Drawboard PDF & Alan Pierson: A Case Study

Scott Cooper on

As a Drawboard PDF user since 2013, Alan Pierson knew that making the shift to working digitally would allow him to manage his projects more efficiently, and provide him with a more portable and intuitive method of viewing scores during performances.

Alan Pierson is an accomplished conductor who works internationally with numerous ensembles and orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, National theater Mannheim, and LA Opera. He is Artistic Director of the contemporary music ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, and also the Co-Director of the Northwestern University Contemporary Music Ensemble.

As a Drawboard PDF user since 2013, Pierson knew that making the shift to working digitally would allow him to manage his projects more efficiently, and provide him with a more portable and intuitive method of viewing scores during performances.

“All my scores are PDF and I knew I needed an app that would let me mark them up.” says Pierson. “I tried everything I could find, and decided this was the best option. It was quite smooth, meaning that page turns were quick and reliable, and it was quick to render the next page all the time which was really important to me.”

A streamlined workload

Pierson is constantly working on a wide range of projects, from full orchestral works and operas to smaller ensemble pieces. Many of these are brand new and still being developed before performance. By using Drawboard PDF, Pierson is able to collaborate more effectively with the composers and the musicians performing the work.

“I do a mix of concert music and opera. My work is very much focused on contemporary music so I’m always dealing with new works and composers. When a composer is working on something, often the first way I’m using Drawboard PDF with a new piece is to mark up spots I want to talk about with the composer, and then can send it back to them.“

For Pierson, the rehearsal process involves making a lot of annotations to compositions. This ensures clarity between himself and the musicians, and also means the piece is realised in a way the composer is satisfied with. 

“There are changes being made on the spot, so I’m marking those as we go, and discovering what players need from me, like places where I need to conduct something differently. So I’m marking up all of those notes throughout rehearsal.”

Alan performing with Alarm Will Sound. Photo by Wojciech Wandzel

In the past, the process of altering compositions was repetitive and time consuming. Drawboard PDF’s ability to import new pages into a score reduces the amount of time and effort required when Pierson is updating scores with the composer’s revisions. 

“If i’m working with a big section of music I might even export my markings and then put them on the new version of the file, and that’s incredibly useful. In the old days you’d have to go through and copy all your markings into a new file. Now you can just use the export annotations feature and it’s done for you.”

Alan is also able to plan future rehearsals quickly and easily.

“I don’t know another PDF editor that lets you view all the markings in a document by date.That’s a lifesaver for me, in 5 or 10 minutes I can review my markings from the previous rehearsal and use that information to plan the next rehearsal. That ability to sort annotations by date is so essential to my workflow.”

An ever-evolving solution 

Drawboard PDF allows Pierson a much more portable and convenient method of storing and accessing scores when travelling. It is also compatible with the numerous devices he uses during rehearsals and performances.

Rather than travel around the world with this huge notebook full of scores, I just have my devices with all my music, which can constantly evolve to meet the needs of whatever I have to do. My annotated scores synchronise across my devices, it’s easy to jump around and make new markings or erase markings, and it all feels very fluid.”

The transition from working with traditional sheet music to working digitally as a conductor has had a huge impact on Pierson, and the way he works.

“Drawboard PDF has allowed me to transition from working with pen and paper to going all digital, and that’s been a total life changer for me. I have a soft spot in my heart for technology, and for using it to help me work better at things that I love doing. Drawboard has really fulfilled that for me.”


Drawboard PDF is rated the #1 productivity app in the Microsoft Store. Drawboard PDF makes PDF markup quick and easy for document-heavy industries such as the legal and consulting.

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