Using a tablet for choral singing

I recently rejoined the Mornington Singers, a chamber choir based in Dublin that I sang with a few years ago. We perform 4-6 concerts a year, and use choral music scores to sing from. That normally means holding a black folder with a stack of paper inside.

However, I’ve decided to try something a bit different – combining two passions of mine – technology and music! I’m ditching the paper, and singing from a computer tablet.

I’m not exactly breaking new ground here. I’ve seen loads of other singers doing this already, but this is my first serious attempt at singing off a screen.

It helps that there’s an Android app that makes the whole thing easy, called MobileSheets (available as a free and and paid-for ‘Pro’ version). You can import music scores in PDF format, and then adjust them for display on the screen. I like the option to auto-crop the margins from the edge of the page, and the ability to apply a sepia-colour filter to help improve the page contrast.

I originally tried it out using an old Google Nexus 7 tablet, which as the name suggests has a 7 inch screen. It kind-of works, but the screen is a bit too small, and would not suit anyone with less than 20-20 eyesight. So a couple of weeks ago I upgraded to a reconditioned Amazon Fire 10 tablet that was on sale. It has a bigger 10 inch screen, which works a lot better with A4-sized music scores.

The Fire tablet itself is not stunning in terms of performance, but it does have a good quality screen. It’s locked in to the Amazon ecosystem, running an old version of Android that is tightly integrated with Amazon services. Thankfully there’s loads of online tutorials out there that explain how the Google Play Store (and other Google apps) can be loaded. And although the Fire tablet can feel quite sluggish when using some demanding apps, the MobileSheets Pro app works very well, and there’s no noticeable lag loading scores or turning pages.

MobileSheets app running on Amazon Fire 10 tablet

The positives

  • I have access to all my music in one place, and depending on the memory capacity of the tablet, I could store hundreds/thousands of music scores in one place.
  • I can define a “set list” in the app that shows scores in a defined order. This helps keep my music in order. 
  • I can define bookmarks within a score that enabled me to jump quickly between movements of a larger work. I’ve set some hot-spot areas of the screen to jump backwards and forwards between bookmarks.
  • Page turns are very quick, and also silent. Just tap on the right of the screen to go forward, and on the left to go back.  Moving back and forth between pages in a score during rehearsal seems to be easier on a tablet than with paper.
  • I don’t have any problem seeing the notes in a dark room, as my music is back-lit. At a recent concert the rest of the choir were using clip-on lights to illuminate their paper music, but I don’t have that worry. I’ll just have to make sure I turn down the brightness in really dark settings, so that the screen doesn’t illuminate me!

The negatives

  • The tablet is heavier and more awkward to hold than a piece of paper, which makes it less convenient in a rehearsal – although once we get to the concert it’ll be easier to manage than lots of different scores
  • Adding markings to the score is possible with the MobileSheets app, but it takes a bit longer (there are a few taps required) than using a pencil on paper
  • Audiences are not used to seeing performers singing off a tablet, so I’ll need to be discrete to avoid it being a distraction. I plan to mount the tablet somehow inside my normal music folder using velcro strips or similar.
  • I have to source my music in PDF format to load it onto the tablet. If that’s not readily available then I need to find the time to scan the paper score into a PDF document. The CamScanner app seem good at this.

Generally I feel that the positives outweigh the negatives so far. However I’ve only been using tablet for rehearsals and a couple of concerts so far.

I just have to make sure that my music is fully charged!

Lay Vicar and Choral Scholar roles at Christ Church

There’s a job advert in this week’s Church Times for roles in the choir of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin.

The choir are expanding their numbers to 18 Lay Vicars and 4 Choral Scholars, and offer the unique opportunity of professional singing roles for adult Sopranos, Altos (both male and female), Tenors and Basses.  The choir currently sing three services a week on a Thursday evening and on Sunday – and the role can easily be combined with a full-time job.

Christ Church Girls’ Choir Open Day

The Christ Church Cathedral Girls’ Choir is currently recruiting new members. The choir is open to any girl from sixth class to fifth year with a love of singing, regardless of their previous musical experience or religious background.
The choir meets on Tuesdays (5.00-6.45) and Wednesdays (4.45-6.45) during term time. The Girls’ Choir sings the service of evensong in the Cathedral every week. In addition, choir members are offered:
– individual singing lessons
– help to improve their sight-reading, aural and musicianship skills
– the opportunity to perform alongside the Cathedral Choir in services and concerts
– tours in Ireland and Europe
– the chance to work towards the Voice for Life Award Scheme, run by the Royal School of Church Music

Membership of the choir is free; tours and awards are subsidised by the Cathedral. New members should be enthusiastic and committed to the choir, and able to attend regularly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Entry is by a short audition with the choir’s director, Rosemary Beecher Bryant.

Prospective members and their parents are invited to attend an open rehearsal and service on Wednesday 19th January 2011, at 4.45-7.00. The timetable of the evening is as follows:

4.45 Prospective members rehearse with the current choir upstairs in the Chapter House; parents are welcome to observe
5.00 The choir moves down to the Cathedral to rehearse with the Choral Scholars
5.45 Break
6.00 Evensong service
6.40 Parents’ question and answer session; opportunity to arrange auditions

If you would like to attend, please email RosemaryBBryant(Replace this with the @ sign)hotmail.com, or call 085 7424722 to book a place.

St Ann’s Dawson Street – Choir Auditions

The Church of Ireland parish of St Ann's, Dawson Street, Dublin 2 are inviting singers of all parts to audition for the church choir.

St Ann's employs a professional chamber choir to sing it's Sunday morning service. The choir sings a broad repertoire of traditional Anglican church music at the alternating Eucharist and Matins services on Sundays at 10.45am.
Ideal candidates will have experience of singing in a church choir, have a committed attitude towards the choir, have good sight-reading ability, and a voice that blends well in a small ensemble.

Auditions will take place on the afternoon of Sunday 21st March. Please contact the Director of Music, Charles Marshall, for details of the audition process and renumeration level.

Email: tcmcharlie(Replace this with the @ sign)gmail.com
Phone: 087 975 2017

Ten Weeks

I finally decided just before Easter that I was going to hand in my notice at the cathedral choir. I’m now working out my notice, and I finish at the end of term in 10 weeks time.

There’s a myriad of reasons that sit behind my decision, but if you boil it down, I’ve just had enough. I’ve been at Christ Church for just over two years now, and it’s a very demanding role. And with an equally demanding day job, something had to give eventually. And so, in the middle of July I’ll be bidding a fond farewell to the choir – although I suspect I may be back from time to time to dep.

For the time being, I’m not planning on leaving Dublin or changing anything else in my life. And I’ve not yet lined up any other singing opportunity – but I guess there’s lots of time to find something, perhaps after the summer. And in the mean time, I’m looking forward to reclaiming my weekends, and finding out what ‘normal’ people do on their Sundays.

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