Apple tree iPad stand

I’ve recently become the proud, selfish, and somewhat geeky, owner of an iPad. Not, I hasten to add, the iPad 2, which is apparently already hard to come by, just over two weeks since its release by Apple. I decided that the additional cost (c£100) was not worth all the extra bells and whistles: I don’t need a camera and I don’t need all that memory/power, since my primary motivation for purchasing an iPad (apart from the need to add yet another Apple gadget to my toybox) is to use it as a teaching aid.

I have blogged before about the piano teacher’s need to keep abreast of new technology. If we can’t offer it in our studio, we are going to lose students, especially younger students who are turned on by gadgets and gizmos. It is already clear that such gadgetry can be put to good use during teaching: I have a gallery of composer photos in my iPad, a selection of pictures of old pianos, including Beethoven’s and Chopin’s, diagrams of the guts and action of the piano (grand and upright), and a pot-pourri of “oddments”, including an old photograph of Rachmaninov’s huge hands, and a picture of Glenn Gould hunched at the keyboard in his characteristic crouching posture. The iPad, when produced during lessons last week, was met with oohs and aahs of delight: the kids loved it, and I could feel my street-cred rocketing as we scrolled through the pictures together. “Look how small the keyboard is!” Eli exclaimed on seeing a picture of a Clavichord. “Is that really Beethoven’s piano?” Ben asked, with awe.

Add in a powerful iPod capacity, loaded with exam music, ‘Fran’s Easy Guide to Classical Music’, and a selection of other music of interest, plus a score-reading app which plays the music as you read it, or can print it, wirelessly, straight from the iPad, and you’ve got a neat and versatile all-in-one teaching tool.

Today, IMSLP (International Music Score Libary Project/Petrucci Music Library) announced plans to develop an IMSLP app for use on the iPad, selling the idea to users with the catchy, green tag “make music with free public domain scores without chopping down trees”.

A number of score reading apps already exist. I use ForScore, which allows you to upload your own scores in PDF format, or download from IMSLP or or other sites which offer PDF downloads. The programme allows editing and annotating so that you can add your own notes and comments to your scores. It also has a link with your iPod so that you can listen to the music as you read it. It’s neat and fairly easy to use, though it can be a little quirky. I am just getting to grips with it. I like the portability of it: I was actually annotating Debussy’s Sarabande while commuting to my ‘other’ job yesterday.

IMSLP’s announcement suggests that traditional scores may eventually become obsolete as musicians opt to load their scores onto their iPads, or similar e-reading devices, and prop them on their music stands, instead of carting around a hefty Henle or Wiener Urtext edition. James Rhodes proved this point during his encore in Cambridge last year, playing a Chopin Prelude from his iPad. I still hold that this is just showboating, crowd-pleasing gimmickry (the fact that he had to pause in his playing to swipe the iPad to turn the page shows that the app is not perfect: if he’d been using a proper score, the music would have filled a two-page spread, thus removing the need for a showy page turn), but it more than demonstrates that it is possible to play from such a device, and I do not think it will be too long before we see string quartets or choral ensembles using iPads during concerts.

(A fermata here while the luddites throw up their hands in horror.)

The huge capacity of the iPad, and its neat, handbag dimensions, means that soon you won’t have to pack your briefcase with heavy Urtext scores. Just load them onto your iPad and off you go. But something’s not quite right: trying to sight-read through Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie Op 61 on the score reading app on my iPad the other day made my eyes strain and my head hurt: the smaller-than-A4 format is just not big enough for my cross eyes. It’s fine away from the piano: I can read it comfortably, but I can’t work from it at the keyboard. And I want to be able to scribble notes directly onto the score from the pencil I keep behind my ear. And, if I’m completely honest, I really love that smooth heavy cream paper and dusky blue covers of a Henle edition.

We all got very heated a few years ago when the first e-reader appeared and people lamented the death of the traditional book. But, amid all the hand-wringing and eye-pulling, book sales remain strong and while e-readers are becoming increasingly popular, it is unlikely they will ever replace a book, for various reasons (for example, a book containing many notes, index, bibliography etc is not suited to the e-reader format). I don’t think I will be giving up my Urtext scores just yet – I love all my annotations, my personal markings, hints and reminders, interspersed with notes from my teacher, and I particularly enjoy coming back to a well-marked score after a break from that piece – but I can definitely see the benefits of having scores uploaded to an iPad, and I welcome IMSLP’s initiative to develop an app, thus making their vast and fascinating resource more readily available. How we will react to an entire symphony orchestra all playing from their iPads remains to be seen……

IMSLP’s announcement

ForScore score reading app

iStand for iPad app

iPadPunk – articles on apps for musicians and music production

Boy Bland

Norman Lebrecht has been highlighting on the pages of his blog Slipped Disc the sad facts of the nominations for this year’s Classic Brits Awards (formerly the Classical Brits). I say “sad” because, as Norman says, the nominations and awards are going not to artists of genuine talent and true artistic integrity, but to manufactured “boy bands” (for band read “bland”) and an opera singer whose main claim to fame is his appearance on a reality tv show (‘From Popstar to Operastar’), the tenor Roland Villazon (he’s up for Best Male Artist of the Year). The Artist of the Decade award goes to “four young men from a barbershop on the wrong side of town” (NL), Il Divo, a group straight out of Simon Cowell’s stable.


