It goes without saying that 2020 has been a challenging year for choirs: professional singers and enthusiasts alike were forced to rethink their artistic approach and find new ways of working. Many of us experimented with digital tools and platforms to maintain the connection with our members and patrons.
Streaming concerts and sharing virtual choir videos still remain the only viable options for many choruses. And the divide between technologists and those of us who aren’t quite as tech-savvy has never been more apparent.
Setting up virtual events is challenging. Sending vocal scores to choristers by email or chat is often burdensome. Not to mention how tricky it can be to display vocal scores and markups on video conferencing software using screen share! At the end of the day, it seems that trying to do our musical work on these platforms simply slows us down. After all, these platforms were not really designed for that.
Fortunately, there is a better solution: switching to digital scores. Digital sheet music has major benefits for choirs, as it allows us to experiment with new workflows that are simply not possible with traditional paper scores.
Digital Scores Save Time
Our audiences may not realize it, but we know how much work and effort goes into preparing a performance. All the markups, modifications, and cuts we do to our scores are proof of the intense work involved in any choral performance.
With paper scores, each choir singer needs to write down the conductor’s markings to their personal copy of the score. Perhaps these are even first notated and shared by section leaders. Oftentimes, we make mistakes during this process and some information gets lost along the way. It’s like a game of musical telephone! This creates confusion during rehearsals and wastes time.
On the contrary, with digital scores artistic directors can simply share their markings in real time with all the singers. It’s a huge time saver, since everyone gets the information immediately and there is no room for human error.
It’s the main reason why digital scores and platforms such as Newzik have gained traction these last few years. Newzik is a digital platform for managing your vocal scores and collaborating with your fellow singers. It is used by institutions such as the Vienna State Opera chorus as well as world-class singers like Juan Diego Flórez.
Video of Juan Diego Flórez rehearsing with Newzik at the Metropolitan Opera (October 2018)
You can think of it as a Google Doc for digital sheet music — a collaborative space where you can share scores, markups and even audio or video memos with everyone in your vocal ensemble. This audio and video information as well as all handwritten markups can then be shared in real time, effectively eliminating all the short note breaks that can pile-up in rehearsals. Digital scores thus give us more time to focus on actual musical practice!
"The fact that I can instantly send all my notes, corrections and directions to each singer in the middle of a rehearsal is the greatest strength of Newzik for me." – Stefano Visconti, choirmaster, Monte Carlo Opera.
A 24/7 Accessible Digital Library
The benefits of digital scores are not limited to rehearsals or concerts. They also allow for a more efficient organization of your chorus’s score collection — having a digital library means you can access your music anytime, anywhere.
“One of the main benefits is for my back, because you’ll know if you’re a conductor that you have to carry many heavy scores with you, especially when you’re touring abroad. With digital scores, everything that you own can be stored digitally in your iPad, giving you a lot less to carry.”
— Tom Hammond, Musical Director, Yorkshire Young Sinfonia
Digitizing your library of scores lets you share access with other people in just one click, which makes it a pretty good solution distributing scores to your ensemble. It also ensures that everyone is working on the same edition of the score. Some platforms like Newzik even let you create shared folders for your choir members, making any score you add to the folder instantly available to them.
Whether you use public domain scores available online at places like ChoralWiki, IMSLP or Mutopia, or digital material from music publishers such as Universal Edition or Carl Fischer, digital technology allows anyone to access a large repertoire in just a few clicks. You can forget about scanner or printer issues and you never have to worry about copying or retrieving individual copies from your choristers.
A Musical Contingency Plan for Emergencies
The fact that digital scores are so easy to access and share can actually save a performance entirely. Think of the last time one of your lead singers was sick and you needed to find a replacement at the last minute. In this situation, providing the new soloist with the annotated score is crucial for the performance, because there is sometimes very little time for them to learn the piece. Having the score ready with all markings in digital format comes in pretty handy in situations like this and can save you a lot of unnecessary stress!
"When rehearsal time is limited, digital scores are our best ally: this technology lets us communicate effectively with the other teams of the Opera and ensure that everyone has all the information they need, when they need it."
— Maximilian Kurz, Vienna State Opera
All the time saved by switching to digital scores add up during the season and allows choruses to set more ambitious programs.
An Easy-to-Use Platform
By now you should have a better understanding of why digital scores have become a thing recently, and why we’ve seen so many iPads pop up at concert venues. Digital sheet music creates a new musical experience for singers of all backgrounds, from occasional enthusiasts to seasoned professionals. Now, of course, there’s a learning curve involved in transitioning to digital scores, but, if you try, chances are you will actually find it a lot more intuitive than you may think.
"We developed new codes to adapt to the possibilities of the platform, and it only took us a month before being 100% self-sufficient in our use of digital scores.”
— Stefano Visconti, choir conductor, Monte-Carlo Opera.
This is because companies developing software for digital sheet music are very much aware that providing musicians with an easy-to-use, intuitive interface is crucially important. At least at Newzik, we are! In our six years of experience working with professional ensembles, we have completely redesigned our interface no less than three times! That’s how important intuitivity is to us.
Offering an accessible platform also means letting you try it on any device, and with no strings attached — the Newzik app is available on any iPad or iPhone and now from any device as a web version. We have a 100% free version with limited storage which you can use for as long as you want, as well as a full version with extra features and unlimited storage. We also offer group subscriptions for professional ensembles with optional training services to help you get started.
If you have questions about going digital, comment below!
Margaux is content and communication manager at Newzik. She enjoys playing guitar since her childhood and is a member of the musical group of her school.