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Brian Ferneyhough Visits MakeMusic

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Renowned composer and longtime Finale user Brian Ferneyhough visited the MakeMusic offices in late March. The composer was in town participating in a residency at the University of Minnesota. Ferneyhough agreed to take time out of his schedule to sit down with Sr. Music Editor Mark Adler and Notation Product Manager Yvonne Grover to discuss notation issues related to contemporary and avant-garde music. Prof. Ferneyhough was accompanied by seven graduate composers from the U of MN who also participated in the discussion.

Since the mid-1970s, Ferneyhough has been recognized as “one of the most influential creative personalities and significant musical thinkers on the contemporary scene.” (Edition Peters Website)  The composer is known for his highly complex and musically dense scores. As indicated by Mark Adler, “Many of Prof. Ferneyhough’s works are well known for the technical demands placed on the performer, but there are huge technical demands placed on notation products and engravers as well.”

During the two hour discussion, Ferneyhough walked through his process of incorporating music generational programs, like OpenMusic and Patchwork (PWGL), into his compositional process and the use of these programs in combination with Finale:

“The way I work at the moment is, perhaps, of some relevance. I have two screens. On one screen I have a music calculation program, which is usually PatchWork GL or OpenMusic. On these I calculate rhythms, chords, and densities. I can take the rhythmic notation and, using OpenMusic Syntax, port it to Finale. I clean it up in Finale, and I can add a pitch layer. I don’t do everything at once as a rule. I’m a layer man.”

Regarding his workflow and working from sketch to score, Ferneyhough said that he does not work from a fully realized handwritten sketch to a full score. While he will sometimes write out fragments of compositions, he largely works directly into the computer:

“My flow of paper is radically diminished. On the one screen, I can set up whatever element of the music I’m dealing with at the moment, let’s say rhythmic density, and I can transfer that to a first stage full score. It’s just got the rhythms in it, or some rhythms in it. And then you simply add different layers on top of that until you get the final product… Finale’s facility for interfacing with other music generational programs is important.”

In addition to discussing workflow issues and font capabilities, Ferneyhough and the student composers voiced their desire for support of advanced techniques in notation programs, such as micro-tonal support and support for uncommon time signatures. The composer commented that, “there has been a discussion of so-called irrational time signatures, such as 3/12 or 9/17. OpenMusic and Patchwork can implement any denominator, and I see no reason why Finale can’t do the same thing.”

The conversation with Prof. Ferneyhough and the U of MN composition students was extremely productive for the leaders of the Finale development team. As Finale development looks towards the future, comments and concerns from users such as these are crucial to the evolution of the program. As stated by Adler, “We see events such as this as an important part of Finale development. Meeting with composers and artists at the forefront of musical innovation is an essential component for growth in the field of music notation.”

More information about Brian Ferneyhough, including examples of Brian Ferneyhough’s handwritten and Finale scores, video interviews, and audio links, can be found on the Editions Peters website:

Update on Finale Development

A large portion of the development time invested in Finale 2014 was devoted to modernizing Finale for the newer Mac operating systems. While much of this development appears only “under the hood,” some glimpses can be seen in new Finale functionality including full screen mode, pinch zoom, drag-scrolling, text entry via voice dictation, and basic Retina support. This work also serves as a foundation for additional modernization required for future versions of Finale on both Mac and Windows platforms.

Whenever these types of significant changes occur in software, unforeseen consequences can arise. Despite extensive in-house and beta testing we cannot anticipate every variable of hardware, software, and workflow in the real world. As a result, we’ve seen a handful of customer issues new to 2014. After the initial release of Finale 2014 we addressed some of these concerns with the 2014a maintenance release, and continued work as new issues were discovered.

Today I’m glad to report that we’ve begun final testing of Finale 2014b, which we plan to release this spring.

Here are some highlights of Mac issues we’ve fixed in 2014b:

  • Crash when using Speedy entry and scrolling with inertia (and a related issue where measures could be inadvertently copied or deleted).
  • Crashes due to conflicting keyboard shortcuts.
  • Crashes when opening MIDI files if it’s the first file you try to open in Finale.
  • Mac crashes on waking from sleep/closing the laptop lid have been minimized, and we continue to work with Apple to eliminate them completely.
  • The audio engine no longer fails to load when using Apple’s Cinema Display (or other, similar devices that only allow for a single channel of input).

We’ve also addressed some Windows-specific issues, including:

  • Crash on exit (Windows 8) when clicking the X to close Finale.
  • RME Hammerfall cards now work with Finale.
  • Instances when backup files are deleted when an inaccessible temp file causes an error on file save.

Issues that could occur on either platform are also addressed, including:

  • Articulations and key switches play back in all layers (including fp, sfz and altered trill markings which did not play back in any layers in 2014a).

