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January 27, 09

Webcam Rehearsals Part 2

Eschewing ooVoo as a webcam video recorder since it doesn't allow you to save files over about 1 minute in length, i've been using Windows Movie Maker to quickly put together a series of video accompaniment tracks that are surprisingly compact in size, coming out to about 1 MB per minute, making the files extremely easy to email.  Gmail has a 20 MB file size limit, and i think Yahoo mail has a 10 MB limit - obviously, one wouldn't be able to send over the entire Elgar violin concerto clocking in at 45-50 minutes in length, but most individual concerto and sonata movements could conceivably fit within the Gmail file size constraints.

Here's one sample accompaniment track that i recorded for Maurice to practice with - forgive the bed head hair, this was recorded before i had a chance to jump in the shower ;) 

Here's another clip of the delightful "Estrellita", by Ponce arranged by Heifetz.  I cheated a bit on this one, exporting the video clip of the accompaniment part to Sony Vegas and overlaying an audio-only recording of the violin part (played on the piano) recorded with Audacity.  I set the piano audio track's pan to 100% left and the solo violin part to 100% right, so that Maurice could either hear one or both parts simultaneously.

Obviously, timing issues are pretty raw - it's hard to "accompany" an imaginary part when you can't actually hear it.  Nevertheless, this was meant to be a rough draft to help both of us get comfortable with the material, hopefully making the "live" rehearsal easier to put together.

Within Windows Movie Maker, i selected the "High Quality Video (small)" within the "Other Settings" options.  You can see the selection here:

windows movie maker settings

We'll see how helpful these video tracks have been when we get together in a few days in Sacramento!

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January 22, 09

404 Confessions

Jeff posted the following question a few days ago here on this site:

"I was wondering if there were any occasions in concert or rehearsal when you had planned on using your digital setup and you couldn't for some logistical or other reason? You know, horror stories of sorts? It seems almost too good to be true to be rid of binders full of music..."

I get a lot of questions like these from audience members and colleagues wondering about all the things that could go wrong when using computers as music readers - what if the battery dies? What if the computer crashes in the middle of a concert? What if you drop your computer?

I know it's early for spooky Halloween tales, but let me regale some of my dark tales of digital horror - several of which have already been posted here over the years, by the way ;) Oh, and in case you didn't know: a "404" is an internet error message that pops up whenever you try to visit a website that's 'broken'!

Before i digress into the gory details, let's put "failure" into musical perspective - i think it's in the nature of classical musicians to obsess over the possibilities of 'what could go wrong' in our never-ending pursuit of so-called "perfection".  For some funny reason, though, we don't seem to equate the thousands of physical and logistical problems associated with the craft of our art on the same par with the glitches that can affect computers.  I suppose that has a great deal to do with the familiarity of our instruments - knowing where that violin string wolf is, selecting the optimal reed out of a box of duds, avoiding that note on the piano when playing una corda because the soft pedal mechanism is shifting that hammer too far to the right and hitting multiple notes, etc. etc...i contend that if we treat our computers with the same care, caution, and preparation as our musical instruments, we'll have a better understanding of how to avoid, work around, and nurse computer-related ailments just as effectively as we do our instrument-related ones.

I'll follow up these "404 confessions" with recommended solutions at the end of each one.

