iPad 2 pushes sheet music, and page turners, off the stage

From Sam Haywood - Pianist Sam Haywood uses an iPad to turn his pages.

The iPad continues its dizzying rampage, decimating netbooks, dayplanners and 90-pound textbooks. It now claims its most awkward casualty: the concert hall page turner.

The inevitable future of classical performance arrives in Washington this week when violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Sam Haywood enter the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. They’ll blend contemporary gadgetry with the repertoire.

Not to worry — Bell isn’t going electric. He’ll step onstage with his prized 1713 Gibson ex Huberman Stradivarius in hand to play a program of Brahms and Ravel, among others. Haywood, however, will carry a new prop for the Steinway, his multi-touch page turner, better known as the iPad 2.

Since early last year, Haywood’s Apple-accessorized lifestyle has allowed him to replace paper scores with digital ones archived on his iPad, a shift made possible through a wide array of technology, including the abundance of downloadable scores and Bluetooth-controlled foot pedals for page-turning.

Inadvertently, the human page turner, that fallible and sometimes reviled third party onstage, has been absent from most of Haywood’s recent performances, a consequence of the wireless age. The advantages are obvious: The iPad is portable, discreet, always well-rested. It won’t skip pages or inadvertently bump Haywood’s hands during Mendelssohn’s “Violin Sonata in F.” It listens to the commands of the pianist’s left foot, eliminating the awkward paper-ruffling sideshow between page turner and performer.

“I’ve had page turners who’ve forgotten their glasses or fallen off the stage,” said Haywood. “The iPad removes so much of the risk. And I can also practice in the dark.”

“I’ve often thought I should write a book about page-turning disasters,” echoed Bell. “I’ve had page turners that criticize in rehearsal, that hum along or hit keys and make funny noises. It’s a really hard job, and it’s sort of nice to walk out onstage without one.”

Haywood admits wireless page-turning is not without glitches. Once he accidentally set his iPad on the ridge of the piano so that it rested on the power switch. A loud chord caused the piano to vibrate so fiercely that the screen immediately went dark. “I’ve been careful to make sure the iPad is placed right side up since then,” Haywood said.

“I was a little nervous about it at first,” Bell said. “I love technology, and I have an iPad, but in concert, I was worried that something would go wrong. ... There are pros and cons to using it. You don’t want people talking about it during the concert.”

Haywood finds that some audience members are intrigued by the presence of the sleek glass tablet, but many don’t notice it. “The ones that see it are curious about how it works, particularly the pedal. ... Why don’t I have to touch the screen?”

Now, even conductors are experimenting with the iPad’s surplus of musical apps and its seemingly limitless library of scores. ForScore, an application for iPad ($4.99), compresses pounds of sheet music into a single device that helps musicians to access any score in the public domain. Users can also annotate copy, personalizing the pages before they practice or perform. Digital scores are a welcome development in a classical industry where many live nomadic, jet-setting lives.

“That was the initial draw— I can carry everything I’m studying and working on for an entire season with me,” says Jeff Kahane, conductor of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, who caused a stir in November when he conducted the New York Philharmonic from his iPad. “It’s so functional, and it’s solved a lot of problems no one anticipated. Think of outdoor concerts and the wind. ... The iPad won’t blow away.”

For Hugh Sung, the professional pianist who invented AirTurn, the wireless foot-pedal that Haywood and Kahane use, digital page-turning is the culmination of a decade of tinkering.

“I’d been thinking about a hands-free page-turning device since I first saw a tablet computer in 2001,” said Sung. “It wasn’t until the iPad hit the market that digital scores really caught on.”

His silent, Bluetooth-controlled foot pedal, allows users to turn the pages on their iPads with the tap of a foot. The BT-105 model (costing around $129) has a pair of pedals that turn pages forward or backward. Since 2010, he has sold thousands to iPad users.

“The market is only getting larger,” said Sung. “There are estimates that 20 million American households have at least one member who plays an instrument. We estimate that the market for musicians using iPads is in the area of 2 million.”

Some musicians, even those who are proud iPad owners, are reluctant to make the switch from paper to digital. While ideal for pianists, a 9-by-7-inch screen doesn’t suit every soloist. “The iPad is a little on small side for my taste,” said Bell. “I’ve practiced off of it when I’m in a pinch in some remote corner of the world, but I’ve never used it in concerts.”

The tech-savvy Borromeo String Quartet, in residence at the New England Conservatory, began using MacBooks and foot-pedal technology in 2007. Nicholas Kitchen, violinist and founder of the quartet, began performing with digital scores because he wanted the quartet members to see all four lines of the score simultaneously, which is nearly impossible on printed scores. He prefers laptops to tablet technology.

“I keep my iPad in my bag, of course, just in case I need it,” said Kitchen. “But playing off the MacBook Pro is easier with the large screen.”

Kitchen said the greatest unexpected benefit of digital libraries is the easy access to original manuscripts. “I have probably 40 Beethoven manuscripts on my computer, and we’re reading off them as we play,” he said. “That’s been stimulating in a way I never could have anticipated.”

But for all the technological advancements available to musicians, Bell and Haywood still have dreams of new tools that could grace their performances decades from now.

“The gadget I’m waiting for is the display screen on glasses, or even better, contact lenses,” said Bell. “Then I could read music and no one would know at all. I’m hoping it will come along by the time I hit 70 and my memory starts to go.”

“I think they do have those sorts of glasses in the military,” adds Haywood. “It’d be so nice to have a complete score, just hovering in front of your eyes.”

Joshua Bell

and Sam Haywood

presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society. 8 p.m. Monday. Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW. $42-$115. Call 800-444-1324 or visit www.wpas.org.

 
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