Artist Interview with Aleah Fitzwater: Part 1 – Arranging and OMR

This week begins a three part interview series with local creative stallion, Aleah Fitzwater. Ranging from visual arts, music, to poetry and more, Aleah is carving a unique space for herself in the wide world of artistic expression. Her website is located at https://aleahfitzwater.com; here, you can learn more about her specific projects, check out her music and photography portfolios, and follow along with her blog ‘Fusion!’

Based on a podcast style interview format, Aleah and I shared a sprawling conversation, first talking about some of the software that she has been using recently in her musical process; later, Aleah shared her perspectives and insights on her approach to practice as it relates to the many artistic mediums she enjoys creating through. Finally, we chatted about what lies ahead in the future, brainstorming upcoming collaborative projects together.

This interview is one of a three part series.

Pt.1: Blogging and Optical Music Recognition

Sam: I know that you are a writer, musician, and artist, could you tell me about the different projects you are working on?

Aleah: Sure! Lately, as far as my career goes, I have been working on a lot of music blogs. I write for an OMR software company, I review instruments like piano keyboards on various sites, and sometimes I write about mixing and mastering as well. 

As far as personal projects go, I’ve been recording a lot of spoken word poetry, and have been arranging Northern Downfall for five flutes. 

S: Can you tell me a little bit about those last two projects that you just mentioned?

A: I find myself writing poetry a lot, oftentimes words just kind of fall out of my head, and I need to write them down. I’ve been trying to be more open about sharing my poetry more recently. I was inspired to arrange Northern Downpour because, on the Pretty Odd album, Panic! At the Disco uses a lot of MIDI flutes. One day when I was listening back to some of the songs, it made me laugh. I love Panic! But, I thought, “Man, MIDI flute…” I chose Northern Downpour in particular because it has a lot of movement. Even though I’m stacking the same instrument on top of itself, it has enough texture for that sort of setting to make it work.

S: You mentioned OMR technology? Could you tell me a little bit about what that stands for and what it does? Because I don’t actually know. 

A: Well, you should! So, OMR stands for optical music recognition. It’s kind of like computer science and sheet music had a baby. Basically, optical music recognition teaches your computer to recognize music elements, and it digitizes them into an editable format. 

So, before OMR really was a thing, we would have all these PDFs. People love putting music in PDFs. But, say you want to arrange a piece of music in PDFs. Before OMR, there was no easy way to digitize that music. So, you’d have to spend hours typing it into Sibelius. 

In the ’80s the college MIT had the idea to start doing optical music recognition like the way text was currently being digitized with OCR Technology (Optical Character Recognition). OMR is a lot more complicated than OCR though, because of how many elements are in music
(staff, note heads, key signature, articulations). And that’s why this technology took a lot longer to develop, too. 

One of my favorite things in the history of OMR is this robot called WABOT. Originally it was this robot that could move its limbs and whatnot. WABOT-1 wasn’t really related to music, but WABOT-2 played the organ with its ‘fingers’ (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0167849387900027 ). That was the first really big piece of optical music recognition hardware/software. It didn’t take long for them to learn that, well, all these arm and legs and fingers don’t really help us digitize the music in the way we’re looking for. 

S: That’s so interesting! So did it have mechanical fingers and a camera?

A: Yes, yes it did! It literally read the music and played the organ. 

S: How has OMR evolved past that point? Is that what this software ScanScore is doing now, are they building little robot buddies with mechanical fingers?

A: No no, that was very early in the synthesis of the idea. Now, it’s more along the lines of a companion program to Forte notation software or Sibelius, Musescore, anything like that. A lot of the times notation programs have some OMR capability, but, it usually isn’t very good. What I like about ScanScore in particular is its accuracy. In addition to this, it has a mixer, and you can edit the misreads really easily. 

S: Wait, I know Sibelius has a mixer tool too; you can adjust the levels and pan of the instruments. Is ScanScore’s mixer similar? 

A: I’ll walk you through the process here. So, say you have a PDF of Fur Elise so you can do a Fur Elise remix or something. You can pop it into your program by uploading it into ScanScore. And say you want to hear it in MIDI flutes or something. You can go to the mixer and you can change the allocation of the instruments. In ScanScore it is more of a draft sort of format, so you can hear what it sounds like. It’s a really good tool for composers and performers. Say a contemporary composer hands me a piece of physical sheet music and I don’t know what it sounds like. I can take a picture of that piece and have ScanScore play it back to me, which is something a notation program can’t really do. 

S: You can change the type of instrument that plays back too?

A: Yep, and you can also pan and EQ to some extent. Oh! And there was one more thing I wanted to mention here, let me backtrack. So, as far as the process goes, once people get their score the way they want it, most people export their file into a MusicXML and then put it into their favorite notation program. OMR adds another piece of software in the mix, to save us a lot of time. 

S: Does that pretty much sum up the process of how you use ScanScore? 

A: Yeah! Basically, you can take a picture with your phone and link your devices with a QR code, and the music gets sent to your computer and digitized. You can also upload pictures of PDFS, or you can use a physical scanner that connects to your computer. After that, it all works pretty much the same way. 

S: Now, how do you apply ScanScore in your own musical process?

A: I use ScanScore (https://scan-score.com/en/)  in my own arrangements, specifically. I guess you could call me a bit of a lazy arranger. Sometimes I find myself diving into MuseScore’s online community to find melodies. So say I know a song really really well, but I don’t want to have to sit there and transcribe the melody. I figure somebody’s probably done it at some point. And so I find it. Say I find Northern Downpour, I know I did that with this one. So I found it on MuseScore, and it’s in a downloadable PDF. And I mean, MuseScore is still riddled with all sorts of problems, and I still have to listen through and edit rhythms. But, it’s still better for me to do that than to play the song fifty- million times to get the melody on the page, you just edit someone else’s mistakes. So! I am the lazy arranger. 

S: Sure! And I mean, say you have a book like this (The Beatles), and even vocal music in general, it tends to have a lot sixteenth notes with the stems all broken apart. Vocal melodies can be really intricate on paper when they’re actually relatively easy to sing. That’s a really good idea. I spend a lot of time transcribing melodies, and so sometimes I get burnt out when I get to the arrangement. 

A: Yeah! I mean, with the underground/ Indie band sort of thing, you just have to bite the bullet sometimes. I recently did a cover of Anarbor’s 18, and, while the song is fairly popular, I still had to transcribe it all from scratch. But, if it’s Panic! At the Disco or something, a lot of the time you can be the lazy arranger!

 

This concludes part 1 of of the 3 part interview with Miss Aleah Fitzwater; Thanks Aleah for taking the time to share a glimpse into your arranging process. Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this Interview, where we will explore topics related to The Art of Practice.

If you like what you see, please subscribe! And if you’d like to set up an artist interview, please feel free to send a message or drop a comment!

Love and Bows

_/\_

Sam

Kogen

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