Note: All this week, we’ll be publishing short posts from the 2017 NAMM Show in Anaheim, California. It’s a huge exhibition, so we’ll focus on what we try to do best: cover the field of music notation software and related technology.
This post is about Newzik, the sheet reader app for iOS.
After checking in today at NAMM, I made a beeline for Booth 201C15, home of one of the most interesting apps for iOS: Newzik, a music sheet reader.
Newzik, available for iOS in both free and paid versions, is notable among the emerging sheet music reader offerings for tablets in that it does not use a proprietary file format, instead making use of MusicXML and PDFs, as well as MIDI and text files. Its MusicXML reader will automatically reflow the music to fit the page, and scores can be synced with audio and video files for practice purposes. Annotations can be made in real time and pushed to an entire group, and page turns can be done manually or synced among all the players in an ensemble.
In December 2016, I met with Aurélia Azoulay, Newzik’s head of marketing and international development and Netta Shahar, their orchestra specialist, during their recent visit to the US. They traveled to New York, Baltimore, and Chicago to meet with orchestras and opera companies. I was impressed by their commitment to learning about the unique challenges that these types of ensembles face when it comes to performing from sheet music, and their eagerness to develop the Newzik platform to tackle those challenges.
So naturally I was pleased to see the Newzik team in full force at NAMM. I asked Aurélia what was new since we last spoke, and how development has evolved as a result of feedback from existing customers, as well as from the meetings they took last month with the orchestras and opera companies.
“We realized from our users how our MusicXML rendering brings them a cutting-edge way to read flexible and transposable scores. This led us to double our effort on this technology by increasing our development team,” Aurélia said. Regarding the orchestras, “We sincerely didn’t expect such enthusiasm! They were all convinced that the digital revolution is here and they have to take part. Through our demos, they completely approved our vision: more than providing a tailored software, our mission is to collaborate with orchestras, by giving them technological expertise in order to prepare their future in the best possible way.”
I spoke further with Newzik founder Jean-Louis Lasseri. “It’s a long term investment,” he told me. “We began six years ago. Now we feel the orchestras want to switch, but it’s a long process — between six months and two years. We want to help them understand what to expect, to give them the right answer to use it professionally. It’s not easy, it’s not magic; we’re very realistic about the actual technology. The tablet is superior to paper, yet it’s not yet its equal. That’s the challenge — to make tablets the equal of paper.”
The Newzik team is innovating constantly to improve the experience. I was fortunate to try out a prototype Bluetooth conductor’s baton that Jean-Louis invented. You conduct normally, but when you want to turn a page, you apply a little pressure to the base of the baton and the page turns as if you had a foot pedal. As CEO Raphaël Schumann explained, “Conductors are moving all around on the podium and they won’t find the foot pedal easily. So we invented this.”
It was extremely intuitive and, as you can tell in this video, fun to use:
In September of last year, Newzik collaborated with Opéra de Rouen in Normandy, France, to present a concert where the music was performed entirely from music read on iPads running the Newzik app. I asked if any similar project were planned for the future. “Definitely,” Aurélia replied. “We just launched the Connected Orchestra Program last December and we are already partnering with pioneering symphonies, chamber music and universities for this amazing digital challenge.”
CEO Raphaël Schumann demonstrated some of Newzik’s core features, including the ability to add or remove instruments from a view, music automatically re-formatting on the fly to accommodate any zoom level, and syncing playback with an audio or video file.
In terms of other future plans, “Our plan is to focus on developing and adjusting features that will meet the orchestras’ needs mainly by working hard on our collaborative features, cloud, and organizational tools,” Aurélia said. “We are currently reaching these goals by experiencing concrete trial programs with orchestras. Consequently, working with the most professional musicians, conductors and librarians will lead us to strengthen the version available on the App Store.”
Regarding hardware, “the iPad Pro launch has been a real game changer,” Aurélia told me. “With the A4 size, musicians are now able to read their parts correctly. That’s why our goal is to build the app around this rock-solid hardware. In parallel, we are also investing our time and energy on finding alternatives for conductors and some musicians to read their digital scores on a larger screen,” and she said that they will show their prototypes at the 2017 MOLA conference in San Diego.