Friday, November 15, 2019

Half Page Turns for Digital Sheet Music

Performing with one of my favorite page turners, Adam.


In 2012, we watched Christopher O'Riley perform on From the Top with a laptop folded back on the piano. This was before tablets were widely used, and certainly before the full-size iPad Pro came out.

Christopher O'Riley with Gordon Neidinger, mandolin, From the Top 2012



Host Christopher O'Riley with Ifetayo Ali-Landing
From the Top Photo by Neale Eckstein, 2017
Shortly afterward, Mr. O'Reilly switched to an iPad as seen here with Ifetayo Ali-Landing in 2017. Being a software geek through and through, I had to jump on the bandwagon. I didn't want to invest in an iPad Pro in case my efforts fell flat. I opted for a used (unfortunately discontinued) Samsung Galaxy Pro Tablet 12.2" and a Donner Bluetooth Pedal. At around $350 total, this is a much smaller investment than an iPad Pro 13" at $1000 and top off the line Page Flip Firefly Bluetooth Page Turner Pedal at $110.



Cheapness does come with a price. I lost 0.8" on the diagonal screen dimension (12.2" vs 13"), but because of the aspect ratio, this becomes even more in the horizontal direction in portrait mode. The width of the page determines how large the sheet music appears on the screen. Full-size sheet music is 9"x12" which is the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the iPad, or 1.333. Even 8.5"x11" pages have a similar 1.29 ratio. By comparison, a 16:9 ratio is 1.778. Here's a little math to determine the difference in the width of the two screens.


So the width of my 16:9 12.2" tablet screen is 6" versus the iPad at 7.8". That's a huge difference in width! So how does 6" look against the same music on a 9x12" page?


Actually, not that bad since music apps crop the white space of the page. At first, I was bothered by the bluish hue of the white background but I finally found the sepia tone to be more like sheet music paper.

The first thing I realized about using digital sheet music is that you have to turn the pages twice as often as paper sheet music. Paper sheet music in books or binders always show two pages at a time. This is fine when the music is not very complex, but when you in a complicated passage near the page turn this can be quite stressful. If you stomp the pedal too many times or press both pedals at once, the on-screen keyboard may pop up by accident or worse the program crashes. This would be disastrous in a performance!


My initial app for sheet music was Orpheus, but then I moved to MobileSheets for this feature: half page turns! I watched a fellow chamber music pianists effortless play a piano trio with his iPad Pro and asked him how he became comfortable turning pages with the pedal. He showed me his nifty forScore app (iOS only at a pricey $14.99!!) and how he uses half-page turns. Wait - doesn't that mean you have to turn pages twice as often, or 4 times the number paper sheet music turns?

With half-page turns, you press the pedal somewhere in the bottom half of the page and half of the next page pops on top of the screen. Then you seamlessly play from the bottom of the screen to the top of the screen without having to worry about pressing the pedal at exactly the right time. After you get to the next page at the top of the screen, you press the pedal again when it's convenient to fill down the rest of the page. So page turns are essentially decoupled from the actual playing and don't have to be timed perfectly right. Even though it's more presses, it's far less stressful.

But I didn't have an iPad Pro with the forScore app! With some searching, I found that the free version of MobileSheets also had half-page turns. It's a little tricky to enable, so here are the instructions (note the sepia tone which is easier on the eyes):

Tap and hold the screen to get the bottom toolbar.


Tap the page button (4th icon circled in green).


Under Display mode, select "Half Page". Also, you can set the Sepia tone lower on this settings page. Another setting I found invaluable was the page scaling mode (next button on the bottom toolbar). When you set to full screen, it stretches the page so that you don't get the letterbox wasted space you can see with the Orpheus screenshots at the beginning of this post.


Here is a half-page turn for a tricky passage in Beethoven's Archduke trio. You simply play from the bottom to the top of the page. In fact, this is a better way to learn the music through a paper page turn because you can see it all at once.


My first performance with digital sheet music was with Claude Bolling's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano. My sheet music copy was purchase back in 1980 and was completely falling apart. Every time I practiced, more pages would opt to leave the binding and the scotch tape everywhere was getting ridiculous. The performance was definitely a bit more stressful with the digital page-turning, but it wasn't disastrous.

