A hot new app for singers is making the rounds and initiating chatter in practice rooms and voice studios. It offers singers the opportunity to work with professional piano accompaniment, with nothing but an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and a subscription to Appcompanist.
The app features piano accompaniment, played by expert pianists, for thousands of arias, art songs, and musical theatre songs. Once a song is selected, the power is literally in the singer’s hand to change the key, tempo, and amount of melody included in the performance of the accompaniment. While the music is playing, the singer can accelerate or slow the tempo and hold fermatas for as long as they like with a just a few touches of the screen.
The app is the brainchild of Sheri and Darin Adams, who have been thinking about it since 1994. Like so many great inventions, this one arose from a desire to solve a problem they faced as singers and voice teachers by working to figure out a viable solution that didn’t yet exist.
Both Sheri and Darin are singers, coaches, and teachers but don’t consider themselves expert pianists. As teachers, playing for students in lessons and recording rehearsal accompaniment, they were frustrated with what they were able to provide. “We envisioned a tool,” says Darin, “that would really solve those problems for singers and teachers, in an affordable way, that values musical quality and the learning process that is so important to singing.”
Rest assured they are not trying to replace accompanists and coaches with a handheld alternative. Rather, they are hoping this tool will help singers become better prepared to work with coaches and accompanists and with a better sense of how to communicate in collaboration. “Singers who ‘get it’ are crazy about it and are helping us develop it further with their comments and insights,” Darin says. “And we are also careful to take in criticism and see if there is something in it that can also help us improve the product.”
Although multitalented, Darin and Sheri confess to having no programming ability. They reached out to their network of friends who understood both tech and music. In the early days, they took what Darin describes as “really silly drawings” to software designers to find out what technology would allow. Those drawings helped Darin and Sheri explain their idea well enough to get other team members on board. Their current team includes CTO Christopher Deppe, a double-bass player who toured Europe for years; COO/CFO Byrren Yates, who Darin describes as a start-up guru; and Raymon Geis, a singer and voice teacher, who heads up content development and recording.
Geis gets input from singers and teachers about what the most pressing needs are in terms of content. Users are also encouraged to suggest songs, and new titles are constantly being added: approximately 450 last week alone. The recordings are made by pianists who are experts in the repertoire. Darin says that running the company “is a very personal experience for us, and we’re so thankful to have close friends that we deeply admire throughout the team.”
Darin and Sheri are a team in every sense of the word. Their expressed greatest joy is “working together and building relationships through arts and faith.” They are married and live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with their children Samuel, Sydney, and Jessie. They have shared the stage as headliners on the Seabourn cruise line, and in Darin’s original musical, Lost and Found.
The couple also founded Bridgelight Arts, a nonprofit organization that aids in the production of new works that “strive to encourage and inspire.” The organization is “dedicated to helping those within the arts community stay connected to supportive relationships, to their personal faith, and to the purpose for their unique creative gifts.” Based on my brief interaction with Darin and Sheri, it seems clear that this organization aims to put into practice for other artists what Sheri and Darin try to put into practice in their own lives.
“We both understand that doing a lot of different things is often what it takes to make a life in the arts work,” Sheri says, “but the question is how to have consistency and keep priorities in place while doing that. I think our marriage brings an important balance to all the creative energy. Raising kids together and doing real life as a family puts the other stuff into perspective. If we’re really trying to find our God-given purpose each day as family, then the work we are doing just wraps into that.”
They have also shared a great loss, during which time they leaned heavily on one another as well as on their Christian faith for support. Just a few years ago their youngest son, Joseph, was diagnosed with a terminal brain illness at the age of three months. “From that moment until he went home to heaven at only 15 months old, every single choice we made had to become intentional,” Darin says. “Time was the commodity over which we had no control, so we had to choose carefully how we spent it. We put a lot of things on pause and we didn’t try to figure out how it would all work months or years ahead. Instead, we just tried to do what was most important—most lasting—in any given moment.” During that time, they homeschooled Joe’s siblings and built close relationships with Joe’s therapists and medical team.
