Handel’s Messiah…and Notion

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An image of the original manuscript of The Messiah

When I was directing high school choir, I eventually added an annual goal to sing one movement from Handel’s Messiah with my advanced choir at our Holiday Concert.  I was fortunate in my last few years as a high school director that our district had added a string program, so the school’s orchestra provided accompaniment for that song in our concert (it was a great way to involve everyone).

I know that many groups perform the Messiah this time of year, and would benefit from a digital accompaniment track.

This morning, a PreSonus presentation from ASME 2017 showed up in my feed, and I watched it.  It featured Chris Swaffer, a developer from PreSonus, which makes Notion) and Dr. Ian Cook.  Chris introduced Notion, integration with Studio One, and the live performance capabilities of Notion ; Dr. Cook discussed Persons’ conducting component (great for college programs).  I have interacted with Chris for a long time (I get the opportunity to try Beta updates for Notion), and it was great to actually see him (he’s in the UK, so he doesn’t make many music education conferences here in the USA).

As I was watching the presentation, Chris mentioned that Notion includes a number of resources, including the FULL MESSIAH.  Remember…Notion comes stock with sounds from the London Symphony Orchestra.  You can buy the full expansion pack of sounds (currently $299–which is a bargain compared to other sound packs from other vendors). Otherwise, Notion (on Mac/Win) is $150.  If you are a director needing a rehearsal or performance tool for the Messiah, Notion would instantly pay for itself.

I didn’t know about these included files, and you can find them in your account at my.presonus.com.  Then follow the links to “Get All Content” and then add the “Notion Score Library” in the “Extra Downloads” area.  This will send you a zipped file of Notion files (all in the Public Domain) that can be edited as necessary.

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In my.presonus.com, look at “Get All Content” with Notion 6.
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The Messiah is included in the “Notion Score Library”

About the Messiah…it doesn’t have text in the voice parts, so if you want those, you may have to add them…and it ships with all of Part 1 and Part 2 as separate files.  That said, as it is a Notion document, you can certainly cut and paste a range of the song and paste it into a new document and add text to those voice parts.

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Here’s the full screen view, in “pages across view” of Part 1 of the Messiah, which is included as a extra download when you buy Notion.

Notion’s sounds are great, and are probably worth the initial cost ($150).  Don’t forget that you can add the iOS version as well, with all add-ons, for around $50 total (bargain!), and anything you do on Notion for Mac/Win will show on the iOS version.

However, if you want to use Notion’s excellent stock sounds and run a humanized performance, you can do so with Notion’s live performance features.  I haven’t done that, but I know that Paul Shimmons did so recently, making his own “pit orchestra.”  Read about that here on his website, ipadmusiced.wordpress.com (link).

And if you are a user of another program, as I am (e.g. Finale), Notion can read MusicXML and export MusicXML, so you could easily to and from Notion.  In other words, you don’t have to leave your current program to add Notion as a tool.  If you have an iOS device, and you are a music educator, Notion should already be one of your tools.


Note: This is NOT a sponsored post by Notion, I just love the program, and yes, I am a beta tester of the product.

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Preparing a score for accompaniment files…

It has been a while since I have talked about my process of taking an existing score and preparing it for an accompaniment file or a rehearsal file. I just prepared ten scores for our district’s high school choirs (three high schools) who hold an October joint concert.

Step 1: Obtain the music. It seems obvious, but for my process, you need music IN HAND, not a PDF.

Step 2: Scan each page (each song separately, of course) with NotateMe, using the in-app purchase of PhotoScore. Why NotateMe? It scans nearly as accurately (sometimes more so) than the desktop version, bringing in most lyrics and diacritical markings. Suggestions: scan with a white background, and then use a flash. The better the camera, the better the scan…so think about using a late model iPhone or Android device.

Step 3: Rename the file in NotateMe and export using MusicXML via e-mail to myself. To be honest, my one major gripe of NotateMe is that I just can’t use “Open In” to open the MusicXML file directly into Notion for iOS.