And some issues not new to 2014 have been resolved as well, including:

  • MIDI files exported from Finale retain staff names when opened in a DAW.

As I mentioned, we’re currently testing these and many additional improvements that we plan to share with you yet this spring.  A complete list will be included upon release of Finale 2014b.

While we’ve traditionally not announced Finale development work prior to a product release, we wanted to assure anyone who’s encountered any of the issues above that we’ve been hard at work investigating and fixing them.

Tim Davies, Nas, Finale, and Feedburner

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Tim Davies is a busy Hollywood conductor, orchestrator, arranger and composer. Tim relies on Finale to not only create notation that looks exactly the way he wants it to, but also to get things done in the quickest and most efficient manner: Recent feature films Tim has orchestrated and conducted include Frozen, Endless Love, Muppets Most Wanted, and Edge of Tomorrow.

Tim is currently working on arranging the score for Fox’s animated film Book of Life for two-time Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla, as well as orchestrating a suite from Santaolalla’s score for The Motorcycle Diaries for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel. But that’s just two of many current projects. Did I mention the word “busy”?

Tim has also just finished a project that will make its debut at the Kennedy Center this weekend, where the NSO Pops orchestra will “venture into the realm of hip-hop with famed rapper and actor Nas.” This intriguing collaboration celebrates the 20th anniversary of Nas’ debut album Illmatic and launches the Kennedy Center’s One Mic: Hip-Hop Culture Worldwide celebration. View the details.

Tim created half the charts for this performance, noting: “This was a challenging project as nearly all the tracks were based on one or two bar loops and the producer did not want me to replicate them and just add a few pads as one would do normally in this situation.”

Interested? See the New York State of Mind score and Hear the New York State of Mind demo

In addition to sharing Tim’s score this week, I wanted to let folks know that we’ve made it easy to stay current with the Finale blog with a new subscribe button found in the upper right corner. This links to Feedburner, which will notify you by email whenever a new Finale blog is posted.

Have questions, comments or requests? Notify us by clicking on “Comments” below.

Finale Spotlight on Saint James Music Academy


Perhaps you’ve seen the “Why Music?” infographic created by the University of Florida. It’s a powerful piece highlighting some of the benefits that music and arts education offers children, and particularly children from low-income households. While most agree that every child should have access to music education, it’s another thing to work towards this goal, and it’s inspiring to hear about people who make it happen.

Saint James Music Academy (SJMA) is a Vancouver, BC non-profit dedicated to bringing an intensive orchestral music program – at no cost – to local children that couldn’t otherwise afford lessons. I recently spoke to Stephen Rathjen, their programming director, about their work.

Scott Yoho: Can you tell me how SJMA came to be?

Stephen Rathjen: SJMA is the story of one person’s determination to give children a better chance in life. When cuts to public school funding meant that Vancouver’s inner-city children had limited or no access to quality music education, long-time Downtown Eastside area resident Kathryn Walker decided to do something about it. She began building alliances and support in the community for a music academy that would not only teach music but use music as a means of reversing the negative social forces that neighborhood children commonly face. Today there are 170 children enrolled in the core after-school programs and another 250 children in outreach programs.

SY: What is your role at the school?

SR: My title is Programming Director, but being the only administrator and trained musician amongst the core staff, I feel like it should be Director of Everything that Needs Doing! I make the class schedules for 170 kids, hire teachers, help arrange parts for the orchestras, liaise with special guests, manage the finances etc. In short, I keep the place running.

SY: What’s your background?

SR: I did my undergrad in Music with a major in composition and aspirations of becoming a film composer. After pursuing it evenings and weekends while working at a bank by day for several years, I found I wasn’t completely satisfied with either job, and that’s when I made the leap to a vocation based on social justice, and outreach to those on the margins of society. The SJMA has been the perfect fit for me as it allows me to use my gifts to accomplish something that I’m really passionate about, while helping those in need.

SY: I read that SJMA is Canada’s first ever El Sistema inspired program. Can you tell me about that?

SR: El Sistema is a music movement that began as a modest program created to introduce the wonders of music to children living in and around the poor districts of Caracas, Venezuela. SJMA employs the five principles of El Sistema, some of which are a departure from traditional methods of music education. Details can be found on our site.

SY: How is Finale used at SJMA?

SR: As soon as I arrived at SJMA I started to use Finale to aid the orchestras and choirs. Our school is slowing growing towards having full orchestras but we constantly have to adapt and re-write scores to match our instrumentation and skill levels, as well as arrange music specifically for our needs. This past Christmas we arranged and performed the Huron Carol for 2 choirs, 2 cellos, a pianist, and a drummer! Without Finale, the kids would be squinting at hand written parts, we wouldn’t be able to include them all in our orchestras, and fun original arrangements would be few and far between.

