Michael Houstoun and his iPad

Tuesday, 8 September 2015
Michael Houstoun

Michael Houstoun is travelling with his iPad on the Inspired by Bach tour.

The iPad has been around for just over 5 years - with over 250 million of them sold worldwide. Musicians are finding many uses for them, with their portability and size making them ideal for touring and performing. 

Pianist Michael Houstoun has put his paper scores to one side, and is reading music off his iPad for the Inspired by Bach tour. We asked him a few questions about the process:

Photo: Dean ZillwoodHow does it work?
The technology is simple, involving only an iPad and a wireless pedal system (I use AirTurn), which is connected to the iPad with bluetooth. It is a small device which sits on the floor next to the soft pedal on the piano. 

When did you decide to start using an iPad?
I first became aware of the technology in a real sense when I saw my colleague, Timothy Young, use one when I did a stint in May last year at the Australian National Academy of Music where he is Head of Piano. We had a chat about it, and I immediately saw the sense in it. I began using the technology this year for concerts with the Rodger Fox Big Band, and for my first two 'Inspired by Bach' recitals (in Wanganui and Upper Hutt). 
I should mention that I have had to practice carefully to master the pedalling system...it's no good if you're constantly concerned with it. 

How do you input and annotate the scores, without the old fashioned pencil and eraser?
There is a brilliant app for the iPad called 'forScore'. Scores are loaded into the iPad in the form of PDFs, and you open them with this application. It is possible to do annotations, rearrangements, duplications, deletions - any number of marvellous things using forScore - a truly brilliant app. There is also a massive online library of scores in PDF form which can be downloaded for free; almost everything that is in the public domain. (Check it out here: International Music Score Library Project, IMSLP) I prefer to copy my own scores - editions which I like, which have important fingerings, corrections, and other annotations in them. 

What (if any) are the technological challenges when touring with an iPad?
I can't think of any, but I'm carrying hard-copy scores with me just in case...

Are you a convert, or would you go back to sheet music and needing a page turner?
I will always be a little suspicious of technology, and I like to work off sheet music when I'm learning. I'm also very used to having page turners when I play chamber music. At the moment I think of the iPad more as a recital or concerto tool. But as the technology focuses more and more on the specific needs of performing musicians I think it will become irresistible, especially when the musician is travelling a lot. 

Any particular pros or cons to performing with electronics?
One of the greatest pros is that you can literally keep your entire repertoire in one small device. Also, lighting requirements can be reduced to just a keyboard light. At the moment the iPad is just a little too small to be ideal. But, I read only yesterday that there may be a larger iPad introduced at the next Apple launch...I hope that is true. 

This video shows Michael Houstoun reading from his iPad - during the recording session he mentions above, "Concerti: Michael Houstoun with the Rodger Fox Big Band":

You can see Michael Houstoun and his iPad around the country during the Inspired by Bach tour, 15 September - 8 October.
Concert details and ticketing information can be found here.