404 Confession #1: The Blue Screen of Death

People ask me all the time, "what would happen if your computer - you know - just crashes  in the middle of a concert?  There was actually one time very early on when i met with the dreaded 'blue screen of death' - a Windows error message where the whole screen turns blue, filled with undecipherable techno-mumbo-jumbo that simply means, "your machine is DEAD".  I had just purchased a prototype slate tablet pc that looked absolutely gorgeous on the outside - smooth all-white design with rounded corners with no buttons on the face, only on the sides - kind of like a big iPod, if you will.  Beauty on the outside, but mucky technology on the inside, unfortunately.  Everything ran slowly and behaved temperamentally, but i kind of stuck with it because - well, gosh, it just looked so cool!  One day, i had a rehearsal for the Bartok 2 piano and percussion sonata at Temple University, a few miles away from Curtis.  Just as the rehearsal was about to start, i booted up my tablet pc - only to face the dreaded blue screen of death!!  Nothing, absolutely nothing would load, and the machine was now an expensive doorstop.  Fortunately, someone had their car nearby, so we hopped in, drove over to my office at Curtis, and i picked up my backup tablet pc - my trusty Toshiba Portege at the time (which, by the way, still runs beautifully!) and started the rehearsal about an hour later than expected.

Solution #1: Don't buy experimental/prototype computers if you plan to depend on them for heavy-duty work!

Solution #2: Consider investing in a backup computer and keeping it synchronized with all your music files at all times!

 

404 Confession #2:  Power Problems

"What if you run out of power in the middle of a concert?" That's another very popular question, and i have two 404 tales to that effect.  At a recent orchestra rehearsal, i had been so swamped running between so many other rehearsals that week that i had just plumb forgotten to charge up my Tablet PC's batteries!  I saw that the power level was dangerously low, and i had my power cord with me, but it was too short to reach the outlet and there was no time to move the piano - so i set the LCD brightness to the lowest setting, made sure the wireless antenna was switched off, and prayed that i would have enough power to eek through the rehearsal.  Sure enough, we managed to finish the piece i was playing in, and right at that moment, the power died!

In another instance at a recent music festival, i left my computer bag in my rental car after having dropped off my kids at a nearby YMCA camp.  For some reason, my schedule was so packed that i asked a friend to pick up my kids for me, as Kyungmi had already flown home because of her work schedule. There was an afternoon concert that i was scheduled to accompany in, and when i looked for my main music-reading computer - yup, you guessed it, it was in that rental car that my friend had just driven off in!  Fortunately, i had another backup computer with me, although it hadn't been primed for music reading.  I had to download some drivers to operate my old page turning pedal (this was before i had a working plug-and-play AirTurn), as well as the scores i needed for the afternoon performance (www.EveryNote.com came to the rescue there!)  With that mad dash of last-minute tech prep, i went onstage with the violinist and started to play through her concerto.  Suddenly, right in the middle of the performance, the screen winked out...DOH!  I had forgotten to adjust the screen saver settings!!!  I had to stop, apologize profusely to the audience, and walk off the stage totally mortified, after having spent so much time bragging about how wonderful computers were as music readers!

Solution #1: Remember to charge your batteries!

Solution #2: Consider investing in extra batteries and an extra charger

Solution #3: Consider carrying an extension cord and a 3-prong to 2-prong adapter, if needed

Solution #4: Make sure your screen saver and power settings are properly adjusted - i have a "concert setting mode", where the computer's power saving features are shut off and the screen saver is either disabled or set to activate after 3 hours or longer.

Solution #5: Don't perform with untested computers!

 

404 Confession #3: Popups

This just happened to me the other day!  I've been using my HP laptop recently as my new music reader, temporarily replacing my trusty old Fujitsu slate tablet pc, so i'm still coming across settings here and there that need to be adjusted.  During one rehearsal, an HP message window suddenly popped up in front of the music i was reading, asking if i wanted to check for updates to my system!  Luckily, i was able to quickly click onto the music and hide the offending popup window.  Later on, i opened the HP update application and made sure that i adjusted the notification option to "never".

Windows operating systems (particularly Vista!) are prone to all sorts of annoying popup reminders, asking permission to run this program or that.  Are Macs immune to such annoyances?  I'd love to hear from those of you who can attest one way or another.  In any case, here are some solutions to keep the possibility of inopportune popups at bay:

Solution #1: Turn off any automatic update settings, such as Windows Updater

Solution #2: Make sure that all your AntiVirus and Spyware software are either deactivated or uninstalled.  If you're using your computer as your music reader, you really shouldn't be using it to surf the internet.  I always try to keep my various computers task-specific, ie: one machine for video editing, one for internet browsing, another for blogging, etc. 