Still, I feel more comfortable with paper sheet music for performances. I mostly use digital sheet music to try out pieces before I decide to print them. Maybe someday I'll become more comfortable with it, but in the end, I'm still an old-fashioned paper sheet music gal. Thank goodness I didn't plunk down the money for the iPad Pro (although I'm sure I could find other uses for one)!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Not a Single Sport Girl Anymore



After many attempts to involve Dova in any sport besides gymnastics, she has finally found another home in Track and Field. Any sport with a ball didn’t agree with her; we had tried soccer, basketball and tennis, and didn’t even bother with softball and volleyball. I had long given up on getting great action shots of her gymnastics, opting to buy fantastic stills from the professionals.

But track has offered a whole of new photography opportunities. Here she is at the beginning of her track career in middle school.



She chose to do long jump and 100m hurdles for her events. I had suggested high jump since she's able to do all those fancy vaults in gymnastics, but it turns out that height matters more than vaulting abilities for the high jump. In her first meet, she placed 1st in long jump and 2nd in hurdles. Wow, I had no idea that she would do that well. She replied that she didn't join track to lose! Hey, what about being part of a team, hanging with your friends and being physically active? I asked her how far her long jump was and she replied 13' 3". 13 feet?? I was expecting something like 10!

I asked her how she learned the proper form for the long jump. She said the coaches didn't really teach them anything and everyone just had to do it. Somehow she knew how to throw her feet in front of her body for the landing thanks to great gymnastics core strength. 

It was even more surprising that she did well at hurdles. Her middle school doesn't have an actual track, so during practices, they only set up a few hurdles in the grass to try out. She never actually ran a whole 100 meters with hurdles until her first meet. In fact, in her first race, she didn't realize that she had to run to the finish line after the last hurdle!


She did so well in her first year in track that she easily qualified for the middle school state meet. Now in her school's rinky-dink approach to athletics, there were no additional practices for the state meet and the coaches were not even present. First no hurdles, then no coaches! When we got to the meet, it was complete chaos trying to figure out how to get the team's bibs and all the kids to the right events. I was barely cutting it as the de facto coach mom! We were all quite overwhelmed by the great athletes that were bussed in from all over the state (undoubtedly with coaches too). Not surprisingly, Dova didn't do that well at states due to the lack of practices and the fact that she ran in the hurdles heat that had the girl that who broke the previous state record by 2 seconds! But it was still a great experience that pushed Dova to pursue track in high school.

Now I thought that going to high school level track would provide better coaches and equipment for practice but hasn't been the case yet. Her high school was recently rebuilt and the track was completely torn apart, so again, there was no home track to practice on! Her first race through hurdles was tripped up by falls and it turned out that she was running high hurdles and not low hurdles from middle school. Nonetheless, she persevered and managed to place 3rd in long jump, earning her a Varsity letter as a Freshman. With track cleats now, she flew for 15' 5".



Here's to many more great track seasons! (And gymnastics too!)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Jumping into Mechanics Hall



People swear by visualization as a technique to achieve your dreams. As a parent, I always wanted my kids to succeed in music. Six years ago in 2012, we went to a concert at Mechanics Hall in Worcester. It was the first time the kids experienced this magnificent space. Adam was 11 and Dova was 8 years old.


I wanted them to feel comfortable in this space so we explored the stage a bit during intermission.


Of course, I made sure they "didn't go too far".


I mentioned, "Wouldn't it be nice if you could perform here one day?"


I took the first photo of the bustling hall, framed it and put it on the landing of the stairs to the second floor of our house so they would see it each time they went upstairs. Imagine yourself performing here...


Only three years later, Adam performed at Mechanics Hall with his school band as part of the MICCA Gold Medal Showcase. Woohoo! Visualization paid off! He's actually performed there six times since with various groups. In the last performance, I decided to capture the same shot but with Adam in the photo this time. He always stands out playing the bass.


And then I replaced the photo in the stairwell. Way to jump into the photo!


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