Step 4: Import the MusicXML file into Finale on my MacBook. I actually can edit notes/rhythms easier in Notion (Mac or iOS) than on Finale, but Notion tends to not be so good with lyrics. I like to have the lyrics when I create a choral score…it makes a number of things easier (following a score, going back to edit later, etc.). This is also good if you later plan to export a MusicXML file to a red note/green note program like SmartMusic, PracticeFirst, or MusicProdigy. If I have to arrange something, I use Finale as my primary tool as it has a explode/implode feature. As a tip…voice parts should all have their own line without multiple notes. So, if you have an SSAATTBB score….there should be eight vocal lines, not four. This will save you trouble later!

Step 5: Edit in Finale, or your notation App of choice. If you are a band/orchestra director, you will want to enter percussion parts at some point, as they just don’t scan right.

Step 6: Export at MusicXML file to Notion on Mac. I do most of my note/rhythm editing in Notion, which allows me to swap voices anywhere (not a whole measure) and also shows measures with too many notes. While in Notion, make sure sound assignments are correct. You can name the files correctly and later add a “switch instrument” command to make vocal parts sound like a piano versus a choir “Ah.”

Step 7: Save the file in my Notion folder in iCloud Drive. Notion for iOS uses this folder. So if i have something saved in this folder, it shows up on my list in the Notion for iOS app.

Step 8: Final edits on Notion for iOS (this is a great place, with an Apple Pencil, to add any missing diacritical markings. Make sure tempos are where they should be; create tempos and ritardandos as necessary for proper playback. Why Notion for iOS? The sounds are good, and exporting is incredibly easy. The full sound library is also less expensive on Notion for iOS than any other program (with the exception of MuseScore, of course).

Step 9: Adjust the mixer bar in Notion for iOS to make playback files. For example, bring soprano up above the median line, bring piano below, bring altos, tenors, and basses all the way down. Instant soprano rehearsal track.

Step 10: Export to iCloud Drive as AAC file.

Step 11: Open up iCloud Drive and rename each file (e.g. Song Title Soprano. Otherwise Notion saves them as Title 1, Title 2, Title 3…)

Step 12: Repeat steps 9-11 for each part, as well as a piano only part.

Step 13: Distribute parts as necessary. These can be copied to Google Drive, Dropbox, opened in forScore or unrealBook, and so on.

This sounds like a lot of work, but an average song can have all rehearsal tracks created in a much shorter time than sitting down to play parts. Additionally, you will always have the tracks in the future and that file can always be used again. It is smart to keep the files in multiple organized places, as accidents do happen.

One other note: should you learn that a software program will be discontinued, you should open all of your files (over time) and export them as MusicXML files so as to be able to use them again someday. You could actually do that at the end of your process as Step 14, just to be safe.

Using WAV files in Notion

n-tempo

Several weeks ago, Paul Shimmons (ipadmusiced.wordpress.com) and I talked to Micah Blouin from PreSonus about the new version of Notion 6 and other offerings from PreSonus for music education on the ME&T Podcast.  Check it out if you haven’t already done so!

One of the things Micah discussed was “pinning” a WAV file audio track to a Notion score, and using their feature called N-Tempo, where you can “tap” a tempo into a score to sync it to the WAV file.  He mentioned that this feature was great for transcriptions.

I recently contacted an artist about the possibility of transcribing a song of theirs so my 8th grade students could sing it in our spring concert.  I received permission today, and since I am still recovering from a bad cold that hit two days ago, I began working on the song.

In Notion, I suggest creating a separate instrument to “pin” the WAV file to, and if you don’t have a WAV file, there are plenty of web-based sites that will convert existing audio to a WAV format.  Just keep in mind that WAV is an uncompressed file format–so a audio recording is easily ten times larger than other popular formats (mp3 or Apple’s m4a).  Then you make a N-Tempo instrument track, and you plan the rhythm you want to tap to.  If you are working with an artist that shifts tempo freely, it can be better to make the N-Tempo track the same as the melody part.  Then you enter Notion’s N-Tempo recording tool (it looks like a joystick) and tap the tempo using any key on the “A” row of your keyboard.  To stop recording, hit space or ESC.

Side note: I have used “tap tempo” in Finale, which requires the space bar.  It took a look in the manual to realize that the space bar was NOT the entry method for Notion.

It helps if your WAV file starts with the downbeat…so use an editor to trim your audio before importing it.

At any rate, using this method made the transcription easy and fast, and I would definitely recommend it to any one.  I will certainly be using it again!