Just as a violinist needs to learn to bring an extra set of strings or schedule that bow rehairing before an important concert, taking the time to get to know your computer will help prevent the above situations from happening to you.  After over six years of using computers exclusively to read music for all my rehearsals, performances and recordings, i can really say from experience that the exponential benefits have far, far outweighed the handful of times that 404 events have occured - and there really hasn't been one that couldn't be eventually solved with a little bit of patience, planning, and careful problem-solving!

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January 20, 09

Pains of the Page Turner

There was a neat piece on NPR yesterday about the unsung travails of the Page Turner.  You can read the transcript of the broadcast here.  I find it utterly amazing what classical pianists are willing to put up with when it comes to dealing with the shortcomings of paper.  I've had three recent calls from different music organizations and individuals desperately looking for students to help out with last-minute page turning duties.  I can think of several good reasons why page turners are hard to find - everyone that i know hates doing it, it's never appreciated by the performer or audience and only subject to ridicule if the slightest thing goes wrong, and it's a source of ridiculous amounts of stress on all parties involved!  Really, life is just too short to have to continue with this archaic anti-tech workaround!

Just for fun, i present to you this short collection of page turning horror videos that i've culled from YouTube - cover the kids' eyes and make sure the pets are safely locked away!

To start off, here's my own infommercial illustrating the various paper problems pianists have to put up with, and the neat ways computers and the AirTurn hands-free page turning system solves them:





Here are some unplanned page turner mishap videos, the kind everyone dreads - and, unfortunately, finds all too common in performance situations!!

The legendary comedian-pianist Victor Borge found plenty of source material in Page Turner calamities for his comedy routines:

Believe it or not, there is actually a sonata for Piano and Page Turner!!  This one is just too hilarious...!

Not enough glory for the page turner?  Then try this Page Turner Concerto for - what else? - a page turner in sneakers, accompanied by 2 pianos!

From sublime comedy to eerie tragedy (i think) - i understand there's a French movie called "The Page Turner" - haven't seen it yet myself, but really - does a thankless job like this warrant this much drama?  Hmmmm....maybe...maybe....

I might have to re-think my AirTurn business model.  If we put all these poor human page turners out to pasture, then we just might be depriving audiences everywhere vast resources of snickers, guffaws, and other forms of therapeutic laughter!  Then again, we'd probably be saving more pianists from the stress of premature aging from page turner mishaps resulting in fright, anger, paranoia...

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January 19, 09

Collaborative Piano Fellowship at Bard College Conservatory of Music

As i'm sure my colleague Chris Foley over at The Collaborative Piano Blog will attest, the Collaborative Piano field seems to be growing at an astonishing rate.  What's interesting is the fact that many new collaborative piano programs actually offer stipends to qualified applicants rather than charging tuition, providing a fantastic way for students to make the transition from academia into professional work, both in terms of hands-on training and financial support.

I just received word from the Bard College Conservatory of Music about their Post Graduate Collaborative Piano Fellowship program.  I'm posting a copy of the details sent to me (with some minor edits to fit the tenor of this site):

Applications are now available on line for the 09/10 academic year Post Graduate Collaborative Piano Fellowship at the Bard College Conservatory of Music.
The Fellowship comes with an annual $15,000 stipend and is designed to give professional experience to pianists who have a strong interest in becoming collaborative pianists, with the ultimate aim of easing the transition between school and the working world of a collaborative pianist. The fellowship is open to both students who have already completed a degree in collaborative piano and to those students who have completed a bachelor's degree in piano performance and have a strong interest in further study in collaborative piano. The fellowship allows students to expand their knowledge of the core collaborative piano repertoire and to play for, and receive coachings from, the distinguished faculty of the Bard College Conservatory of Music. In addition to the annual stipend of $15,000, room and board on campus is provided. Fellows play for both the voice students in the Masters in Vocal Arts Program, Dawn Upshaw Artistic Director, and the undergraduate instrumentalists at the Bard College Conservatory.
The application deadline for the 09/10 Fellowship is Friday March 13. If you or your students are interested in more information they may visit the Bard website at:
http://www.bard.edu/conservatory/fellowship/
[This is an excellent opportunity for] students who are looking for a good "next step" in their musical and artistic education. Bard is seeking applicants with strong musical and pianistic skills who have the ability to work well and effectively with a very diverse group of highly accomplished young musicians.

