Modernizing Sheet Music

Last week, my neighbor invited me to enjoy a night of chamber music with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It was my first time within the iconic structure, built nearly ten years ago, and it gave me a chance to actually hear whether the acoustics were as good as the design of the building. I can honestly state the acoustics were wonderful, especially since the performances were mainly from four string instruments with the added exception of a guest oboe for Darius Milhaud’s The Dreams of Jacob. It made me yearn for a chance to hear a full orchestra within the theater.

It was during the final quartet piece, Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, that a small incident occurred which got me thinking heresy. In the middle of the performance, as the intensity of the music built within a movement, a short violin pause gave one of the violinists a quick moment to turn her page music, but the page did not turn fully and drooped on her. The violinist was superbly practiced and was able to power through with a less than perfect view of the music. At one point, during an even shorter pause, she made a quick stab at the page with her bow to straighten it, a valiant attempt that failed. Still, if I had not been looking at her at the time, I never would have known about her music sheet malfunction as the performance was played flawlessly. Yet it had to be frustrating to this violinist to try and read her sheet music in this drooping position. The heretical thought began to germinate in my mind.

I know that the artistry of music has been recorded and performed with the language of notes and bars printed on sheets for centuries, but it would seem that the newly modern technology of the tablet computer could easily relieve the musician of the gyrations of turning his or her own music during a performance. It isn’t just that the touch screen would be easier to shift screens of music, but a computer programmer could help relieve the musician of needing to even touch the screen during the performance by setting the musical score to scroll on the screen at a pace with the music. The tablets in front of all of the musicians can be synced to start at the same time remotely with the conductor’s signal for a full orchestra or from a selected member’s signal from a smaller quartet. Of course, allowing modern technology to intrude on classic orchestral music would upset the traditions of symphonies around the world, but why should they be immune to the forces that has already affected bookstores, art and postal services. Just a thought.