As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was planning on creating an assessment for the students in my top choir (subjecting them to the experiment first) based on one of our more difficult songs, Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep.” In particular, pages 9-11 of the original score (mm. 43-62) are difficult with eight different parts, men’s parts moving separately from the women’s parts, and the use of tight dissonances between like parts.
I typically put most of the scores we’re singing into Finale, so I can make audio rehearsal files. Finale makes the creation of individual audio files pretty simple, as you can use the Mixer function (the instrument list has been changed in Finale 2012) to mute the other parts, and then export audio using Finale’s own tone generator. I also make a lot of accompaniment files in this fashion. The hardest part is making sure that each part is assigned to the sound you desire (I personally dislike choral “aahs,” and set the choral parts on a piano sound, usually General Midi 2, “Bright Piano”) centered in the virtual room (L/R centered) and at the right volume (usually 101 for voices, 45 to 50 for the piano). Then you simply mute the voices you don’t want, go to File->Export to Audio File, and save. It does take a minute or two for the audio to save for each track. I later import these files into iTunes and convert them to mp3s, and drop them on our choir’s webpage for students that simply want to download the files and practice. No sheet music is duplicated for students in the process, only audio is shared.
To make an assessment, I simply re-saved my Finale file of Sleep (this is important!), deleted the measures I didn’t need, went to File->Export to SmartMusic, and generated a file that could be read by all the different parts, if they select their voicing (S1, S2, etc.). I tested it out…and it works. The SmartMusic document saves almost instantly, and you simply assign it to the classes (I divide my classes between Sopranos, Altos, Tenors, and Basses, but I’m beginning to see that this is not necessary if you generate testing files with all the necessary parts).
You can also make simple accompaniment files, which, in the world of 1-to-1 iPads and SmartMusic on all choir member’s devices, would make it incredibly easy to get students material to practice (i.e. not assess) on their own. There are some caveats here, as you can upload an assessment to your classes, but I am not sure you an upload a simple accompaniment (perhaps some of the SmartMusic experts could send me an e-mail with clarity on this one), and of course, the teacher has to be willing to take the time–or to find a student–to put a song into Finale (or Sibelius, or MuseScore, or Symphony Pro, or Notion for iPad and export it via MusicXML to the teacher so they could import it into Finale) and generate individual parts. I may be wrong, but many choral directors would either find themselves unwilling to spend the time to put the songs into Finale, or simply unable to (there are, logically, technophobes in every generation).
You might think that it would make sense for MakeMusic to start putting vocal scores into the SmartMusic library. But where do they start? A year ago, I had planned to get a copy of every score that is approved for Minnesota State High School League large group contests. I abandoned that plan, because there were over 1,000 scores on the list! (Seriously.) Beyond licensing, how do they start? I don’t know the answer to that question–but I’d see if there was a way to offer a “bounty” to choir directors who submitted a completed Finale score to MakeMusic (with all dynamics and diacritical markings), which a master “Finale guru” at MakeMusic could approve, send to legal for licensing, and then distribute on the SmartMusic catalog. Heck, I’d offer that plan to all types of directors. Things wouldn’t appear on the catalog until legal approved them, and then whoever is typesetting the current scores could leave that tedious mess to educators, and focus on proofing, which they would have to do, anyway. What could the bounty be? I don’t know..certainly a bounty per song based on length and complexity (I recently recreated a Z. Randall Stroope piece that took two days over the Holiday Break), and certainly discounts on MakeMusic upgrades and services. I don’t know how they add band literature to SmartMusic…I’m pretty sure that it is all done in-house, although agreements with Hal Leonard (who uses Finale) may simply allow SmartMusic access to the original Finale file, too.
At any rate, if you’re a choral person, and you want to make assessments from music you put directly into SmartMusic, you can. It works.