The Other Shoe Has Dropped

In the past when I’ve gone to England to teach and lecture, I lugged over about 70 pounds of scores in my suitcase. No more. I’ve got a scanner. The first sea change in my teaching methods came when I loaded 14,000 mp3s onto my external hard drive, and could now instantly play for classes any piece that occurred to me, without having to rummage through my CD collection. The second change is that I’m now loading PDFs of every minimalist, postminimalist, totalist, or microtonal score I would ever want to teach. (I even got major assistance in the scanning last week from Kerry O’Brien, an Indiana U. grad student who’s doing research in totalism, believe it or not. She’s a dynamite percussionist, and one of the few expert performers who did not switch to musicology because of an injury – she actually fell in love with the discipline. How strange is that? And how many percussionist-musicologists are there out there? It gives her Steve Reich papers an enviable authenticity.)

I had my first chance at trying out the PDFs at Northeastern last month. The hard-copy scores I used, I had to Xerox 20 copies, collate them, and continually tell the class what measure I was referring to. The PDFs that I could project on a screen needed no Xeroxing, killed no trees, and I could simply point to whatever I was referring to. In addition, for some of the fast-moving Nancarrow scores that need virtuoso page-turners, I could simply click the page turns myself, and, voilá!: no more students lost on the wrong page (or, at least, all of us on the same page). It was so much easier that I came home, bought a scanner, and swore I would never lug paper scores around again. (Actually, I lectured in February at a school in Florida where the computer-equipped classroom also had a projection machine that would shine a light on a hard copy score and project the image on a screen. That was fantastic, too. Can anyone tell me what those are called? And why Bard College doesn’t have one?)

Of course, in addition to the incredible postminimalist PDF library Kerry and I have amassed, there are the public domain scores at I’m, which I’ve already written about. So there you have your Beethoven sonatas and Rite of Spring, and yesterday I downloaded the complete Liber Usualis – which means I no longer have to choose and Xerox Gregorian chants for my Renaissance class, just flash the Liber on the screen and pick some out on the spur of the moment. The musicology world is getting a lot more convenient – and ecological.

UPDATE: And by the way, Postclassic Radio fans (or should that be singular?) – I’ve updated just over half the playlist since Monday, and since I’m taking my iPod From Hell (external hard drive) with me to England, I’ll try to keep uploading. You’ve been very, very patient too long.

UPDATE 2: Now if I could just digitize my clothing, so I could dial up PurpleShirt.fab and put it on, I’d have this traveling business down….


  1. says

    Document Elmo Camera.
    KG replies: Mm? Oh, oh, oh, I see, that’s the name of the hard copy projector. It looked like some kind of automatic dadaist reply thing. Thank you. Now, what are the chances I could get my department to order one?

  2. says

    The next step is to distribute your course material PDFs on USB memory sticks to students.
    At recent computer conferences I’ve attended, we no longer have to drag our laptops up to the podium and hope we can connect with the projector being used (Mac vs PC wars). Just plug your memory stick into the laptop controlling the projector and you’re running.
    Definitely makes things much easier.

  3. Keith Kothman says

    The device you’re asking about is a “document camera.” It’s a small video camera and light source mounted on an arm that shines down and views whatever is placed below it.
    If you web search for document cameras you’ll come up with a list of online purchasing options. Bard may have some in lecture halls that serve other subjects, or so-called designated smart classrooms. Then again, maybe not. If no one has ever asked for one, they might not have seen a need.

  4. Peter McBurney says

    It may interest you to know that when Harvard University decided, in 1957, to create a Statistics department, they poached the people in the Stats department at MIT. What clinched the transfer deal for the profs involved was that Harvard promised to put an overhead-projector in every lecture room!
    KG replies: If Harvard could promise me that, I’d go too.

  5. Andrew Drannon says

    Any chance of uploading some of those ultra-rare unpublished postminimalist and totalist scores to your site? (with the composers’ permission of course…) I would think that many scholars would appreciate having easier access to this repertoire.
    KG replies: A very good question indeed. Access *is* the number one problem holding up the musicological study of this repertoire. Personally I would love to see composers come up with some kind of collective web site where their PDFs could be stored and downloaded, somewhat along the lines of I would be happy to upload the PDF scores I have to myself, but I’m not eager to confront all the permission issues involved. For instance, I’m scanning all the Nancarrow scores for my research and lectures, but Schott owns the copyrights of even the unpublished ones, which seems criminal to me.
    One of the problems is that scores made by scanning (as opposed to made directly from Sibelius files) take up a tremendous amount of space – about half a MB per page, at the dpi I’m using, which means a 120-page score ends up at something just over 60 MB, which takes (on my setup) about an hour to upload. I’d appreciate some advice about programs that squeeze scanned PDFs down to a smaller size, which I understand is possible. I’m not technologically savvy enough to take the lead on this.
    But I am something of a fanatic about getting new-music information distributed as widely as possible. And if, say, you and I were to run into each other someday, and you had your laptop with you, and maybe a nice Cuban cigar you could spare, I might conceivably turn the other way to smoke the latter while you took a look through the contents of my hard drive….
    Meanwhile, most of *my* scores are available at , no cigar necessary.