As part of the recently concluded Normady Impressionist Festival, l’Opéra de Rouen Normandie performed a concert of student compositions, reading scores and parts entirely from the Newzik sheet music reader app. In a press release, Newzik said that attendance at the concert topped 900, and more than 40 iPads and Bluetooth pedals were used in the performance, which occurred one week ago on September 15, 2016.
Newzik said that the performers had only two days of rehearsal, and although most of the performers had never read sheet music off of a tablet before, they quickly adapted to the technology: “In rehearsal, the performers made heavy use of what might be Newzik’s most unprecedented feature: the musicians and their conductor annotated their scores using pre-designed musical stamps, and all that’s required for sharing across the orchestra is for the librarian to send an updated PDF to all performers.”
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.
Although the use of digital sheet music readers represent a small fraction of performances compared to traditional printed sheet music, the technology has steadily evolved and seems poised for wider adoption on iOS with the introduction of the larger iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil.
Besides Newzik, perhaps the most well-known of these apps is forScore, which exclusively uses PDFs, as does another app, DeepDish GigBook. Other apps are designed with a proprietary file format for a particular publisher’s library, such as the Henle Library Urtext score reader. MakeMusic’s new SmartMusic, is a web-based practice platform which eschews iOS exclusivity in favor of being web-based. And of course, there are tablet-based composing tools such as StaffPad, Symphony Pro, and Notion, which, while not being sheet music readers, have the potential to evolve into that space.
These products, Newzik, and others all overlap each other to some extent, but each has its own unique features. Adopted with increasing enthusiasm by individuals and smaller ensembles who enjoy the freedom of not having to lug around heavy gig books, it’s too early to tell if any of these products will gain a regular foothold in the world of symphony orchestras, as Newzik and the Opéra de Rouen aimed to achieve with their pioneering concert last week. Larger ensembles such as these will have to determine if the expense and technological commitment required with such an investment are worth the benefits over a library of paper scores and parts, which have suited orchestras quite well for hundreds of years. We’ll look forward to seeing how the evolution — or revolution — develops.