I’d like to thank Stephen for his time and fine work. Learn more about SJMA from this promotional video or their website. Want to spread the work of others doing great things with Finale? Please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Zen and the Art of Music Notation

Mark Johnson

In our 2/20/14 blog post we encouraged readers to let us know what they’d like to see in future posts. Derrek replied: “Years ago, Mark Johnson wrote a book about composing with Finale. Perhaps relevant sections could be excerpted and outdated topics updated in a series of articles if Mark is willing.” Mark quickly replied that he was willing, and the results appear below.

Zen and the Art of Music Notation

“The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha—which is to demean oneself.”

-Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Creating music at the mercy of those circuits, and the software that runs on them, is a reality of composing these days. It’s really a reality of doing pretty much anything at all, isn’t it? It’s our modern condition—learning to live comfortably within a technological complex that is intensely liberating one moment and paralyzing the next. We see it when our smartphone crashes half-way through a video of extremely cute puppies, or when we drive into a cornfield at the behest of our vehicle’s navigation system. But, there is a special kind of paralysis that can only afflict the composer ruminating on the timbre of a viola descant—performing surgery on the most delicate portion of the fourth movement. It is the curse of the pitch that will not bend! or the beam that will not feather! It is beyond darkness where there should be puppies. It is nothing less than the taunting of the composer’s inner Buddha, and it must not be tolerated.

Auditioning Wellness

Translating an inspired composition directly from your mind into Finale has the potential to both enliven your inner muse, and invoke its evil twin. Which one appears will depend on the number of nagging bemusements encountered along the way. Dissolving obstacles to score playback, so you can hear precisely what it is you happen to be composing, is perhaps one path to enlightenment. Here are a few convenient auditioning tricks so that Finale might remain a happy compositional catalyst rather than your soul-crushing nemesis.

Scrubbing your Inner Being

“Scrubbing” (or “Audio Spot Checking”) permits intimate control over playback, allowing you to drag over whatever part of the score you would like to hear including the full score, any individual staff, or any combination of staves (which we’ll get to soon).

  • Hold down CTRL (Win)/OPTION (Mac) and SPACEBAR, then move your mouse over the music.
  • Add SHIFT to isolate (really grind down on) the staff you are ‘scrubbing.’
  • Also, use SHIFT+SPACEBAR+click to conveniently play a single staff (in time) and ignore the rest of them.

If you are a pro, scrubbing your music has likely already become second nature. But, there is a lesser-known trick that allows easy access to viewing and editing any combination of staves while, at the same time, instantly auditioning those changes within the context of the full score.

Revealing Your Score’s True Nature using Staff Sets

Staff Sets are like ch’i for composers. Merrily view and audition the interwoven nuances of your piccolo and timpani dialogue as large, adjacent staves (rather than squinting at tiny ones situated at remote edges of your computer screen as your nemesis slowly crushes your soul). Here is how to unleash the Staff Set life force:

1. Go to Scroll View and select the Staff tool.

2. SHIFT+click the handles of the staves you want to hear (e.g. piccolo and timpani).

3. Windows users, hold down CTRL and choose View > Program Staff Set > [Staff set #]. Mac users, hold down OPTION and choose View > Staff Sets > Program Staff Set [#].

4. Press CTRL (Win)/COMMAND (Mac)++(plus) a few times to zoom in.

Image 2

5. Now, scrub (or SPACEBAR+click) dire­­­­ctly on a staff to listen to only the staves in the Staff Set. Scrub (or SPACEBAR+click) between staves to hear music in all staves. (You can still add SHIFT to listen to just one staff).

Nemesis crushed. You can create up to eight different sets. To see all your staves again, Mac users, press CONTROL+0, Windows users, ­choose View > Select Staff Set > All Staves. Mac users, to quickly move to any staff set, press CONTROL+[Staff Set #]. (Windows users, you can assign each Staff Set (and All Staves) to a keystroke­ for easy access using the TGTools Menu Shortcuts plug-in.)

Of course, if you do not like what you hear, that’s another matter altogether; perhaps a topic for our next Chautauqua.

Guest blogger Mark Johnson is the author of several Finale guides, including “Finale 2014—A Trailblazer Guide”. If you’d like to see more from Mark, please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Who Won the Free Finale T-shirt?

Last month we published a blog post that offered to enter you in a drawing for a free Finale T-shirt. To be eligible we asked only that you post a comment containing suggestions of what you’d like to see in future Finale Blog posts.

