SmartMusic Finale Garritan MusicXML

Streamlining the Next Version of Finale

Previewing the Next Version of Finale

Many of you have asked when the next version of Finale will be released. Today I’m glad to report we plan to make it available by late summer, 2016.

With this release we are fully committed to streamlining and modernizing Finale’s codebase. We do this to improve performance, maintain compatibility with future operating systems, and to set the stage for future improvements. In the process, it has become necessary to remove old code  – and corresponding functionality  – that slows down this progress. This is something we never do lightly or without significant user feedback and a close eye on usage data. Our ultimate goal is to provide music creators with the best tool possible.

With that in mind, here are the items that won’t be in the next version of Finale:

  • Movie WindowAs I mentioned in this previous post, we’ve replaced the Movie Window with ReWire support, allowing  users to take advantage of the superior video support found in programs like Digital Performer, ProTools and Logic.
  • Mirror Tool  and Tempo Tool – Please note that Finale continues to offer multiple ways to control tempo, and that older files with mirrored measures can easily be converted to regular notes and rests.
  • Plug-ins – Discontinued plug-ins include Band-in-a-Box Auto-Harmonizing, Count Items and Classic Eighth Beams. While technical issues prevented us from updating the  auto-harmonizing plug-in to the 64-bit world, we do plan to revisit this functionality in some form in the future.
  • Compact Disc installer – Because many new computers no longer have CD ROM drives, we’ve switched to a USB stick (in addition to offering a download option).
  • ScanningWhen we offered a preview of our plans to modernize this feature, we sparked a larger discussion about rights. Musicians from all walks of life  –  from individuals to major publishers  –  expressed concern over the publishing consequences that could result from significantly improved scanning technology. We take rights very seriously. We explored enhanced restrictions as a possible solution, but ultimately decided that any restriction has the potential for abuse. Instead, we’ve decided to refocus this technology for the future and apply it in such a way that it can be stretched and pushed while simultaneously safeguarding musicians’ rights. While we’re eager to share more on this, the next Finale will not include scanning capabilities. Learn more.
  • Support for older Mac operating systems  – OS X 10.10 or higher will be required.

On the subject of OS support, we’re pleased to announce that full support will be provided for Yosemite, El Capitan, and Apple’s upcoming Sierra. Plus, being 64 bit, the next Finale will be poised to be compatible with subsequent operating systems as well.

One additional thing that will not be in the next version of Finale is a name that corresponds with a year. Why? Since the launch of Finale 2012 we’ve moved away from releasing a new version every year. While we’ve received positive feedback on asking users to upgrade less frequently, this change has produced some confusion as the current software (2014.5) appears to be out of sync with the calendar (2016).

We’ve also changed our approach regarding the addition of new features between major releases. Moving forward we plan to release more incremental versions, as we did with Finale 2014.5, which add new functionality (not just bug fixes) without charge to our current customers.

So what will the next version of Finale be called?


That said, if you look in the “About Finale” dialog box, you’ll see version 25 listed. Why 25? This is 25th full upgrade since the release of Finale 1.0 in September of 1988.

Have questions? Please feel free to let us know via Facebook or Twitter.

Mark AdlerMark Adler is MakeMusic’s notation product manager/senior editor, a professional trumpet player, teacher, and a freelance music editor and engraver.

Mark has recently become the proud new owner of a 1990s-era player piano. Does anyone have some 3.5” floppy discs they’d like to donate to the cause?

PrintMusic and Finale in OS X 10.11.6


Apple has just released OS X 10.11.6. While current versions of Finale and PrintMusic are fully compatible with this new version of the Mac El Capitan operating system, previous versions are not. Here are our corresponding recommendations:

  • If you’re using Finale 2014d, update to the free Finale 2014.5 (or don’t update to 10.11.6).
  • If you’re using PrintMusic 2014, update to the free PrintMusic 2014.5 (or don’t update to 10.11.6).

You can log into your MakeMusic account and download 2014.5 for Finale or PrintMusic here.

What about even older versions?

  • While Finale 2012, SongWriter 2012 and Finale NotePad 2012 are not supported in Yosemite or El Capitan, they do not exhibit additional problems in 10.11.6.
  • Finale 2011, PrintMusic 2011, and earlier versions are no longer supported.

We have contacted Apple and notified them of the incompatibility, and we’ll share updates on any subsequent developments on this blog.