P.S.  “O Hanukkah, O Hanukkah” was NOT the score I was entering today.  I just used it as an example as it is in the Public Domain.

Creating Ukulele Fretboard Chords in Notion

On my ukulele website, ukestuff.info, I created a post showing how to use Notion to create in-line ukulele fretboard symbols to make a lead sheet.

This is really crossover material, as it involved technology and music education, and some of you may want to add other types of chord symbols in-line to your own lead sheets for students.

You can find the article here: https://ukestuff.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/creating-fretboard-chords-for-ukulele-in-notion/

And for those of you who would like to watch the accompanying video without clicking through:

Using Soundcloud Out of Necessity

One of the huge problems with the iPad for music education is the inability to save music on the iPad music library unless you sync with iTunes. I have written Tim Cook about this multiple times over the years, and will continue to do so every six months or so until things change.

Here's the problem: in our 1:1 iPad situation, iPads are basically never synced with a computer. We sync them with an original profile, and then everything else is done away from the computer, unless the device needs to be reimaged. Everything else a student needs remains in the cloud.

If you can only save audio in the music library by syncing, you cannot save music to the device.

I have been trying to find a way to get audio into a music library so that apps like forScore and unrealBook can access audio files I've created as accompaniment or rehearsal tracks for my choir students. I also wanted to see if I could find a program that would allow students to open an audio file and record a second track over the audio file (authentic assessment), and then export that file to Google Drive (our iPad initiative is also linked to Google Docs). Neither one of these things is possible right now, although Apple could make both of them happen with GarageBand, nearly instantly. If you could import music into GarageBand and then save to your music library (like Photos), that problem would be solved; and if you could import music into GarageBand, you could simply insert another track over that recording.

I am further limited in my search for apps as they need to be free–we have no budget for apps. So although I would love to provide forScore or unrealBook for my 225 students, we have settled on using PiaScore. We're making it work, but I despise the YouTube component in PiaScore, as some of my students use their time in choir watching videos (with no sound) rather than singing.

A number of fellow music education “techies” have suggested Soundcloud as a possibility for my use, and I am reluctantly going that way for rehearsal audio files. I can't find a solution for importing a track from Google Docs, recording a track over that track, and then exporting the entire recording to Google Docs again.

When I taught high school for the past 17 years, I had a caroling ensemble each year, and I eventually developed my own collection of carols, edited by me, that we sang. We stuck to traditional songs (although I did make fun arrangements of a few songs like “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “I'm Getting Nothing for Christmas”) because that is what people want from caroling groups. By the end, each part had its own lead sheet (Sopranos with a soprano only part), as this allowed each song to fit on one page for each singer. I still have all those resources. Caroling groups, particularly extra-curricular groups, are still encouraged in our area. That Minnesota/St. Olaf/Luther/Concordia tradition is extremely strong here.

But now I teach middle school choir, and my students just aren't as vocally and musically developed as my high school students were–and this isn't a shocker. But I decided to start a caroling group for our middle school, and I have fifteen brave souls that I am now teaching two-part carols to. Many of the carols are coming from Joe Ambrosio's “Carols for Choirs,” which are two-part carols (but written in Soprano-Tenor; Alto-Bass configuration), and my colleague Reid Larsen at one of our other middle schools brought my attention to those carols last year. Each of these carols also has a piano accompaniment to support the singers. I hope Joe adds a few more carols in a second set (I need to find him and e-mail the suggestion). I am adding other carols to Joe's songs, creating a set of accompanied SA carols for my singers to learn. We rehearse once a week on Tuesdays after school.

My process is to scan the music in PhotoScore Ultimate, export as a MusicXML, open into Finale, clean up the score, export it as a MusicXML, and to import it into Notion for the iPad. Notion becomes my piano player for rehearsals and works quite nicely (I'm looking forward to future N-Tempo features in Notion). If I want to make a rehearsal track, all I need to do is to adjust some sliders in Notion, and export the audio. If this seems like an involved process, I did about seven carols in less than two hours the other day. PhotoScore does a great job with less complex vocal scores (and it struggles with very complex vocal scores, like any other scanning software).

