On That Note: Tablets and Tablature

Oct 2, 2017

Cellist Robert Cohen joins Lake Effect every month for On That Note, an ongoing conversation about the life of a touring classical musician.

Recently, Cohen made a large technological leap, which he's been contemplating for years. He bought a tablet. "I am now using an iPad on a special stand to read my music," he explains. 

The special stand allows him to turn pages using a foot pedal. It's a move many professional musicians have made in the past few years, although many like Cohen have been reluctant to do so. He compares it to people who prefer to read books over e-readers; he worried he would miss the feel and look of the music that he's used to. 

Cohen was finally convinced to buy an one after an incident where his paper pages started blowing away during a rehearsal. All of his fellow musicians had iPads and were not affected by the rogue air conditioner wreaking havoc on his music stand. 

After buying the device, he quickly found that his worries were unfounded. Not only did the iPad hold up better in the wind, it was also more adaptable to difficult spaces. 

"It is just amazingly clear," Cohen admits. "It's backlit, you've got really great contrast, you just don't have to think whether there is good light on your music and worry about it... I'm reliant on good light and there are so many occasions on stage even, where the light isn't that great."

He was also surprised to find that the iPad allowed him to engage more with his fellow musicians. Cohen specifically points to instances where he was playing music with difficult page turns and organizing his printed pages with three on the stand.

"You find you're looking quite a long way to your left hand side for the left hand page, and quite a long way to the right for the right hand page," he explains. 

Cohen continues, "Now, if you're also kind of looking at your fellow musicians as you play... just looking to them for some indication of exactly where they're going to play - with that page spread from left to right, you find you're looking quite a long way away from who you might want to be watching. Whereas the tablet, it's only one page all the time and you can set it to position where you can most easily glance up or notice what's going on and then glance back to the music."