If you have any questions, please let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

Marching Band Charts Made Easy

Marching Band Charts Made Easy

Want to write out a short pop melody for your marching or pep band? Not sure how to get started? The right template can really make a difference, saving you a lot of time in formatting parts. Especially if you haven’t fully explored Finale’s Linked Parts yet, you might be amazed at how quickly you can create some great-looking marching band charts – with parts in the appropriate flip chart size, too.

To help you get started, we’ve created two templates, both of which can be downloaded as a .ZIP file here. One is a portrait-orientation template for traditional marching band scores and the second is a landscape-orientation template for pep band scores. Each has the same instrumentation and flipbook size parts.

To see how easy it can be, try this out in either template: Enter a melody in the Piccolo staff and copy it to the Tuba staff., Notice how, by default, Finale transposes your melody to a playable range (which of course is an option you can turn on or off). Now for the reveal, go to Document >Edit Part, select the Tuba part, and see how nice it looks already!

Other benefits of these templates include…

  • Bigger time signature, tempo markings, and measure numbers in the score provide an easy-to-read experience and reduce the need for extra annotation.
  • Instruments labeled with multiple parts on one staff have split linked parts for easy input. For example, if you enter notes into Layer 1 and 2 on the Flute Staff, notes from Layer 1 will go to the Flute 1 part, and notes from Layer 2 will go to the Flute 2 part. And if notes are entered into only one layer, both parts will show the entered notes.
  • Auto-Sequenced Set Number Expression in the “Rehearsal Marks” category for easy input of your drill numbers.
  • Margins are adjusted in the score so that a standard hole punch doesn’t punch through any of the music.
  • The Baritone B.C. staff is linked to both a Baritone in Bass Clef as well as a Baritone in Treble Clef Part.
  • Linked parts have been adjusted to work well for exporting SmartMusic files.

I have one final tip. To use these templates most effectively, I suggest you make the following adjustments in Finale:

  • Edit > Check “Use Filter”
  • Edit > Edit Filter > Uncheck “Staff Styles”

Have any questions? Please let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

CJ GarciaCJ Garcia is an engraver and quality assurance technician at MakeMusic, where he helps create and edit content for the SmartMusic library.

CJ earned a B.M. in composition from the Lamont School of Music, and was a drum major for the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps from 2012-2014.

When he isn’t writing music or absorbing the Colorado scenery, CJ enjoys losing himself in the land of Hyrule while playing the Legend of Zelda series.

ReWire Support in the Next Version of Finale

In today’s preview of the next version of Finale, we’re highlighting ReWire support. ReWire will allow Finale users to synchronize with other pro-level audio applications. Why would you want to do that?

Let’s say you’re creating a pop tune in Logic and have decided to add a live horn section. With ReWire you could create the horn charts in Finale, then press Play in Logic, and both programs would start simultaneously – and play in sync. This could allow you to hear how your parts work against the existing tracks – before the performers come into the studio to play them.

ReWire will also be a huge help for people writing for film in Finale. After looking into how best to improve and modernize Finale’s Movie Window, we decided instead to replace it with ReWire support, as it allows us to take advantage of the superior video support found in programs like Digital Performer, ProTools and Logic.

Check out the video above to see what using ReWire with Finale and Logic will look like.

Please let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter.

Mark AdlerMark Adler is MakeMusic’s notation product manager/senior editor, a professional trumpet player, teacher, and a freelance music editor and engraver.

He was delighted to spend company time previewing silent cartoons for the creation of this video.

Restrictions may apply*


I would like to share an update with you concerning our new feature to import PDFs into Finale. The blog article we shared previewing the feature sparked an energized discussion from publishers, composers and users concerning the broad accessibility of PDFs and copyright considerations.

OCR (Optical Recognition Technology) has been a part of Finale for more than ten years. Providing the ability to import a PDF is really a modernization of the older (TIFF) file format the functionality has relied on. We’ve always worked to ensure that the scanning feature set is configured to protect the rights of composers and rights-holders, and to focus on note entry. Limitations omit Chord Symbols, Lyrics, limit the number of staves and so forth. The PDF import functionality is no exception. In addition to existing limitations, we’ve spent effort developing other restrictions to the feature, such as not to allow the import of password-protected or print-restricted PDFs and more.

As we have stepped through this process, it has surfaced a larger question: Given the need for proactive restrictions, can we still have a legitimate import tool and also safeguard rights of content creators? I can’t help feeling that any effort we spend diluting a tool to safeguard against the potential for misuse is misspent effort. Any restriction can be abused by the truly motivated.

I firmly believe that we need to create opportunities in our software through which we can maximize technologies such as OCR and not restrict them.