Bard Conservatory boasts an incredible faculty roster, including the likes of pianists Jeremy Denk, Richard Goode, Peter Serkin, and polymath Melvin Chen (check out his Bard Conservatory bio and job description!); violinists Ida Kavafian, Soovin Kim, and Arnold Steinhardt; violists Steven Tenenbom and Michael Tree; cellists Peter Wiley and Sophie Shao; and soprano superstar Dawn Upshaw, mentioned above as the Artistic Director for the Masters in Vocal Arts Program.  This is an important consideration for collaborative pianists, as a program will only be as good as the overall faculty body, and this one sure looks to be among the very highest echelons.

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January 17, 09

Eye of the Musician

I'm not sure how many folks know this, but my old teacher, Jorge Bolet, once told me that during several lean years as a pianist without enough concert work to make a living, he supplemented his income as a photographer.  I've never seen any of his photographic work, but i've always felt that musicians have an innate capability to express visual elements.  To that end, i've lately been getting more and more requests to help produce videos for musicians.  Much of this is due to competitions that now require video applications; with audio-only in the past, it was very easy to digitally splice and edit the material for 'cleaner-than-real-life' renditions, but single camera video makes it much, much more difficult to edit audio, simply because doing so would immediately throw the audio out of sync with the video.  Two of my best investments last year were a pair of Canon GL semi-pro camcorders and several accessories, including a battery-powered XLR microphone interface.  My AV setups have become so much more streamlined nowadays, particularly since i'm getting away from using DV tapes and recording straight to computer via firewire.

Here's a video i recently produced for up-and-coming violinist Stephanie Jeong, a recent Curtis graduate and former pupil of legendary pedagogue Aaron Rosand - setup involved one Canon GL camera and a pair of Rode condenser microphones set up about 10 feet high on a collapsible Shure S-15A mic stand:

By the way, i'm using my HP laptop as my music reader in this video, using the Half-Page zoomed in view within MusicReader Pro and turning pages wirelessly with my AirTurn AT-104 and FS-5U pedals.  Recording session like these make me really appreciate how much cleaner the presentation becomes when using the AirTurn - no extra page turning person sitting next to me filling up empty camera space, no hands swiping the pages of the music and dropping notes - just an elegant, unfettered focus on the music!  And the lid of my laptop actually looks just like a slimmed down version of a traditional piano music rack anyway!

Here's another video with clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester - this was actually my very first video project with my Canon GL.  I only had one camera at the time, so we actually reshot the footage over and over, moving the camera to different positions between each take, and using the audio recorded separately to edit together a 'clean' track.  The benefit of multiple camera angles is the fact that you can overlay different angles to cover over a master audio track that can be fully edited - slight timing quirks can either be solved by simply switching angles, or by subtly adjusting the speed of a short piece of video (as long as it doesn't last too long, otherwise it becomes obvious and synchronization becomes lost). 

Footage was shot on the gallery floor of the Cunningham Piano Company, with a gorgeously refurbished Steinway graciously loaned for our use!  I was using an older prototype of the page turning pedal with my Fujitsu Tablet PC at the time, but again i think this still allowed for a very clean, uncluttered presentation of the music for video.  Jose is quite the photographer, i should add!  He had terrific suggestions for light placement and lens usage - he even brought face powder to help keep the glare of skin oils to a minimum!

