Digital technology supports classical musician

Georgia Steel plays chamber and classical music on the viola, using modern-day technology to perform the historic compositions.

Georgia Steel plays the viola for students at Victoria.
Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music student Georgia Steel plays the viola at a Victoria celebration for Mental Health Awareness Week.

Georgia, a Bachelor of Music student with a visual impairment at Victoria University’s Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music (NZSM), has come up with a smart way to read sheet music—by displaying it on a tablet. This allows her to display the music at a size that she can read best.

“I used to carry my sheet music around in an A3 folder. It was an awkward size, and didn’t sit very well on a music stand—it could topple over if you weren’t gentle. After doing some research on tablets, I found one with an 18-inch screen that sits perfectly on a music stand. I now use this with a music application designed to display music PDFs.”

However, the music application isn’t fully optimised for Georgia’s needs, as it doesn’t display the music in full screen—meaning it isn’t quite large enough for Georgia to read without being very close to her music stand. With the help of Victoria’s Disability Services, she has been able to come up with a solution for that, too.

“Disability Services found someone to crop each page of music so it fits the screen and is displayed at a size that allows me to sit back from my music stand to read. This means I can utilise my whole bow arm while performing, giving me the full range of movement I need to play the viola.

“Having Disability Services to provide that support is fantastic, and means I spend less time doing things that other students don’t have to.”

Georgia also has a disability liaison advocate within the NZSM who helped her to brainstorm the specific support she needed within the music school. This has led to her being allocated practice space where she can leave her heavy equipment.

“This means less movement every time I need to practice—I have my viola, tablet, and personal music stand so it ends up getting quite heavy.”

Georgia is on the executive committee of CanDo, a student representative group for students with disabilities at Victoria. Because Victoria provides academic and environmental support for students with disabilities, CanDo is able to focus on the more social side.

“I was involved in Mental Health Awareness Week through CanDo. We organised a picnic for people to socialise and connect, and Disability Services contributed kai and staff to help out. This was a really great way for disabled students to connect with Disability Services and learn about their role on campus. I took my viola along and played a few pieces that I'd been preparing for upcoming concerts—it was really rewarding being able to share what I'd been working on with others.”

Georgia hopes to make a professional career out of music, playing in orchestras or chamber music groups. She currently teaches viola, violin and the piano, and will continue to in the future. Having been accepted to the New Zealand Youth Orchestra two years in a row, this year playing alongside the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and being a member of the NZSM Orchestra, Georgia feels she has come a long way from when she first started learning music.

“There’s a lot more to learn, and there always will be, but if I put the work in I’ll be able to come out the other end and have a great career.”