The new SmartMusic is this opportunity.

Our vision is to provide high quality content, wrapped in tools for learning, accessible via the web and delivered through a platform that empowers teachers in which rights holders always get fairly paid.

If we are able to leverage technologies such as OCR to speed up and empower the creation process for SmartMusic content, it is a win for all involved. And this is exactly what we intend to do.

It is the decision of MakeMusic to remove the PDF import functionality from the upcoming release of Finale. In fact, we are going to take a further step and remove scanning functionality entirely from Finale. We are serious about the integrity of music rights.

Instead, we will refocus efforts to aim PDF import and OCR technology squarely at creating content for SmartMusic. With this approach, we have an opportunity to push the boundaries of what the technology is capable of and create an unapologetically powerful content creation tool for a fully controlled environment in which all rights holders are fairly paid and have a stake in its success.

Whether we are technology developers, content creators, performers, artists, students or teachers (sometimes all on the same day), we are all in this together. MakeMusic will always endeavor to act responsibly as partners, with the best interests of the industry at our hearts. Our line of communication is always open.


Fred Flowerday,

VP of Product Strategy

Transposed Instrument Entry in the Next Version of Finale

Have you entered music for a transposed instrument into a Finale score? If so, you may have encountered a scenario where as you enter notes, the pitches you hear in Finale are not transposed. Once you hit Play, all is well, but this entry process can be disconcerting.

In the next version of Finale, when you enter notes in a transposing staff, you’ll always hear the correct pitch upon input, too. Click on the video above for a sneak preview.

If you’re an engraver who never presses “Play,” or a composer who prefers to enter notes with “Display in Concert Pitch” selected, this might not be a game-changer. But, if you’re like me, and when you see a D in a trumpet staff you hear a concert C in your head, this is going to put a smile on your face.

Please let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter.

Mark AdlerMark Adler is MakeMusic’s notation product manager/senior editor, a professional trumpet player, teacher, and a freelance music editor and engraver.

Among his many hobbies, Mark enjoys perusing vintage sheet music at antique stores. When he sees a D in a tenor sax staff, he always hears a concert C play back in his mind, too.

Importing PDF Files in the Next Version of Finale

Back in February I began previewing select information about the next version of Finale. Since then I’ve shared a little about what it will mean to be a 64-bit application, and the playback capabilities we’ll offer.

For today’s sneak peek, I’d like to offer a glimpse at the ability to import PDF files that we’ll include in the next version of Finale. We’ve been working with our friends at Musitek to provide a better solution than scanning: the ability to directly import PDF files into Finale. Having personally spent some time testing this functionality with public domain music – offered as PDFs from sites like – I can say that I’ve found the results to be very impressive.

Equally impressive is the success I’ve experienced using a smartphone to photograph public domain music and import the results. A wide variety of free and low cost apps that can create PDF files are available. I’ve had great luck with one called TurboScan Pro (its creator, Piksoft, also makes a free version).

In the short video above you can see the whole process at work.

Interested in more details? Here’s the initial PDF I captured with my phone, and a PDF of the unedited Finale file produced by the import. If you look closely you’ll find a couple of small errors, but not many.

I think it’s pretty remarkable!

Please let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter.

Mark AdlerMark Adler is MakeMusic’s notation product manager/senior editor, a professional trumpet player, teacher, and a freelance music editor and engraver.

While he’s no longer certain exactly where his scanner has been stored in his basement, he’s genuinely excited about the accuracy he can obtain by taking a photo of piece of music with his smartphone and opening the resulting PDF file in the next version of Finale.

Setting up a Custom Percussion Staff in Finale

Setting up a Custom Percussion Staff in Finale

In a recent blog post, we asked readers to tell us what they would like to see in future posts. One suggestion came from a user who writes mostly for choir. He occasionally wants to add a percussion staff to his choral pieces and suggested we create a tutorial on how to setup a custom percussion staff.

In today’s “tutorial,” we’ll create a custom percussion staff of three instruments to accompany a choir. The staff will include bass drum, hand clap, and tambourine. For this example I will use Garritan Instruments for Finale, but after learning how to create your own custom Percussion Layout, you may use whatever sound library you like.

Because some people, like myself, learn best when they see each action performed, I’ve included a screenshot of every step of the process. Don’t be deterred by all the images below, it’s not that hard. 

Note that you can click on the images below for a closer look. Also, please excuse the strange colors seen in these screenshots; I take full advantage of Finale’s ability to accommodate color-impaired users.

