmonia and Auckland Symphony orchestras. I also talked about a film I was involved with, called "Sounds Perfect" and its selection into the Tropfest final in “Sounds Perfect” to be in a final". I then prepared music for some very fine New Zealand singers and talked about it in "Preparing for some legends!".

christmas-musicFinally, no year is complete without a "Merry Christmas" post thanking you for all of your support during the year and the compliments of the season.

Another year ticked off the list, another year doing my absolute dream job - let's get ready for an even better 2013!

What the heck is happening with Sibelius!

Sibelius 7Back on the 3rd of July, while at the Nelson Composers Workshop, I followed the breaking news that Avid was closing the London Sibelius office. This meant the likes of the legendary Daniel Spreadbury, one of Sibelius' greatest assets, would lose their jobs. Initially, some jumped to the worst conclusions, but Avid was quick to confirm that "the Sibelius brand and product family remains with Avid" via their official statement. But the fact that the people that make Sibelius what it is are losing their jobs was terrible. These are the people that have developed Sibelius through the years, have heard all of our recommendations and frustrations and are a key part of the Sibelius community. So the feeling was for Avid to sell Sibelius back to the founders and the users, like it was before they purchased it in August 2006. The Sibelius founders, Ben and Jonathan Finn, posted on the Sibelius forum that they were:

“...very concerned to hear earlier this month that Avid is terminating the jobs of the Sibelius development team in London and handing the software over to other programmers, apparently to cut costs. As far as we know, Sibelius continues to be extremely successful, so this cost-cutting is a response to financial problems elsewhere in Avid, not with Sibelius itself.

Ever since then we have been quietly trying to do everything we can to change this situation, including twice offering to buy Sibelius back from Avid. However, Avid has declined. While they haven’t given a reason, we assume that Sibelius is a substantial source of profits to them, so they don’t want to sell it to anyone.

We naturally feel very sad about this treatment of our friends and colleagues who have been key to making Sibelius a success, and who have become the world experts in this specialized field. We are also very grateful to the many Sibelius users who have expressed their concern and support; though at this point, it seems unlikely that any protests will change Avid’s mind.”

So, Avid are not very popular. Even if they have good intentions to develop Sibelius further, it is hard to think that it is onwards and upwards with what will be a brand new group of developers. It, sadly, does seem likely they just want to keep hold of Sibelius, as it has proven to be a good money earner, but because of growing resentment towards them and poor development, it will probably die a slow death.

What can you do? Join the petition for Avid to sell Sibelius back to the Finn brothers. You also may like to:

iOS apps for music professionals

iOS (iPad and iPhone) apps. They are often enough to quite simply blow your socks off! There is one for pretty much anything, especially with music. In June and September 2010 I wrote two posts titled "iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps for the music professional" - be sure to check out those posts here and here. Eighteen months on I think we should see what apps have stood the test of time and what the new ones are on the block. As with the two posts from 2010, these are apps that (I hope) are genuinely useful to musicians, music teachers and other music professionals. Buckle yourself in, here we go!

RECORDING

FiRe 2 - the industry-leading field recorder was fantastic first time around, and now it is even better. It is not waiting for you to record your first album, but for basically everything else it has you sorted. It now has super easy editing tools, EQ, dynamic effects, dropbox integration and much more. I use it to record ideas, music lessons, workshops with performers, performances - a very fine app.

GarageBand - covers two bases. Firstly, you can record music either by playing on the device or recording from an external source, then even take it to GarageBand or Logic Pro to continue work if you wish. Secondly, you can perform on a variety of instruments (including strings now!) and even jam with your friends via bluetooth. Gone are the days when you would need an app for every instrument.

GENERAL TOOLS

Dr. Betotte TC - one of the few metronomes powered up for the music professional. Packed with features, including rhythmic divisions that have their own volume sliders, one click halftime feel, options for swing tempo, you can import your own audio samples and it can gradually step up and down. This is one of my absolute favourites.

Stay In Tune - is a wonderfully clean and versatile tuner - fantastic for all general tuning. It has a good range of instrument presets for noisy environments or unfamiliar instruments. I should also mention Cleartune which is incredibly precise - ideal for string or other orchestral instruments.

NumPad - if you only have a laptop or bluetooth keyboard, with this app you can add the keypad on to it. It took me a while to start using it, but it is actually really helpful. There are several keypad view options (to match your main keyboard) and there is no delay when in use. A lifesaver for those who usually use the keypad in Sibelius but then find themselves without it.

REFERENCE

Backline Calc - is a musical calculator and in my original post I said it was "perhaps the last app you would think about looking for, but once you have it you’ll realise how handy it is". Perhaps I use it more for fascination rather than actual need but a very clever and interesting app.

Oxford Dictionary of Music - this well respected resource is a very nice app, essential for those who regularly reference terms and definitions. You may also be interested in the Oxford Companion to Music.

Guitar Toolkit - a very popular app for guitarists with some great tools. I want to specifically mention its incredible library of chords, scales and arpeggios (and with alternate tunings) for not just the guitar but also the 7-string and 12-string guitar, 4-string, 5-string and 6-string bass, banjo, mandolin, and ukulele. For someone who is far from being a natural guitarist but who has one, plus a mandolin and ukelele, it's a very well used app.

TEACHING

Karajan® - a very helpful music and ear trainer from beginner to advanced levels. You can learn, practice and test intervals, chords, scales, pitch, tempo (bpm) and key signatures. Audio can be piano, guitar (nylon and steel string), bass and organ, so users can be in their comfort zone. Great for students developing their ear, and I am even partial to an exercise now and then!

