Army Band streamlines missions with smart technology
March 9, 2012
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- In the world of musical performers, Fort Huachuca's 62nd Army Band marches to the beat of a different drummer, and its Brass Quintet plays to a different sheet of music -- displayed on an Apple iPad.
Ongoing smart technology tests throughout the Department of Defense, from basic training to the battlefield, have periodically made headlines for the past several years. The Brass Quintet is leading the way by using smart technology in support of its own missions.
"We purchased the iPads in January and have used them for about a dozen performances so far," said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Robinson, music performance team leader of the Brass Quintet. "Everyone [in the quintet] likes them because it has really streamlined things for us."
The band tried another electronic music reader several years ago, before switching to the iPad. Their command purchased the MusicPad Pro® for all band members in 2001. These worked well for the full concert band while traveling on tour with the same music set list; however, there were some drawbacks.
The readers offered only one gigabyte of available storage and used a unique file format that proved difficult to convert from PDF files. They also required USB memory sticks, which were banned from use on government systems in 2008. Although the ban was partially lifted in 2010, the band discontinued use of the MusicPad Pro®.
"The iPad gave us a better option," Robinson said. "[The Brass Quintet] is the most requested, as well as the most flexible, group in the band [because it] supports military ceremonies, official dining-in functions, recruiting missions and community relations through public concerts."
Because of its varied musical requirements, the group needs to have multiple genres of music available to play at a moment's notice, which could consist of more than 100 pieces of music at any given time. Before purchasing the iPads, each band member carried two 3-inch binders and multiple file folders of sheet music to each performance.
"Our group already has most of our library stored in PDF format," Robinson said. "This makes it very easy to load more music as we need it; and with the 32-gigabyte capacity of the iPads, we are not concerned with running out of space to store all of our music."
Using the iTunes MusicReader PDF application on their iPads keeps their music organized. It allows them to make playlists, or set lists, for each performance; this stores all of the musical scores for that particular set in one place.
The screen is roughly the size of one sheet of music and scrolls vertically with the use of AirTurn Bluetooth page turners. The AirTurn's wireless foot pedal allows musicians to turn pages without ever removing their hands from their instruments.
"The MusicReader app has a function to do half-page turns," Robinson said. "When you are halfway down the page, tap the pedal [to] bring up the top half of the second page. Once you get to the top of the next page, tap it again [for] the rest of the page. Because the music is always moving, it becomes seamless."
Used in portrait orientation, the iPads occupy half of the space needed for a traditional music stand and sheet music, which allows the band members to communicate better with each other and the audience without being hidden behind large stands, and making performances more personal to both groups than ever before.
The iPad has also reduced the equipment load for the ensemble as a whole.
"We no longer need to bring stand lighting for low-lighted events, or wind clips to keep our music from blowing away," Robinson said. "It has tuner and metronome functions that eliminate the need to carry these extra devices, and the iPads are also very durable -- especially when combined with the Otterbox® Defender cases. They should last for many years."
While replacing their traditional sheet music with the iPad has been a positive experience overall, Robinson said that there have been a few minor challenges.
"We can annotate rehearsal markings and other notes on the music, but it is not as user friendly as the number-two pencil," he said. "The only real issue we've encountered so far is screen glare outside, but we are looking into glare reducers now."
Replacing paper sheet music, metronomes, tuners and stand lighting with the smart tablet has the potential to result in a significant financial and environmental impact for the ensemble and the Army.
"I do not know if this is a trend throughout the Army Band field, but I can see how this would catch on, especially with small chamber ensembles like the Brass Quintet," Robinson said.