On a day early in 2012, my wife came home from a rehearsal with a small string ensemble at the local music school. She was quite agitated. Someone had forgotten her paper parts, and they had to spend quite some time finding and copying the originals. (Before someone yells “copying is illegal”, this is legal in Belgium thanks to the SEMU licensing scheme that allows music schools to do exactly that.)
And then she asked the question that started it all: “Isn’t there a better way to handle that with all these tablets these days?”
We debated a bit over it, and quickly came to the conclusion that tablets were useable for individuals to practice at home, but that there were a lot of issues that made it problematic to use tablet based sheet music reading in an ensemble context.
From way too small tablets that have shiny glass screens to page turning being either more difficult than paper or a logistical nightmare with pedals (Imagine accidentally switching them, and you’re turning your neighbors pages.) The problems made it obvious that not that many musician would replace paper for this, let alone invest in new equipment. For the majority of musicians to make the switch, there had to be significant improvements over a paper based approach. Digital had to be better than, not equal to paper!
This triggered other discussions with many musicians about how digital could improve sheet music reading beyond not having to carry large loads of paper to a rehearsal. We came up with a really long list of about 50 items. The main ones were these:
- Progressing the sheet music must not be an individual musicians worry, but must be done for them.
- Making sure that full phrases of music were always in view or even removing pageturns completely
- The possibility to have personal engraved parts, in your preferred clef, key, orientation, size, …
- Easy access to all kinds of sheet music, whether it was on a purchase, or on rental basis.
- A clean annotation making system that allows sharing of annotations inside an orchestra or between orchestras/musicians without copyright violations.
- A choice of screen sizes must be offered to accommodate all types of musicians (strings, winds, keyboards, conductors, …)
The challenge this all posed was very enticing. It allowed me to leverage my professional experience for improving something important in my life, my passion for music playing. This is how we made the decision to make this vision a reality.
The important events that occurred and the choices we made for cracking the issues listed above will be the topic of further blog posts. Stay tuned for the full story on SCORA!