~e; electronic sheetmusic bigband

From bc <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Mon, 4 Mar 2002 15:09:58 -0600

  [the idea of having electronic sheet music that turns the page is not
  the most compelling use of computer technology one could imagine,
  but that is not the whole of it. read more below. for a non-musician,
  it is still obvious how such versatility might help creative processes.]

March 4, 2002

Crooner Uses Computers to Replace Sheet Music

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Harry Connick Jr. is a versatile guy: crooner, composer, big-band 
leader, piano player, actor, comedian. And an inventor, as well.

Mr. Connick, who has been described by one critic as a new and 
improved version of Sinatra, recently received United States patent 
6,348,648 for a "system and method for coordinating music display 
among players in an orchestra."

"It basically eliminates old-fashioned sheet music," Mr. Connick said 
in a phone interview 10 days ago, before leaving for Salt Lake City, 
where he performed "Over the Rainbow" during the closing ceremonies 
of the Olympics.

His patented idea came to him one day several years ago when his big 
band was playing outdoors and the sheet music was blowing around. Why 
not, he thought, have all 16 band members read their music off 
computer screens instead?

So before he started a long tour in 1999, Mr. Connick bought enough 
blue and white G3 Power Macs, each with a rotatable screen, that 
everyone - from his trombonists to his drummer - could read from 
electronic sheet music.

For technical advice, he turned to his neighbor David Pogue, who is a 
former Broadway conductor and a computer guru to the stars, whose 
clients have included Stephen Sondheim and Mia Farrow. (Mr. Pogue, 
who also writes the State of the Art column for the weekly Circuits 
section of this newspaper, has no commercial ties to Mr. Connick's 
David Pogue
Harry Connick Jr. no longer worries about straying sheet music; he 
provides each band member with a computer that displays the score.

"A lot of the guys I knew from my pit work on Broadway said that it 
would never work," Mr. Pogue recalled. "They said the computer would 
crash or the screen wouldn't refresh itself in time for a 
professional situation."

In fact, Mr. Pogue said, the technology had progressed far enough 
that the electronic page could be turned faster and more reliably 
than a paper page.

At first, Mr. Pogue said, the members of Mr. Connick's band were 
skeptical. "They circled it and sniffed it the first day," he said. 
"But by the time they opened the tour they were really into it."

Mr. Connick started the digital- score tour in a relatively 
low-stakes locale - Ames, Iowa - so that any kinks could be worked 
out beyond publicity's glare.

Unlike most other pop musicians, Mr. Connick does his own musical 
arrangements right on his Macintosh computer, using Finale software 
from Coda Music Technology, a division of Net4Music (news/quote). His 
system allows him to make changes to a given arrangement - knock out 
eight bars here, add eight bars there - and have them entered 
automatically into his musicians' copies of the music.

"Oh man, it's made my life easier," Mr. Connick said. "Before, I 
would write out a song by hand and give it to a couple of guys in the 
band who are copyists and they would figure out the instrumental 
sections. It could take days. Now I can write a new score in the 
morning and everyone has it on his computer screen in the afternoon. 
Imagine if a Duke Ellington or a Stravinsky had had a system like 

The system has had some unforeseen benefits, as well. In studio 
recordings, for example, it's no longer necessary to digitally remove 
the page-turning rustling in the background. Moreover, musicians can 
insert page breaks wherever they want.

And doing away with sheet music also means doing away with music 
lights for the musicians. So when the lights dim and Mr. Connick 
begins to sing, Mr. Pogue said, all the audience sees of the other 
musicians is "this super-cool bluish glow on their faces from the 
computer screens."

Mr. Connick's patent covers more territory than electronic sheet 
music. He hopes that eventually the computers will have their own 
operating system and feature a touch screen that allows a composer to 
write music as he would on paper.

But he makes it clear that he is a concept man.

"I can do stuff like put RAM in a computer, but I'm not a 
programmer," he said. "You start talking about the technology 
involved in making it, and I'm going to be completely lost. I don't 
have any interest in actually building it. I just want someone to 
send me one in the mail when it's done."

In fact, Mr. Connick approached Apple Computer (news/quote) about 
helping him develop the system.

"I love their products and I thought for sure they would go for it," 
he said. "They put up a lot of `Think Different' posters and I sure 
think different. But they weren't interested."

On the day his patent was issued, Mr. Connick said, his wife, Jill 
Goodacre, a former Victoria's Secret model, asked him if he was proud 
of himself.

"I said not really," Mr. Connick recalled. "It's not like I invented 
Velcro or anything."

Copyright 2002 by the New York Times, online.
[fair-use, .edu 2oo2, ~e.org]

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