Saturday, January 31, 2009

Instant Stage Fright

So, as promised, I went live last night with the Tablet PC as music reader. Here's my short summary: it was terrifying (but fine)! I can't quite explain why I got so nervous because I had things planned out pretty well, but I was actually shaking on stage for the first time in many years. It's not that I don't get ever nervous performing, but I've spent enough time at the piano to feel a basic security about being there and knowing what to expect.

And that's just the thing. I haven't used the pedal enough to "know" what's going to happen - or, more importantly, to "know" how to get myself out of a jam. Of course, I can blame myself for so impulsively deciding to try it out last night. I only had a chance for one run-through with the cellist ahead of time (our previous rehearsals had been of the paper variety) - then, just to up the ante, I decided post-rehearsal to switch from the double pedal (which provides an extra pedal for going back) to a single pedal I'd almost never practiced with. (I only own this pedal because I've been carrying around a store credit card for Daddy's Junky Music that I've never known what to do with until now.) The reasoning was as follows: if I accidentally double-clutched and went too far ahead, there's a button on the Tablet that I can just reach up and use to fix it - which isn't so different from reaching up to turn a paper page by hand. I was actually finding the larger double pedal to be confusing because my foot has not only to find it, but to be sure to hit the right part. With the single pedal, it's just easier to hit the bullseye.

And, in most instances, I did hit the bullseye. A couple of times, I hit the pedal (probably not quite correctly) but got no turn, so I had to hit it again. There was one panicked moment when I somehow thought I had gone too far - I'm honestly not sure what happened in retrospect, but I reached up with my left hand and found the right page quickly while my right hand noodled around, more or less in the correct key. Still, the most surprising thing about the whole experience was how edgy it made me - I wasn't concentrating well and played a couple of bizarrely wrong notes, mostly in very simple passages where I was obsessively peeking down at the floor to be sure the pedal hadn't flown off.

Honestly, as much as anything else, I think I just felt kind of self-conscious. I tried to be as low-profile as possible, carrying the single pedal onstage in my pocket and setting up discreetly while the cellist tuned. I don't think anyone in the Green Room even noticed. The tablet looks great on the music rack, and I carried it in with a black page on the screen, so it looked quite similar to a black music notebook. There is the little Airturn transmitter sticking out the top of the unit, though, and I later heard that several in the audience could see a reflection of the glowing music in the wall-sized glass window behind me. Anyway, whether or not people were noticing what I was doing, I had this weird sense of being noticed - I don't like to be noticed.

But, I'm glad I gave it a go and have the first performance behind me. I expect to become much more comfortable in the weeks ahead. In some ways, the trickiest thing is figuring out how to coordinate the new foot action. For example, I find it much easier to page-turn on the beat, and I'm still nervous about turning in the middle of busy passagework. Here's an example of one way that PDF Annotator helped me get around that. If you look at this page, you'll see that I pasted the top system from the next page to the bottom here so that I could turn on those nice empty measures. Eventually, I hope to be smooth enough with the turning that I won't feel the need to do this (or I could just trust my memory to get me through the notes and then turn), but this kind of thing works quite well and is very easy to do.

I'm hoping my first full-recital experience with the Airturn will be on Valentine's Day (sorry, Mr. K). I'm glad it won't be a Friday the 13th.


Hugh Sung said...

Wow, your article here brings back so many terrifying memories! LOL!! Way back when i was just getting started using computers as music readers and clunky old transcription pedals as page turners, i recall it took me a good month to start approaching a certain level of "comfort" with the system, if you can call it that! Keep in mind the Tablet PC's back then were much slower and the pedals more unreliable - after all, they weren't designed for musicians! I thought i'd share the first video clip of a public performance using my computer as a music reader -

First video of Hugh's Tablet PC music performance in public

- Around 4:50 into the 3rd movement of the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, you'll notice a bit of "fudging" on my part as i frantically improvise while trying to figure out where in the world the right page was supposed to be! It's not easy to see, but i was punching the pedals forwards and backwards as fast as possible to find my spot - i think the pedal had accidentally hit two pages forward or something like that!

Anyways, congratulations on your AirTurn purchase and your new forays into the wonderful world of digital music reading! Fortunately, it's actually easier than ever to get comfortable with digital music readers, given the vast improvements with hardware and software available now! The good news is that it just gets easier with time and practice, and soon you'll start wondering why in the world you put up with paper for so long!

Take care, and best wishes for all your future AirTurn performances! BTW, you might want to check out MusicReader sometime as a terrific alternative to PDF Annotator!

Hugh Sung said...

Just a quick addendum on the MusicReader idea - MusicReader features a variety of page views (half, full, double, landscape and portrait), as well as some really neat half-page turn options so you'll always see what's next without a break! There's even a full set of ink, highlight, and print-quality stamps that you can annotate your music with, as well as a brand new feature that i pushed hard for: bookmarks! I have to put together a new review video for MR, as the one i have up is already old given all the improvements that have been added in since i made that clip!

Take care!