Nota for iPhone (Nota for iPad) - where Karajan is for developing the ear, Nota is for developing the mind (theory, musical knowledge...). Explore notes, chords and scales on the piano or the extensive reference library covering articulation, accidentals, breaks, chords, clefs, dynamics, key signatures, lines, notes, note relationships, note durations and rests, repetition and codas and time signatures. I often set the quiz up for students if they are early for a lesson!

MSO Learn - many young musicians are curious about orchestras - what instruments play in them, how they work... MSO (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) Learn is a beautiful app which lets you explore the orchestra - the different instruments, where everybody sits and the specific music each section and instrument plays. For example, it plays a full orchestral piece and shows the full orchestra, click on the woodwind section and you'll get a layout of woodwind instruments and just they will continue playing, then click on a specific instrument and just hear that instrument and an explanation of it. Such a wonderful resource.

BONUS

Avid Scorch (iPad only) - no longer do you need to take huge amounts of music around with you, store and read it all on your iPad. Even transpose it or view the score or different parts if you wish. If you're interested in this, check out my recent blog on this topic.

SoundCloud - of course SoundCloud is a dream come true for many of us musicians, with the ability to safely store and share your music online. The latest version of their iOS app is quite special - with excellent functionality and beautiful interface. Have all of your music available for sharing while on the road or use it to push your music out elsewhere on the web.

There we have it - some of my most used and most helpful iOS music apps. Who knows what is coming next!

Digital music stands vs iPads

In May 2010 I wrote a post about digital music stands (or electronic music stands) and what looked like a fantastic new product that very soon would be widely used. 22 months on, the development has been very average and so I thought we should look at where things are at and if other devices such as the iPad are becoming more common and viable for musicians. In that original post, I mentioned that there were two ways you could go about it: either purchasing the software and the hardware in one device (MusicPad Pro, Same Page Music) or just the software to run on your own monitor or device (MusicReader). I also mentioned the eStand which (now) has both hardware and software options available.

There have been several advancements to all products, in particular to the Same Page Music device which has (sadly, I think) morphed into an overly complex and overwhelming array of features, as can be seen in these two videos: video one, video two.

To me, all of the options mentioned above still seem very unattractive - they don't have user-friendly interfaces or ease and practicality in mind. Have a look at this promo for MusicReader:

You may have picked up on two major flaws. Firstly, the conductor for the wind ensemble had to have his device on an office desk, not a music stand. Secondly, on the floor of most ensemble was an array of cables, power boxes and so on. So, on stage they are not very practical, they take a lot of setup time and are still, generally, bulky.

In an industry where technology is moving incredibly fast, 22 months has not seen much development at all with digital music stands. Why is this?

Hello, iPad.

I don't want to preach Apple just for the sake of preaching Apple, but let's face it, so many musicians have iPads and there is a reason for it. They can have everything in one place, communicate with ensemble members, connect with fans - the list could be huge - and also they can have all of their music in one place. Yes, you can have all of your music stored on digital music stands of course, but you've probably got an iPad already for a multitude of other reasons and view and organise your music on the plane, at a cafe, wherever. On stage, just click the iPad in and you're ready to go - no power to worry about, no cables to trip on - a separate device seems quite unattractive, doesn't it? I think for a musician, the thought of taking another monitor or similar device to read music from would a be real burden.

This, I think, is why those standalone digital music stands that looked so exciting a few years ago, haven't taken off like many of us assumed. As of 31 December 2011 there were over 55 million iPads sold - that's a tough market to try and break.

Using your iPad - there are two types of apps. The first are PDF readers where you can do a lot of editing of the meta data and draw on scores etc, but you can't actually change the music:

  • MusicReader - I mentioned MusicReader in my original post and it is still a versatile piece of software, as it can be used on Mac and PC too. They have proved themselves over the years and it allows you to draw, highlight and write on a score, but to be honest the interface is pretty rough.
  • Perform - a nice app with good features for adjusting how the score scrolls. On the pro version, it can listen to where you are and will scroll accordingly. It can also make a video of you performing - if you like that sort of thing!
  • forScore - has a beautiful interface and nice range of features. It has the forStore where you can download a lot of music or you can even download PDFs from your Dropbox account. Some nice features like thorough editing of the score, a metronome and ability to play an on screen piano.

The second type gives you more flexibility with the music:

  • Avid Scorch - once your music is in Scorch, you can transpose by interval or key. If you have a score, you can view the actual score or individual parts and change between transposed/concert pitch. You can play it back and use the mixer to adjust levels if desired.
  • Finale user? - MakeMusic have announced they are bringing out an iPad app in May. Its features seem very similar to Avid Scorch. If you're interested, check out this video posted on their blog a few days ago.

For a daily user of Sibelius and having around 1,000 .sib files, the possibility of growth with these apps is very exciting.

If you are using an iPad, or considering one, these two devices will make you very happy indeed. The first is a product called TheGigEasy which makes it easy to mount your iPad in any environment. Check out this video:

This is a wonderful product, and I think, considering it was named by USA Today as one of the five "Hottest Products" at this year's NAMM Show, indicates how widespread iPad use amongst musicians really is.

You may be wondering about page turns. Well, the second device, AirTurnis taking away any worries in that area. In fact, it works via bluetooth so works with any iPad, Android, Mac or PC device. Check out the video below:

You may also be interested in this video of classical violinist Ray Chen talking about his use of the AirTurn and iPad.

So, digital music stands, I don't think, are proving themselves as great options for musicians, whether classical or contemporary, amateur or professional - not when tablet computing is moving at such a fast pace. Maybe in another 22 months we can have a look at this topic once again - who knows where we will be then!

Thoughts, experiences and links are most welcome.