You can export from Notion to Dropbox, but you can also export to Soundcloud. Exporting is SO easy on the iPad; it is one of the main reasons I love Notion for the iPad.

I installed Soundcloud tonight, and did a test before deciding to move forward. You can open PiaScore, then open SoundCloud, find a recording, and then switch back to PiaScore and use your music with the recording. This isn't as good of a solution as “binding” an accompaniment in forScore or unrealBook to a song–but it works. And it is free. So this is what I will be doing for now. I am also going to e-mail forScore and unrealBook and find out if it would be possible to link to a SoundCloud file (yes, Internet access would be needed). I can't afford copies for all 225 students in my program, but I could find a way to pay for 15 students in my caroling ensemble.

As a closing thought, I am amazed at how quickly Notion uploads to Soundcloud, and I love the acceptance message:

“Yay, that Worked!”

If you want, you can go listen to my first rehearsal scores in Soundcloud…I can't promise these will be available indefinitely, as we have a winter musical ahead and a spring jazz/pops group that will also need rehearsal tracks. But it is a start. Our account goes by “OMS Choirs,” and can be accessed here: http://soundcloud.com/oms-choirs/

 

Notion and Noteflight (a few thoughts)

My colleague Brandt Schneider (Things to Come Blog) asked me about the differences between Noteflight and Notion (for iPad). Both work on the iPad; Noteflight can work on any Windows or Mac computer (I'm not sure about Android right now), while Notion is a $99 (a bargain) on Windows/Mac.

In a nutshell, Noteflight is a cloud-based HTML program that can be used for basic composition and playback, and on a computer, can be connected to a MIDI piano for keyboard entry. Noteflight also allows for sharing and teacher feedback. Notion is an app that runs on the iPad and advanced notation features (more arriving on a regular basis). Notion has professional sounds from the London Symphony Orchestra, and using the iPad USB Camera Connection Kit, can be attached to a piano. When using an external MIDI instrument, Notion can record in real-time (this does not work with the onscreen keyboard).

Both products can import and export files as MusicXML files, so they can be brought into any modern music notation program.

I would compare Noteflight to Finale Notepad, MakeMusic's free music composition product. It has enough power for most core K-12 (probably 6-12) educational composition needs. Finale Notepad, of course, does not run on the iPad, so this would be an ideal place for MakeMusic to enter the iPad or HTML 5 notation market.

I would compare Notion for the iPad to Notion 4 for Windows/Mac (the goal of the company is to have both products with all of the same core features, and then to upgrade the products together), or MuseScore (the free composition app for Windows, Mac, or Linux). Finale and Sibelius are also comparable, but are the pro-level apps that offer nearly unlimited customization of scores (and of course, are in a completely different price category). For the record, MuseScore has a lot of customization available to the user as well.

I come from a Finale background, so Noteflight (just as with MuseScore and Sibelius) treats deleting notes in a way that I'm not accustomed to (you can't delete a note mid-measure, you have to go and change the value to what is correct), whereas Notion acts a bit more like Finale in this regard.

Noteflight offers educational packages (see Music First), Notion for iPad is available under educational pricing, and the Windows/Mac version is available as an affordable lab pack. Noteflight does offer free subscriptions for a limited amount of use, and personal subscriptions for more intensive use.

My general inclination is to recommend Notion, as the app continues to improve, there are still big plans for the app, and quality sound playback is important to me. Then again, it is hard to dismiss the savings of Noteflight, particularly if hundreds of students and multiple teachers need access to the program in your school. The sharing/social qualities of Noteflight may be more important to you, or the quality sounds and rich features of Notion may be the deal breaker. 100 copies of Notion would currently be $799; yearly access to Noteflight for a classroom is $200 per year. So you would potentially pay the same cost after four years of use (It sounds like iOS 7 will allow schools to reclaim apps that have been distributed for reuse)–only if 100 students used the program. There may be a point where Notion could be the cheaper option if a smaller number of students needed the program (such as for a music theory course).

Don't forget to look at some of the free options for Windows/Mac already mentioned, such as Finale Notepad or MuseScore. And although I don't know anything, I wouldn't be surprised to see MakeMusic (Finale) and MuseScore enter the iPad marketplace with a notation product (both have had a viewer available). The Steinberg team may also enter the mobile apps marketplace.