Thank you to everyone who responded. We received 28 entries (including one Finale power-user who emailed some great ideas privately). In appreciation for the great response we decided to give away three shirts, so we drew three names from the hat (actually it was from the hood of Theresa’s jacket).

The winners are:

  • Adrian Durlester, Deerfield, IL
  • Derrek, Silver Spring, MD
  • Nancy Woo, Fountain Valley, CA

Actually I’m a winner, too, as so many people generously gave me ideas for future blog topics. I’ve already taken action on several of these suggestions, and as they’re published I plan to recognize each contributor.

While this particular drawing has run its course, our desire to hear what you’d like to see in future blog posts remains.  Please share your suggestions by clicking on “Comments” below.

Finale Reviews on Amazon

It’s been brought to my attention that reviews of Finale 2014 on don’t seem representative of what we’ve been hearing from our customers. It may just be that a larger sampling is required. If you own Finale 2014 and have a free minute, please consider sharing your experience with the software, pro and con, here.

Since Amazon’s feedback system isn’t designed for manufacturer’s input, I’ll offer some here. If you ever have a problem with any of our products, please contact us directly and we’ll help. We continue to offer free support and we’re glad to help resolve issues and provide accurate details of our policies (including our money-back guarantee).

Meet Yvonne Grover, MakeMusic’s Notation Product Manager

Yvonne Grover

For this installment of the Finale User Spotlight, I’d like introduce to you my friend, coworker, and fellow Finale user Yvonne Grover.

Scott Yoho: What is your title at Make Music?

Yvonne Grover: My official title is Notation Product Manager. (I suggested Notation Product Diva but got overruled.)

SY: What does your job entail?

YG: There’s no shortage of ideas for enhancing our notation software products or creating new products. My job is to research and prioritize those ideas in keeping with our overall product strategy, and work with our development team to translate those ideas into shipping products. I don’t do this all by myself, of course. I have a very talented team working with me to make sure we hear what our customers are saying they like—and don’t like—about our products.

SY: What circumstances brought you to MakeMusic?

YG: Growing up in a musical family, I was surrounded by great music all the time and started both piano and violin lessons at an early age. As an adult I went on to study pipe organ and voice as well. At the same time, I was very interested in math and science and graduated from UW Madison with a degree in engineering. I’ve worked as an engineer for IBM and as a church organist, choir director, and piano teacher. I was delighted to join MakeMusic nine years ago, and continue to believe it’s the perfect place for me to combine my technical and musical skills to help develop great music software.

SY: Name one recording you still love after years of listening.

YG: I have a recording of Emanuel Ax playing Brahms, including both Rhapsodies, the 6 Klavierstücke, Op. 118, and the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel that makes me melt every time I play it. When I sit down at the piano to play those pieces, in my head I always hear Emanuel Ax!

SY: Are you actively performing today?

YG: Yes, I sing with VocalEsssence, a choral group dedicated to singing choral music of all genres with an emphasis on new works. Our motto is “Sing outside the box!”

SY: Is it true your last VocalEssence performance was done without music notation? What are you trying to do, put us out of business?

YG: Our recent concert featured traditional Gullah spirituals, taught to us by rote by Melanie DeMore in keeping with that musical tradition. Melanie also taught us to clap and pound stick in traditional Gullah rhythms while we sang. As you might imagine, this was quite a stretch for a group of Minnesota choral singers accustomed to standing quietly on our risers, holding our black folders! Performing without music notation was the absolute right choice for this concert, but I’m happy to say that many of our premiere works come to us engraved in Finale.

Have a question for Yvonne? Please share it by clicking on “Comments” below.

Finale PrintMusic Sale

February SaleKnow someone who is still using a pen to create charts, but perhaps doesn’t need all of Finale’s flexibility and power? Consider sharing the following PrintMusic sale with them.

We’re ending the month with a three-day sale on Finale PrintMusic. While its usually a bargain at $119.95 its now just $59.95, until 11:59 PM, CST, on 2/28/14.

To take advantage of this special pricing, follow this link. Alternately, visit our PrintMusic webpages, and enter the promo code FEBSALE once in the shopping cart.

Questions? Please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Shape the Finale Blog and Win a Finale T-Shirt

Win this shirt v2

Have an idea for a Finale blog post? Is there some topic you’d like to see discussed on the Finale blog? Let us know by clicking on “Comments” below and you’ll automatically be entered into a free drawing.

Want more details?

Everyone who shares a suggestion, by adding a comment to this specific post before 11:59 PM on 2/28/14, will be automatically entered in a random drawing to win a Finale T-shirt featuring Mark Adler’s Finale engraving and the copy “because music knows no boundaries.” While you’re welcome to comment multiple times, you’ll only be entered in the drawing once.

We’ll announce the winner, and share some of our favorite suggestions, the first week of March.