“We allowed music to enter where it could and where it helped, and we decided to share the beauty and purpose of Joe’s short time here with anyone to whom it might bring hope,” continues Darin. “Whatever work we could accomplish just had to weave into the tapestry of the bigger life decisions we were trying to make. We believe that part of Joe’s great purpose was to reshape how we live our lives and invest in others and make the choices of how to spend our time. We continue to make decisions very differently today because of Joe and remain tremendously thankful for his impact on our lives and so many lives around us.”
A life among artists provides a rich education for their children. “Our kids are used to having a house full of people and hearing discussions about shows we’re working on, or crazy audition and performance stories, or new business ideas, or friendships that have formed around and through work,” says Darin. “They go with us to theater and opera and love going backstage to see friends or students. They love having ‘aunts,’ ‘uncles,’ and friends who do everything from preaching to making movies, to writing musicals, to programming apps, to teaching dance, to running companies.”
Some early advice that helped the Adamses develop the skill for considering priorities came from Giorgio Tozzi, one of Darin’s mentors. He told them that they seemed like a couple who “want to sit down and eat dinner together every night, and eventually with your kids, too.” He advised that, successful as they might be in performance careers, they might want to consider other ways they could use their talents that would allow them to spend more time together. Darin recalls another dinner with an opera singer friend who shared that he had spent less than eight months with his then six-year-old daughter. This helped them cement their goals as they considered which options to pursue in their now combined lives.
When faced with the oft-asked question about how to find work/life balance, Darin has this to say: “The balance seems to come in finding deep and meaningful relationships within all of the projects we commit to doing and fostering those friendships within and beyond the work. Artists don’t really go to work and then go home and live their other lives separately the way some other professionals do. We tend to live our social lives with the people in our industry. So that creates a different kind of work/life balance. It would be hard to do if you didn’t genuinely enjoy a great variety of people.”
For Darin and Sheri, this sometimes meant turning down tours or other jobs that seemed like they would have been the right thing to accept in terms of career advancement but were not projects that aligned with their greater goals of marriage, faith, and family. They do not regret making those choices. They learned from both positive and negative experiences that sometimes what looked like the best option in terms of career or financial security was not the best option for them personally. Luckily, whenever they found themselves in jobs that had little to do with their gifts or sense of calling, they were able to help each other find their way back to a re-establishment of their priorities.
The decision to make Manhattan home provided its own raft of benefits and challenges. “I always felt very drawn to the city, even when we were moving back and forth between California and New York,” says Darin. “We love the people, the creativity, and the opportunity to collaborate with so many brilliant artists. It’s obviously not the easiest life. A nice house in the suburbs with cars and malls and beautiful schools is pretty enticing at times, but we really feel like being in the city factors into our life purpose . . . that we’re here for a reason, and we discover it day after day. It’s the place to start new things, share music and creativity, be inspired, touch a lot of different lives, and have access to tremendous opportunities.”
As Sheri and Darin worked to move Appcompanist from an idea to its current form, they shared the work with constant communication and a goal of wanting to serve the community of singers and teachers that they have known and loved for many years with a product that would help them excel and ease frustration. They are very thankful for the investors who showed their belief in the project with monetary commitment and they both devoted their time and energy to learning from every failed attempt, never giving up, and incorporating lots of feedback and new ideas and team changes to keep the idea moving toward fruition.
Version 1 is currently available only on iOS, but they are working to get an Android Version 1 available as soon as possible. Once that is available, they will begin working on Version 2, which will offer even more options—like the ability to save the version you have just performed live, including tempo changes and dynamics. The website features an excellent introduction to the app and examples of singers performing with it at appcompanist.com.
When asked to share advice for other artists, Darin and Sheri offer the same advice they give to themselves. “Look for your purpose each day . . . if you woke up today, you have one, so prioritize discovering and fulfilling it. Try to invest in things that last first—relationships, giving, loving, faith—before the things that don’t—money, recognition, achievement, etc. We don’t always prioritize well, but we certainly make a conscious effort to each day. Our work and home life blends together quite a bit, and always has.”