Jose has created a beautiful website for his publicity - you simply must visit and enjoy its design!  The above video was produced specifically with his website in mind, and is featured prominently there.

Last, but hopefully not least - here's my attempt at producing something as close to a music video a la MTV style as i think i'm going to get, at least for the foreseeable future:

I shot this as a demonstration "commercial" for Cunningham Pianos and the PianoDisc iQ system, a really cool reproducing piano peripheral that allows an iPod to "play" the piano via a direct audio connection and an embedded MIDI stream within the track.  This video was a lot more complicated to piece together than i could ever have imagined!  I initially had a number of static and slow pan shots that i had planned to use, but when i came across the "accidental" footage - moving the camera into place, getting the lens focused, bumping the camera at certain points unintentionally - i found that footage to be far more interesting than the planned stuff!  It's amazing how much of a visual story can begin to emerge when the music works as a script!  Many thanks to the Cunningham Piano people as i hogged up floor space and piano time to get all this footage together!  By the way, the audio was recorded acoustically right from the piano itself and the Bose speakers within outputting the vocal and supplemental tracks.

I'm not about to quit my day job quite yet, but if ever there was an attraction to another line of work, i have a feeling music videography would rank way up there for me...

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January 16, 09

Webcam Rehearsals and the Problem with Physics

At the end of this month, violinist Maurice Sklar and i are scheduled to record a video concert for PianoDisc, a company that creates the Sync-A-Vision system which embeds computer screens in piano music racks, featuring a video playback that can be synchronized to PianoDisc's reproducing piano action (a very, very cool system!  i'm putting together a promo video about it and will post a notice as soon as it's ready for viewing.  They also create a similar video synchronization system called the iQ, which can link iPods to PianoDisc systems in a similar manner to the Sync-A-Vision).  Problem is, Maurice lives in California and i'm all the way in New Jersey.  Time and expense don't make it practical for either of us to fly out to rehearse ahead of time, so how do we put this program together?

i know it's hard to believe, but i've never experimented with attempting webcam rehearsals.  i had always heard that there were inherent problems with lag and delay, but i naively thought that maybe it had more to do with getting mixed up with the lag between video and audio signals, and that perhaps by just focusing on listening to the audio and ignoring the video one could still work together in realtime.  Last night, Maurice and i tried our first webcam rehearsal over Skype, and i have to say it was a resounding - BOMB!  LOL!

At least it was an enlightening bomb - now i understand why realtime webcam rehearsals are impossible, simply due to the nature of physics.  As fast as the speed of light is, it's just not fast enough to compensate for the inherent delay between two distant points such as California and New Jersey.  Let me try to explain what happens as far as i can tell:

1.  NJ starts playing the piano and CA is supposed to come in on measure 4.  The problem begins the moment NJ starts playing - it takes extra time for the audio signal to travel from my computer through the internet to CA's computer.

2.  As NJ arrives at beat 2 of measure 1, CA is just beginning to hear the beginning of measure 1, but neither player realizes it yet...

3.  NJ arrives at measure 4, but CA doesn't make his entrance yet - from CA's perspective, NJ is still playing the last beat of measure 3, due to the signal delay, and is still waiting for the beginning of measure 4.

4.  Train wreck!  NJ gets to measure 4 and CA seems to come in "late" from NJ's perspective.  If NJ continues to just play on like a metronomic robot, CA can latch on and play as the signal arrives and it seems ok from CA's perspective, but NJ is hopelessly befuddled because from NJ's perspective nothing is coming together at the right time - CA is always a beat (or more) behind.

5.  More train wrecks!  Let's say CA wants to take a little rubato on measure 5 - CA makes a slight ritardando, which just serves to pull his signal even further into delay from NJ's perspective, as there was no way to pick up on the musical idea since NJ already arrives ahead of time before CA begins to signal his tempo change - so on and so forth.