Other nominations, for the ClassicFM Album of the Year (we kinda guessed ClassicFM would be “in” on this one!) include Russell ‘The Voice’ Watson, The Choirgirl Isabel (eeugh!), Aled’s Christmas Gift (sweet!), and The Band of the RAF (cue the theme from The Dambusters….).  The awards will be presented, also unsurprisingly, by “classically-trained” vacuous piano-babe Mylene Klass at the RAH on 14th May.

A quick Google of nominations for other categories was somewhat sparse, though an article on the BBC website revealed that pianist Mitsuko Uchida, trumpeter Alison Balsom and violinist Nicola Benedetti will be competing for the coveted title Female Artist of the Year. Well, that information does redeem these awards slightly – but only slightly….. And I suspect amid all the hoopla and medi-yar loviness, these artists, who really do display true commitment, integrity and talent, will be somewhat sidelined. I do hope not, but with Mr Cowell on the prowl, we can kinda guess the rest.

I don’t have a problem with awards, per se, but I do have a problem with manufactured artists and bands, especially those which serve only to line the already bulging pockets of Simon Cowell, and his ilk. I ranted extensively on this subject just before Christmas, when another of Simon Cowell’s progeny, a young man so forgettable I have forgotten his name, was up for the Christmas No. 1. I joined the campaign ‘Cage Against the Machine’ to have John Cage’s seminal work 4’33” take the Christmas 2010 No. 1 spot, because I just could not bear to see yet more Cowellness invading our music charts and tv screens, and the thought of all the millions he was making from the enterprise.

The other, more fundamental Problem with Cowell is that he peddles the idea that it is easy to make it in the music business, that success and celebrity are easily-won, without the many hours of training, study and discipline that real musicians – be they pop, jazz, world or classical – must undergo to achieve longevity and recognition.

So, as a challenge to The Classic Brits, may I suggest The Alternative Classic Brits? Nominations are invited for the following categories (genuine artists only please; reality-show participants need not apply):

Best Male Artist

Best Female Artist

Best Album

Best Newcomer

Best Ensemble/Orchestra

Best Opera

Best New Work

Lifetime Achievement Award

Critics’ Award


Please feel free to leave your nominations and additional award categories here – or follow me (and Norman Lebrecht) on Twitter. And if this takes off, I may even be announcing a Facebook campaign! Watch this space.

While updating my LinkedIn profile earlier today, during which I forced myself to reduce my curriculum vitae to five catchy points to succinctly sum up who I am and what I do, and it occurred to me that those of us who are freelance music teachers or musicians, or both, have to wear many hats in the course of our working life. Added to that, if one has a family, one must factor in a whole ‘nother skills base, and demands upon one’s time. Since it’s nearly the end of term, this is a slightly tongue-in-cheek post, though the underlying sentiments are more serious. I expect those who do a similar job to me will recognise many of these roles!

CEO – I run my own company!

ENTREPRENEUR – I took the risk to set up my studio (company), purchase the equipment, and seek out clients

DIPLOMAT – a child arrives, upset by something that has happened at school, and needs gentle coaxing and encouragement to participate in his/her piano lesson

TEACHER – obviously!

COMPOSER/ARRANGER – adapting music from the charts or a tv show that a student has requested to learn (I’m currently engaged in writing out the theme from The A-Team for one of my students).

CHILD WHISPERER – several parents have complimented me on my “child-wrangling” skills and my ability to get a group of kids on the stage and performing

I.T. CONSULTANT – making sure my computer/iPad/iPhone work to serve me, my studio and my students; managing my website and blog, ensuring content remains fresh and up to date

PR/ADVERTISING EXECUTIVE – marketing my skills and my studio, networking to make new connections, keeping up with friends and colleagues for mutual benefit, keeping abreast of what is new in teaching/pianism

IMPRESARIO/CONCERT PROMOTER/ARTISTS’ MANAGER – I organise twice-yearly concerts for my students, for which I do all the publicity, write the programme notes, provide the post-concert refreshments (including homemade cakes!), and get everyone sufficiently motivated and excited to get up and perform.

THERAPIST – a couple of my adult students regard their lessons as “time out” from their busy lives, and sometimes a lesson becomes a chance just to talk to de-stress

JUGGLER – organising my weekly schedule to accommodate teaching, my own practising/study, running the home and looking after my family

STUDENT – teaching, for me, has become a wonderful, endless circle of attainment and study, especially since I started having lessons myself again two years ago.

Since I also run a home and care for my family, I could add some other “jobs” to my profile: cook, taxi driver, nurse, cleaner, laundress, cat sitter.

Which hats do you wear? Please feel free to leave comments. For a longer, serious article on this subject, go to

I have enjoyed the recent video compilations of pianists playing the opening measures of Schubert’s last sonata, and Chopin’s ‘Butterfly’ Etude, which have come to me via people I follow on Twitter. Thus inspired, I have decided to add my own offering, this time of pianists playing the Toccata from Bach’s 6th Partita BWV 830. I have been learning this piece for the last 3 months, and will be performing it in a concert next weekend. My benchmark recording has been Murray Perahia’s, but the following films offer some very interesting interpretations, each of which has its own merits. As one of the comments on Sokolov’s performance says, “there is no right or wrong way to Bach….” and these films demonstrate that very clearly, with widely varying tempos and touches. No one version is “right” or “wrong”: each offers interesting insights, and each has informed my practising of this piece in some way or other, whether the flourishes of the opening, arpeggiated figure, the true “toccare” measures (bars 3-4, 7, for example), the ornamentation, or the character of the fugue. The harpischord and organ clips are ‘wild cards’ in some ways, yet they give an idea of how the piece might have sounded to Bach, played in the chamber, or church.