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Friday, April 15, 2016

iSing, iPlay, iPray — using tablets in a parish music program

This material, written in late 2012, was originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of AIM Liturgy Resources, copyright © 2013 World Library Publications, wlpmusic.com. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. 
In a subsequent posting, I will include specific instructions on how to create the most useful PDF format from Finale for uploading (or directly loading) into ForScore. 
Specific questions? Add them to the "comments" area, and I'll try to answer those as well. If I can't, I bet another reader will.


ForScore app allows you to make fully
editable playlists: "Funeral" contains
80 songs I can reorder on the fly.
How we’re using tablets in our parish music program

What you’ll need: a tablet device (like an iPad); a desktop computer; a Dropbox or similar online storage account with sharing privileges (www.dropbox.com); a scanner; appropriate licensing or legal copies; “forScore” app (www.forscoreapp.com)

It didn’t take long from the day the iPad was released (April Fools day, 2010, for those keeping track of these things) before a lot of us realized the possibilities for adapting the use of these devices in music performance. Technological entrepreneurs began writing apps to showcase the versatility of Apple’s tablet, videos of performances by geek bands using only iPads for instruments began popping up on YouTube, and sound technicians wandered the stages of concert and theatrical venues, iPads in hand, adjusting sound with suddenly ultra-portable remote mixers.

It was about five minutes after I discovered that there was an app for importing, sorting, and storing musical scores that I dove into the tablet market myself. In the guise of a small and yet completely legitimate tax deduction, I bought a first generation iPad in July of 2010, and used it the following Sunday to play the charts for that day’s services. I’ve done so ever since, nearly every week, as well as used the iPad for workshops notes and presentations (Powerpoints, including movies), and as a replacement for notebooks of music when I occasionally do a concert in a parish. As those of you who have an iPad or a similar Android or other tablet know, this barely scratches the surface of what we use them for, but it’s the domain of this article, so here we go.

You can maintain multiple playlists, while
storing most of your catalog in a master
song list in your device and/or in cloud
storage like Dropbox.
Since my experience is with the iPad, I’m going to say “iPad” when I mean a tablet device, mostly because I’m not sure where they diverge from one another in their abilities and available apps.  ForScore is an app exclusively for iPad. MobileSheets is an analogous app for Android, but I have no firsthand knowledge of it. (Search for “mobilesheets” at play.google.com)

Right now we have about a dozen iPad users in the choir, to a greater or lesser extent. For some of us, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but there are some drawbacks. Here’s a bit of values clarification, stacking up the positive against the negative:

POSITIVE
Portable – goes everywhere, becomes a customary companion because of other uses.
Versatile – “forgotten” or misplaced music recovered on the fly
Eco-friendly – in the long run, especially as it replaces paper from the source (publisher) rather than at the end user (the church or user through scanning), less paper being consumed
Great app – the forScore app allows for multiple setlists, resizing on the fly, rearranging pages, setting up smart repeats (from page 5 back to page 2, for instance), and annotation with a stylus or a finger in different colors, as well as highlighting and typed notes (say, different hymn numbers in different worship books, or workshop/concert commentaries).
AirTurn – for instrumentalists especially, this Bluetooth-enabled pedal enables handless pageturns. Sweet!


NEGATIVE
Front-end labor intensive.  The first time any song is put into the database, it has to be scanned and uploaded, or purchased and downloaded. Once it’s there, of course, it can be moved around and indexed in various ways.
Page-turn psychodrama. 95% of the time, no issues. But for the nervous cantor or music director, there will be the time that the page turn doesn’t go the way you planned (user error) and it will always be on the song you didn’t quite have as committed to memory as you wished you had. Since receiving an AirTurn device as a gift, the page-turning issue has receded. Controlling page turns via Bluetooth has been more reliable for me.

Cost. At this time, it is not cost-efficient to buy an iPad specifically for church use. But most users would find church use a small percentage of the actual amount of time we use the tablet for. It is difficult to overstate the utility of a tablet computer, which is capable of being a Skype phone, movie player, e-reader, word processor, presentation source (and even creator), social networking tool, email system, gaming device,…The list goes on. If a tablet already fits your lifestyle needs, it will be most helpful at the piano bench or in choir. 

iPad® is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc.
PowerPoint® is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.
YouTube™ and Android™ are registered trademarks of Google, Inc.
Bluetooth® is a registered trademark of Bluetooth SIG.