New Handheld Gadget For Concertgoers

By Roland Piquepaille

I don't know how many of you are attending classical music concerts. If you do, but don't know the difference between a violin and a cello, help is on its way. In "Handheld gadget enhances experience of classical concerts," May Wong tells us about the Concert Companion, or "CoCo," a wireless device which displays information about the music in real time.

The Concert Companion is still being tested but is already generating buzz in the classical music world. It may ring a sour note with traditionalists. But it could also boost music appreciation for concertgoers who can't tell adagio from a mezzo-soprano.
Conceived by former Kansas City Symphony executive Roland Valliere, the Concert Companion displays a sort of musical road map during a performance, cuing users' ears for, say, the oboes, muted cellos, or double basses. Users can also switch to more detailed content, reading, for example, that Igor Stravinsky was 26 when he wrote "The Firebird," a Russian fairy tale of good versus evil.
Consider it Haydn in your hand, Mozart for the masses.

A question remains: is there a market for this handheld?

The gadget has been tested by small groups at four performances, including a concert Wednesday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. So far, Valliere is using off-the-shelf Sony Clie handheld computers for prototypes, but the idea is to develop dedicated Concert Companion devices -- something concertgoers could rent for $7 or $10.
He and the product's other creators -- two Silicon Valley software companies, Tribeworks Inc. and Kinoma Inc., and UCLA music professor Robert Winter -- hope the Concert Companion will bring to symphonies what supertitles did for operas and audio tours did for museums: an enhanced experience, and higher attendance.

And when the "CoCo" will be available?

It will be a while -- Valliere thinks as early as next summer -- before the Concert Companion is truly ready, but many are anxious to see how it materializes, said Jack McAuliffe, chief operating officer of the American Symphony Orchestra League, which represents most of the nation's 1,800 orchestras.

Of course, this device works because classical music is written. So if you're a jazz fan, there is no "CoCo" in your near future.

Source: May Wong, Associated Press, August 22, 2003

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