Home Entertainment Music 845 Life: Cello pro John Reed creates an app for musicians

845 Life: Cello pro John Reed creates an app for musicians
845 Life: Cello pro John Reed creates an app for musicians avatar

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The year is 1989 and the Hampton String Quartet, with cellist John Reed, has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Concept Music Video category.

“George Harrison, Neil Young and the Talking Heads were all in the same category,” says Reed, who today lives in the Town of Wallkill.

So guess who won?

“Weird Al Yankovic won the Grammy,” Reed says, shaking his head. “His video ‘Fat’ was a takeoff of Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad.’ “

So much for musical stardom.

Reed, now 63, is a musical pioneer in many ways. The quartet, which formed in 1988, is famous for recreating rock classics using two violins, a viola and, of course, Reed's cello.

“It’s fun music. No one had ever done it before,” he says. “We practically invented the genre.”

Their first album, entitled “What If Mozart Wrote ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ ” sold more than a million copies, making the HSQ the best-selling string quartet in history.

It was followed by “What if Mozart Wrote ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ “ and “What if Mozart Wrote ‘Born to Be Wild’ “ and “What if Mozart Wrote ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.’ “

By that point, the group split from RCA Records and changed their name to the Hampton Rock String Quartet and were on their way.

Since then, they’ve produced arrangements of classic rock music including the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, have made numerous TV appearances, opened for dozens of top acts and won plenty of awards.

“We have over 100 arrangements,” says Reed, who is also the principal arranger and composer for the group. “And in 2000, we got the idea to publish sheet music of our arrangements.”

So he formed his own company called Mona Lisa Sound.

“I thought we would be selling sheet music to professional musicians, but ended up selling to colleges and high schools,” he says.

“Teachers began writing us and saying ‘Thank you for doing this’ because it keeps the young musicians really motivated.”

When the iPad was introduced in 2010, Reed took another change of course.

“Music notation software has always been notoriously difficult to use,” he says.

“So I set out to write an app that recognizes normal handwriting and easily turns it into music.”

“I thought it would take me about six months to do this,” he says. “In reality, it took me six years.”

Reed needed help in creating the software, so he reached out to noted programmer Mark Dalrymple.

“I am a professional musician and an amateur programmer, and Mark is a professional programmer and an amateur musician,” says Reed. “So we were a good fit.”

The app is called “MusicJOT” and has been available on the iTunes Store since January.

It helps users write, edit and translate music on an iPad using a stylus and also offers an audio playback mode.

“We’re always making it better and better,” Reed says. “And Apple has been very supportive.”

“In the end, I want it to be a tool that musicians can use whether they are on a plane or a train or a bus.”

John DeSanto is a freelance photojournalist. Find more of his 845LIFE stories, photos and videos at recordonline.com. Reach John at jjdesanto@gmail.com

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