The Connected Church Musician: Using Technology to Lessen the Load

Man looking at iPhone

This is the first of three excerpts from an article that Ellen Johnston has written for The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians (vol. 26, no. 2, February 2017). The material in this and the next two blogs is reprinted with the gracious permission of Mark Howe, editor of The Journal.

This article is sourced from a variety of talented musicians—Kevin Kwan, who shared his presentation about this subject at the 2015 Sewanee Church Music Conference, and Brian Driscoll, who shared his presentation from the 2013 AAM Conference, crowd sourcing from the Episcopal Church Musicians Facebook Group, plus resources I have used over the thirty years I have served in the Episcopal Church.

Things have come a long way over the past thirty-four years since I started working in the Episcopal Church. When I started at St. Peter’s by-the-Lake in Brandon, Mississippi, I served as Parish Administrator as well as Director of Music and I remember when we bought our first computer. The world wide web had not yet been invented and service leaflets, newsletters, and vestry minutes were about the only thing done on the computer. It was a glorified word processor. Art for the newsletter had to be cut out with scissors and physically taped. Communication with your choir was done by phone or letter. Some of you remember those days. In some ways things were much simpler, but it took longer to accomplish necessary tasks.

Nowadays there is a wealth of information at our fingertips—sometimes too much information! We can read music on an iPad, check the tempo for an anthem by means of a phone app, find readings for the Sunday propers and copy and paste them into a service leaflet, write music, and much, much more.

What follows is a “catalog” of applications and websites that can make life and work easier for church musicians. This is not an exhaustive list but a curated one. Some will be more helpful than others depending on individual situations.

So sign on to the App Store or the web and find ways to lessen your load!

APPLICATIONS

Music Reading 

forScore is a music reader for IPad (running iOS8 or later). I list this app first because so many of my crowd sourcing folks mentioned it. Haig Mardirosian, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Tampa, tells me that forScore “takes a pdf file (actually any content not just music) and puts it in a reader allowing display, easy page turns with a screen touch, annotation with a stylus, and lots of other features like a metronome, ability to photograph a page for entry, etc. If paired with an iPad Pro and the larger screen, it is easy to arrange two pages in landscape mode. I use it each Sunday morning though I revert to paper for choral scores which just saves lots of scanning. But all the hymns, service music, and organ lit go onto the device.” He goes on to say that “it has been foolproof. I’ve done a couple of dozen recital performances with it over the past 5 years since its introduction without a single mishap.” Finally he adds that “you can rotate, crop, rearrange or duplicate pages (another page turn trick) and there are other musical aids that I never use—things like click tracks and timings at various metronome markings that will turn for you or trigger other events. These are not very useful given the realities of live performance, but useful in a studio setting. Also, I should have mentioned that the annotation tools include not just freehand, but typing on the score, a big set of musical symbols, etc. that one can insert.”

Suzanne Daniel, Organist-Choirmaster at Grace Church in Yorktown, VA, who, in addition to organ and piano, also plays bassoon and flute provides the following: “It’s a full featured music viewer. I like being able to rearrange pages with a few moves, add repeats, turn pages with a quick touch, or a wireless foot pedal, which is especially helpful when using it to play other instruments, like bassoon, flute, or accordion! I can import files directly from email, IMSLP (International Music Score Library Project), or files I’ve purchased or scanned. I can make set lists, and go straight to the next piece, without searching. I have played quite a few shows, cabarets, and other performances from it. Working at a parish that does numerous outdoor services, having music impervious to wind is great!”

forscore.com: $9.99, iOS

OnSong is also a music reader for iPad. This app is similar to forScore, but users say that it may be more flexible. You can manage collections of chord charts and lyric sheets, transpose and highlight chords or easily change the font. Songs can be imported directly from online sources like Dropbox. There is also a wireless pedal for turning pages. This app is probably not one that an organist would find helpful but might be for one who uses the piano in worship. Auto-scrolling is also available. Mark Gilliam, Organist/Choirmaster at St. Aidan’s, Alexandria, VA, mentions that OnSong might be more flexible than forScore as it accepts more file formats and he finds it easier to share scores.

onsongapp.com: $19.99, iOS 

Music Writing

MuseScore is the app for MuseScore.org. See the description under Websites below (appearing in one of our future blogs).

MuseScore: $1.99, iOS and Android 

Notion is a universal iOS app for iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone. One can enter, edit, and play back notation for keyboard, guitar or bass. It can be used with a MIDI device. There is an option to tap in notes with finger or stylus. You can drag score items such as dynamics, switch instruments, transpose, insert text, rehearsal marks, and lyrics, as well as share to Dropbox and export to PDF. There is an ability to sync your files across multiple iOS devices.

Notion: $14.99, iOS

Music Arithmetic 

Metronome Plus is an easy to use metronome app. It’s accurate and loud, includes a tapping feature to gauge tempo, and allows for some customization of meters and other customizations. It also has multitasking capabilities, so you could read sheet music on your iPad, while keeping the metronome going in the background. Recently upgraded, it allows you to record your practice, play pitches, and program the app to increase tempo.

Metronome Plus: $1.99, iOS and Android

Pro Metronome is available for iOS and Android. It can be used like a traditional metronome, but includes a rhythm coach, sub-divisions, and poly-rhythms. Users may choose from beats, flashes, or vibrations. You can select any time signature you need, control beat dynamics, set a practice timer, plus a whole range of other features.

Pro Metronome: Free

Tuning

Cleartune is a chromatic instrument tuner and pitch pipe that allows you to quickly and accurately tune your instrument using the built-in mic in your Android device. Cleartune can tune acoustic or electric guitar, bass, bowed strings, woodwinds, brass, piano, tympani, tablas, and any other instrument that can sustain a tone.

Cleartune: $3.99, iOS and Android

Pitch Pipe is a free, no-frills app that gives pitches in the keys of C and F (chromatic scale). There is a volume device and you can build chords. The sound is a bit abrupt for my tastes and sounds for three seconds, which sometimes feels like forever.

Pitch Pipe: Free, iOS and Android

Pocket Piano is a fun app and is the only piano that lets you resize your keys to exactly fit your finger size! There is a realistic piano sound and you can play on a single keyboard row or on two rows. You can choose from a grand piano or a baby grand. Harpsichord or organ sounds cost extra. It includes a metronome and an option for note labels. I’m not sure if I would use that particular feature, but I have used this app to give pitches.

Pocket Piano: Free, iOS and Android

Pocket Tune automatically detects the pitch of your instrument and displays the closest note on a chromatic scale and the number of cents the pitch is off. Its default is 440 Hz. However, with Pocket Tune Pro you are also able to change the standard pitch from 430—447 Hz. It can be used with the Apple watch.

Pocket Tune: Free, iOS and Android

 

Ellen Johnston is Director of the Center for Liturgy and Music at Virginia Theological Seminary.

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