Thursday, March 09, 2006
Page turner

As a new music performer, one of the biggest problems I run into during any performance often has nothing to with the music's technical difficulty. It is rather, the dreaded, awful, and impossible page turns that make me nervous. Certainly, there have been many situations when I think I may have spent more time worrying about and devising creative ways to turn (or not turn) the pages of a particular work than acutally practicing it! All kidding aside, the issue of page turns in new music is one that every performer has confronted at one time or another. I've definitely become very adept at concocting unique and sometimes quite marvelous works of art from my music in order to keep the number of stands I use to a manageable and aesthetically pleasing two, because let's face it, 13 music stands strung out across the stage looks utterly ridiculous.

There is hope for us, however, as the perennial page turning problem may just have been solved by pianist Hugh Sung, who serves as Director of Student Recitals and Instrumental Accompaniment at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. I had the pleasure of collaborating with Hugh recently during a short foray into Philly. He's an abundantly outgoing guy with an infectuous personality and a wonderfully huge sound and technique on the piano to boot. One of the first things I noticed as I got ready for our rehearsal was that although I'd sent Hugh copies of each of the scores, they were nowhere to be found on his piano. In their place was a small thin device with a warm glowing screen. This gizmo, Hugh informed me, was a tablet PC. Before each rehearsal/performance, Hugh scans his music into the computer. During a performance he is able to advance each page of the score by pressing a small switch with his left foot, leaving his right foot free to pedal away, and thereby rendering the job of page turner obsolete. (No word of an instance or the consequences of a computer glitch or crash during performance, which seems to be the Achilles heel of this method. Beware of the ghosts of disenfranchised page turners!)

While the page-turner's union may organize a revolt once they get wind of Hugh's subversive actions, tech-savvy new music performers would be wise to take note. As a performer, it's awful that often one of the barriers we have to overcome in performance has to do with something as silly as page turns, or even if there will be enough stands in the hall to accomodate the number of pages in the piece we are performing. Memorization is certainly an option. However, in the real world when you receive a new piece of music one week before the premiere, memorizing it is simply out of the question. For the progressive performer, as well as those with the financial means, the tablet PC is a state-of-the-art solution to one of new music's most enduring dilemmas.
Praised by The New York Times as "an inventive musician . . . fresh and surprising," saxophonist Brian Sacawa has firmly established himself as an important contemporary voice for his instrument. He is active as a soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician throughout the United States and is the co-founder of the new music duo Non-Zero with percussionist Timothy Feeney.

He has given premieres of over thirty works by both established and emerging composers, including Michael Gordon, Bright Sheng, Andrew Mead, Oliver Schneller, Ken Ueno, Beata Moon, Hillary Zipper, and Scott McAllister, among many others. Named the Baltimore CITYPAPER’s Critic’s Choice for Classical Music in 2002, he is the recipient of awards for solo performance from both national and international competitions.

Sacawa's versatile career has led to appearances with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the New World Symphony, Harvard Group for New Music, New Music Brandeis, Bargemusic, and at meetings of the ISU Contemporary Music Festival, World Saxophone Congress, North American Saxophone Alliance, and New England Saxophone Symposium.

Brian holds degrees from the University of Michigan, the Peabody Conservatory, and the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, where he studied with Donald Sinta, Gary Louie, and Lynn Klock. He has recorded for the Equililbrium, Naxos, and BiBimBop recording labels.

See Brian's other blog
Sounds Like Now