Now, i've heard that performances from different parts of the globe can be artificially synchronized together by use of a centralized click track - a beat that is predetermined ahead of time and coordinated between computers to be heard at displaced times according to the location of each performer.  Of course, all you're doing at that point is playing like an automaton - there's no sense of collaboration, because the rhythm and timing is rigidly fixed and there's no way to signal from one partner to another that one wants to speed up a little or slow down a bit.

So does that mean our webcam goose is cooked?  i don't think so - it just means that we're going to have to work asynchronously.  What that means is that instead of trying to play together at the same time, we're going to send each other videos of ourselves individually to have something to work with on our own.  In other words, i will work on playing the accompaniment parts myself and sending the video clips to Maurice.  He'll have a chance to work with them to get accustomed to the tempi i'm suggesting, and in turn he will send me clips of himself playing through some of the selections i'm less familiar with to give me an idea of the kinds of rubato he'd like to use.  For fast, easy video recording capabilities, we'll be using a neat, free webcam application called *ooVoo.  Even given its less-than-ideal setup, sharing video clips asynchronously is still much better than nothing.  I'll keep everyone posted on our asynchronous rehearsal progress as it develops!


*Woops - i just discovered that ooVoo only allows for video recording up to 60 minutes for free users, and it looks like 5 minutes for a "power" (=paying) user. That just won't do - i'll have to explore other options. Any recommendations out there for a cross-platform Mac and PC webcam recorder - preferably free, with no time restrictions?

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January 15, 09

Bringin' Back my Bloggin' Bling!

It's been getting more and more difficult to find time - much less inspiration - to blog these days.  With the launch of AirTurn, i've been finding myself starting as early as 5 or 6 am just to catch up on emails, paperwork, and a thousand other details related to the company, my ongoing work at Curtis, as well as my own concerts and activities.  Even with a 30 minute Quiet Time and 15 minutes for brain-humming the upcoming to-do lists (my invention - brain "storming" doesn't sound quite right;  brain "humming" sound much more apt for the silence and mental drift necessary to net those fishy tasks swimming in my mental sea?), once the day starts rolling it seems to pretty much truck right on through non-stop until i flop to sleep sometime between midnight and 1 am...

...which brings me to my daily PATCO commutes to and from my office in Philadelphia.  i've written before about how much i've enjoyed the brief transit time for either reading, napping, or - thanks to my various pda phones - catching up on emails.  For quite some time now, i've been daydreaming of a plethora of articles during these train rides, but the cramped seats and (at peak times) crowded co-passengers really prohibited me from pulling out either my tablet pc or my hp laptop to peck out my thoughts. 

I hadn't been seriously eyeing the mini notebook ("netbook") pc market until i finally got fed up with the call of the blog - articles to write!  thoughts to capture!  daily adventures to share!  All these wonderful writing opportunities just evaporated with alarming frequency, and my frustration at running the wanna-write-but-no-time-hamster-wheel finally drove me to swing by my local BJ's market to pick up an Acer Aspire One netbook for about $300.

SNC00046 As much as i love my new Samsung Omnia PDA phone, a touchscreen keyboard is only good for so many lines of text.  Windows Mobile also lacks any really smooth blogging software, and natively logging onto my website's administrative panel via the tiny Opera browser was never much fun.  I really wanted a way to be able to work with Windows Live Writer, the program that's become far and away my favorite blogging tool, thanks to the easy way i can embed photos and videos, as well as its clean, simple GUI (clean? simple? Microsoft? Yeah!!)

This little netbook really does the trick - running Windows XP, i picked out the 160 Gig hard drive model - yes, that's right - GIGABYTES!!  Ok, the keyboard is quite small - but you know what?  i'm a small guy with small fingers, and i find that it fits my physique just A-OK! Battery life pretty much sucks, but i'm only counting on using this to write during the rides to and from work.  If i feel inspired to plop myself down somewhere else within easy reach of an electrical outlet, then i'll bring along the power adapter, but for now i really want to enjoy having a much lighter backpack.

