Pitt band “flips” out for student-designed sheet music app


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Pitt’s marching band uses a phone app instead of paper to share sheet music.

By Martha Layne, Staff Writer

There are 305 students in Pitt’s marching band. Multiply that number by pages upon pages of sheet music, and the band could easily go through a lot of paper in a year. But thanks to a new app developed by a Pitt student, physical sheet music is in the past of Pitt band.

The electronic flip folder app, designed last year by Pitt student Marcus Dubreuil, allows band directors to share music virtually with band members through their cell phones. This replaces the traditional physical setup — comprised of flip folder, sheet music and portable music stands.

Now, the portable music stands have been redesigned to hold phones instead of sheet music. A few years ago, in an effort to be more efficient and eco-friendly, the band switched to using Pitt’s Box feature, a storage cloud system, for accessing music. Members would pull up a PDF version of their sheet music through the Box service on their phones. But Box was not designed for music, and there were many issues, such as orientation and connectivity, according to several band directors and members.

Dubreuil, a senior majoring in computer science and music composition and the leader of the Pitt band’s trombone section, said his inspiration for creating the app wasn’t commercial or large-scale, but a personal one.

“Going into my junior year, they made the switch to go entirely to paperless music. And I was like, ‘that sucks,’ because I actually wasn’t a fan of electronic music at that point,” Dubreuil said. “So I literally made the app for myself … it came out of a band member’s perspective.”

Dubreuil created an app designed specifically for music groups to use for their music. The app, which costs $10 per band member per year to use, exists in both iOS and Android versions, in addition to a separate website. At the 2018 spring football scrimmage, the app was tested out with the small band playing at the game. The test was successful, and the entire band utilized the app starting in the fall 2018 season. As of this past summer, the app is available through Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store. It also won a fourth place prize in the 2019 Randall Family Big Idea Competition run through Pitt’s Innovation Institute.

Band directors can go to the website, link their music through a cloud storage system or directly, and then create a band, consisting of a band name and a connect ID to be shared throughout the band. Then, members can connect to the band and download the music for their specific part.

The app’s biggest selling point, according to Dubreuil, is that a band director has the ability to pull a song up on their phone and automatically load the piece on the screen of every user in the band — using technology similar to screen mirroring. And because Dubreuil is in the band, he’s able to stay up to date on changes that students want, in addition to troubleshooting problems as they arise.

Josh Young, a junior chemical engineering major and vice president of operations for Mu Kappa Upsilon, a band service fraternity, said the app changed his band experience. It was especially helpful to Young, he said, since he has additional responsibilities as an operations officer handing out music and lyres and generally maintaining instruments.

“Marcus’ app is a freaking godsend,” Young said. “My freshman year we didn’t have this app, and we used Box. Before that, they just used paper … you had to flip through your folder to find the song. It would be a pretty laborious process.”

Brad Townsend, Pitt’s band director for the past seven years, said that while the app has improved the band’s performance, the more noteworthy effect it’s had is the push for greener solutions in the band program.

“I don’t know if there’s any cause and effect here, but I’ve noticed that the band has been talking more about sustainability in other ways,” Townsend said. “Just last night, we had a meeting of students that wanted to talk about how to be more sustainable. [I] think anything like that, when it’s organic, is much more powerful and much more sustained.”

According to Townsend, neither of the band’s two ways of procuring music has drastically changed with the new app. The majority of the band’s music is written by their in-house arranger and associate director, Mel Orange. The band works with a company or the music copyright holder to purchase music. They can also buy stock arrangements, pieces that have already been written and arranged, which need only be converted to PDF files. The only new step of this process is the need to convert or buy music in PDF files in order to use the app.

Dubreiul said the legal aspect of creating the app and brand has been the most challenging. The app is currently going through a rebranding process. After not being able to copyright the app’s original name “EFlip Folder,” Dubreuil is currently in the process of rebranding and trademarking to “Flip Folder.”

Debreuil and Pitt’s band directors presented the app last May at the College Band Directors National Association conference in Seattle. The presentation drew the attention of many band directors there who have implemented the technology in their bands, such as the University of Kentucky, Duke University and the Arkansas Hogwild Pep Band, among others.

Mike Kane, a sophomore chemical engineering major and trumpet player, said that compared to how his high school’s band distributed music, the app makes football games more efficient and fun.

“There was a lot of differences, positive and negative with both. Because sometimes technology does fail, and it stinks. But for the most part, it’s so much better [than high school] … I mean, being paperless overall, it’s really great,” Kane said. “It’s nice to be sustainable and realize we’re doing something good for the environment and helping out.”

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the flip folder app is free. While the app is free to download, it costs a band $10 per band member per year to operate the app.