February 6, 2023
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Life & Culture

Student from IC creates music-history mobile app Informusic

“The Rite of Spring,” composed in 1913 by Igor Stravinsky, begins calmly. A clarinet and bassoon work together quietly, building tension until suddenly the entire orchestra explodes with sound. While the power of this piece was limited to an orchestra, many believe Stravinsky was inspired to create the piece by a tense pre–World War I Europe.

Drew Schweppe ’12 was influenced by Stravinsky and other composers who might have reflected the atmospheres around them in their work. At first, Schweppe said, he wanted others to learn about those contextual links but did not know how to do it. In the end, he decided to create an easy way for musicians to synthesize history and music into one: an app.

Informusic, a mobile app created by Schweppe and his team, launched in April 2016 on the Apple App Store, marketed as “the all-in-one music history resource” for devices. The app offers a timeline of 19th century Western classical music, music scores with audio files attached and biographies on all featured musicians.

As a student, Schweppe was initially inspired by how musicians interacted with each other in the past. He said Mark Radice, professor in the Department of Music Theory, History and Composition, first made him think of this when he shared how his favorite piece was written during World War II and how it reflected the tension of the time. During an independent study course Schweppe took in the summer of 2011, he and Radice compiled a timeline of not only music events but also world events to provide a background for users.

“As I continued going to school, I realized that there are all these students that don’t have any up-to-date technology as a resource. There’s no smartphone app for this,” Schweppe said. “We need biographies. We need sheet music and audio, but it’s all disconnected. So why not put this in one resource that’s technologically up-to-date?”

After running the idea by a few friends in grad school, Schweppe decided to fully commit to the idea in 2014 and assembled a team to create the app. Radice continued to work with Schweppe and became a central figure in Informusic’s creation. Radice said one of the biggest struggles during development was deciding which composers to exclude for its release.

“It’s a matter of making sure that you’ve got a sufficient repertoire of composers, media genres and so on,” Radice said. “Every time you cut out a composer or leave out a piece of work, then you have the feeling someone’s going to be looking for that.”

Radice now serves as the academic adviser to the Informusic team. He said he makes suggestions and provides alternative perspectives on any new information or ideas Schweppe considers introducing to the app. While he is on sabbatical for the fall term, he said he plans on incorporating the app into his classes in the spring. When it comes to Informusic’s plans for expansion, Radice said it’s important to include a wider variety of interests, such as music by female composers and non-Western music.

“It’s no longer just about Western European culture. … It’s for the sake of addressing contemporary sensibilities in 2016,” Radice said. “We’re looking at the same repertoire, but we’re looking at it in different ways. We need to look at how the repertoire evolves, especially with later centuries and looking at the society we currently live in.”

Nate Faro, content coordinator for Informusic, said he was initially hired as a musicology intern before earning his doctorate in the field. In his current position, he writes and edits much of the content on the app itself. He said what sticks out to him is the connection of the timeline with all of the composers’ lives.

“You really get to know the essence of Informusic in that contextualization of information,” Faro said. “Getting to first see the app come together with the composers’ timelines and then seeing what’s going on in the world at the same time — it’s nothing I’ve ever seen before with a source making things so easy to see without having to comb through paragraph after paragraph of encyclopedias.”

Junior Riho Yamaguchi said she has been studying music as a hobby for nearly 17 years. For the college’s Sinfonietta orchestra, she has served as the concertmistress for one year and said she believes an app like Informusic would be a great asset to students like her.

“I’d say for freshmen and sophomores, because they’re taking basic-level courses, it might be really helpful for them,” Yamaguchi said. “I’m sure they’re not only going to learn how the music changed form, but also how the composers had their own ideas while writing it. It seems like it’ll be really helpful to get into the music and study it. … No one is going to know the exact meaning of the piece, but knowing the background makes it easier to get an idea of what the composer might’ve been feeling when they wrote it.”

Schweppe said there are many plans in the works, but for now, he is focused on promoting the app to students and universities. He said that later on, he plans on expanding the app to not only include the history of different genres of music but also different forms of art, such as movies.

“One thing I’ve learned through all of this is it’s one thing to have an idea that people like; it’s something totally different to follow through and do it,” Schweppe said. “I hope to continuously provide [students] with new ways to learn about music.”