I've read some reviews that the Aspire One can get somewhat slow at times - i guess that can happen if you overbloat it with too many background programs, so i intend to keep this little machine lean and light, its sole agenda being to bling back my blog ;)

One other thing i might try, just for fun, is to load up my music library and see if it's at all possible to read through music scores via the half-page view option within MusicReader - that should be an interesting experiment on an 8 inch screen!  I'll keep you posted if i give that a try?

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January 14, 09

Jazz Dreams and Tango Trips

Oh my! Well into the new year, and already i'm a full month away from my last blog post!  Shame on me - blame it on a busy business (a la AirTurn) and a heavy concert schedule (already!!)

Quick scoops to bring my faithful readers up to date with my various activities:

Jazz Dreams

A few days into the new year, Jeff Khaner asked me to join him and Tim Cobb for an impromptu Jazz concert at his partner's restaurant in mid-town Manhattan, Etcetera Etc.  Jeff, of course, is the principal flutist for the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Tim Cobb is an old Curtis classmate from way back when and longtime principal double bassist of the Metropolitan Opera.  I can't play "real" jazz, but that doesn't stop me from dreaming about being able to do so someday - we played Claude Bolling's Suite No. 1 for Flute, Piano and Double Bass, and i even managed to throw in a few quasi-improvised licks (gleaned from listening to Bolling's own recording with Rampal).  What great fun!  We followed the Bolling with a set of my own arrangements of old standards like "Angel Eyes", "Black Coffee", "I Love Paris", and my personal favorite, a mashup of "Moon River" with Claude Debussy's "Clair de lune".  Those arrangements were originally recorded for a yet-to-be-released album that Jeff and i recorded years ago, but which was subsequently held up because of some mechanical copyright issues...(sigh) Well, at least the audience seemed to have at least as much fun as we did playing for them!

With no acoustic piano at the restaurant's private seating area on the second floor, i had to bring my own digital piano setup.  Naturally, the geek in me found an excuse to splurge on a new Bose L1 cylindrical loudspeaker system - i had been dreaming of picking up one of these for quite some time, and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to test out what many consider the "ultimate" acoustic loudspeaker system on the market today.

Another "first" was an opportunity to perform publicly with my HP laptop as my music reader instead of my trusty old Fujitsu Tablet PC - one reason was a conscientious marketing decision, in order to help promote the idea that the AirTurn wireless page turner is compatible with ANY Windows or Mac computer with a USB port.  We noticed that several early visitors to our site commented that they liked the AirTurn idea, but were put off by the high cost of a new Tablet PC system.  Another reason was actually because i've come to enjoy MusicReader's ability to zoom in to half-page views of the score in a laptop's landscape mode more than the full-page portrait views on my slate Tablet PC!  So much easier on my eyes, and surprisingly comfortable to navigate even with twice as many page turns.

One interesting issue i found with the Bose L1 loudspeaker was that it was very sensitive to line noise from my PC's.  I was hoping to run Pianoteq from my Sager 9262 laptop, but the hum was just too loud.  Not even my portable Furman Power Conditioner could clean up the electricity to eliminate the extra noise.  Fortunately, my Muse Receptor was built with professional-grade audio line outputs, so that became my default piano synthesis engine.  Good thing too, it turns out!  I was initially going to work with a Pianoteq sound, but for some reason the midrange was just too boomy for the room, the upper registers were too "dead" and woody, and the reverb was just too long no matter how much i tried to tweak the parameters.  I actually ended up defaulting to a Boesendorfer piano sound using Ivory.  Another issue with both Pianoteq and Ivory was the need to expand the dynamic range to emulate the extremely wide variance of dynamics in a live, collaborative setting.  Playing solo is one thing, but having to mold a sound around other players requires a much finer sense of control and color.  I ended up setting the Ivory dynamic range to around 45 dB, which seemed to give me a reasonable set of sounds from extremely soft to a pretty healthy FFF, even with its more limited palette of interpolated samples.  Please don't get me wrong - i love Pianoteq, and still think it has a tremendous future going forward, but i have to admit after this experience that there are some "live" sound issues that need to be addressed before i can try it again with this type of setup.  I'm hoping that the next versions of Pianoteq will allow me to do give this another go.

On another technical snafu note, i was using MusicReader's playlist feature to run through our whole program without having to open files one by one manually.  Everything worked fine until the very last piece, when a strange memory error message flashed onto the screen, effectively crashing the program!  For a few seconds, i debated whether or not to stop playing and reboot the program, but i took a chance and tried my hand at improvising a new accompaniment on the spot.  All's well that ended well, but i was definitely concerned about whether or not MusicReader was going to be up to stuff for the Florida concert - worst case scenario, i could always resort to just opening and closing music files one by one manually as i've always done in the past, but i really wanted the playlist feature to work properly!

 

The food at Etcetera Etc., by the way, was outstanding.  They serve nouveau Italian fare - fantastic pastas, great entrees, yummy Montepulciano (sp?) wines!  And i don't know what they did, but the vodka martini i had there was simply the best i have ever tasted! 

Tango Trips

Kyungmi and i somehow managed to drive home safely after all that yummy food and packing all that equipment back into the van.  The next day, i sent a quick email to Marco about MusicReader's glitch from the night before. Right after Church, i took a flight down to West Palm Beach for a Monday concert at the Kravis Center with my "nom de group", the "Sung Trio"!  No, i didn't come up with the name - i think someone over at the Kravis Center did.  I just provided the names of my colleagues, the lovely Lidia Kaminska on Accordion and Bandoneon, and the dashing Doug O'Connor on Saxophone.  After a smooth flight that actually arrived early (!) i picked up my rental car from Hertz and got to my hotel for some much needed rest.

Marco was simply amazing!  By Monday morning, he had identified the problem - apparently, MusicReader had a memory leak that didn't evidence itself if you converted image files via its default greyscale setting, but i had been using 24bit color to maximize the image quality, and that resulted in some hefty memory hogging that would quickly bloat and crash the system after too many music file openings.  He found the leak, fixed it, then compiled a new version of the program on the fly for me.  Talk about coming to the rescue in the nick of time!  The new version works beautifully, with nary a slowdown or hiccup, even when i open multiple playlists with massive amounts of music back to back!  If you purchased MusicReader in the past, be sure to download the upgraded version from Marco's website here.

After a quick Monday morning breakfast, i drove over to the house where Lidia and Doug were staying (one of Astral's board members who regularly commutes between Florida and Philadelphia graciously hosted them).  After a brief rehearsal and some lounging about in the gorgeous Florida sun, we headed over to the local NPR station for a nice hour-long live interview and performance on WXEL's "Classical Variations" show with producer Joanna Marie!

Turns out this was Doug's first-ever live radio gig - his sparkling personality came through loud and clear, of that i have no doubt!

 

More poolside sun after the radio show, followed by a quick sound check and rehearsal in the Rinker Playhouse at the Kravis Center:

Pretty good pictures for a camera phone, don't you think?  Courtesy of my Samsung Omnia ;)

We presented a fun, eclectic mix of original works and transcriptions, mostly focused on jazz and tango motifs.  Lidia did an amazing job of creating a closing set of Piazzolla tango arrangements for our trio, which went over especially well with our audience. 

Sure enough, the AirTurn was a hit yet again - so many folks were clamoring to find out how i was reading music and turning pages, with at least one woman exclaiming that she wasn't sure if i had memorized the whole program or not!  The hubub of performance didn't allow me to take any post-concert pictures, but hopefully the Kravis Center will send me some samples of what they took.  The audience reaction was just marvelous - far better than i expected!  In fact, they're already talking about inviting us back once or twice for next season!

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Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!

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