Here is the list of instruments we will use as seen in Finale’s Setup Wizard:Setting up a Custom Percussion Staff in Finale - Image 1Once the document is set up, open the Score Manager:

Setting up a Custom Percussion Staff in Finale - Image 2

Under the Instrument List tab, select the Percussion staff and click the Settings button near the Notation Style pop-up menu. This is where the fun begins. Welcome to the Percussion Layout Selection dialog box:Setting up a Custom Percussion Staff in Finale - Image 3As you see, many preset percussion layouts are available here. Though these can be incredibly helpful, we will instead create our own percussion layout since we only need a couple of instruments. In order to do so, click the Create button near the bottom of this dialog box to bring up the Percussion Layout Designer:Setting up a Custom Percussion Staff in Finale - Image 4Here you can create any percussion layout and customize it with different noteheads, fonts, note placement, and playback. I’ve named our custom percussion layout “Choral Perc.”

What is most important here is to know what sounds you want to use and which Percussion MIDI Map you can find them in. Again, for this example, we will use Garritan Instruments for Finale. The hand clap sound that we want is not in the Basic Orchestral Percussion MIDI Map, so we must select the map that contains this sound.

For reference, here are the links for finding the sounds you may want in creating a custom Percussion MIDI Map:

SmartMusic Soft Synth
Garritan Instruments
Tapspace Virtual Drumline

To select the desired map, click the New button next to Current Percussion MIDI Map to bring up the Percussion MIDI Map Editor dialog box:

Setting up a Custom Percussion Staff in Finale - Image 5Having previously looked through the Percussion MIDI Maps, I determined that several options could provide the necessary sounds (bass drum, tambourine, and hand clap). For this example, we will use the Jazz Fusion Drum Kit as our MIDI Map by selecting it from the Map pop-up menu and click OK.

This brings us back into the Percussion Layout Designer dialog box where we can add the sounds to the staff:

Setting up a Custom Percussion Staff in Finale - Image 6

We will start off by adding the bass drum. Pressing the + button near the bottom left of this dialog box will create a blank Note Type. In order to make this note the bass drum, we will click Select near Note Type on the right side of this dialog box and follow the path Bass Drums > Bass Drum > Bass Drum.

I’d like to place the bass drum on the first space, otherwise known as Staff Position 3. To achieve this, we can either click and drag the handle to the left of the noteheads seen in their staff position on the right side of this box, or we can type 3 in the space provided near Staff Position The result will look like this:
Setting up a Custom Percussion Staff in Finale - Image 7
Now we will repeat the process beginning from pressing the + button for the other two notes. I’ll suggest putting the hand clap on the fourth line (Staff Position 8) and the tambourine on the space above the staff (Staff Position 11). The end result will look like this (just for fun, I changed the tambourine note heads to diamonds):Setting up a Custom Percussion Staff in Finale - Image 8Click OK and the new Percussion Layout will appear in the Percussion Layout Selection dialog box:

Setting up a Custom Percussion Staff in Finale - Image 9Highlight your new Layout and click Select.

Now you can have fun enjoying your custom Percussion Layout without having to riffle through all of the pre-loaded Percussion MIDI map sounds. Have questions or comments about any step of the process? What to see us feature something else in a future post? Please let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

CJ GarciaCJ Garcia is an engraver and quality assurance technician at MakeMusic, where he helps create and edit content for the SmartMusic library. CJ earned a B.M. in composition from the Lamont School of Music, and was a drum major for the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps from 2012-2014.

When he isn’t writing music or absorbing the Colorado scenery, CJ enjoys losing himself in the land of Hyrule while playing the Legend of Zelda series.

The Next Version of Finale – More Bits are Better

Mark Adler talks about the next version of Finale being a 64-bit application

As I’ve mentioned previously, the next version of Finale will be a true 64-bit application. Upon hearing this, some of you may be asking yourself, “What does this mean for me?”

I’m glad you asked! Today I’ll like to talk about some of the benefits.

Modern Computers

Almost all computers made today use 64-bit processors. This means that the computer is able to process larger chunks of data more accurately, particularly when you’re running a 64-bit application.

If you have a 64-bit system running 32-bit software your computer has to do extra work to bridge the divide. This is inefficient and can result in increased power consumption, decreased performance, and “thunking,” whatever that is.

OS Compatibility

In order to maintain compatibility with future operating systems, it’s imperative that Finale become 64-bit. It is the future of software development. A 64-bit environment also allows for more productivity for software developers, making it easier for them to improve the user experience more quickly.

Compatibility with 64-bit sound libraries

Many high-end sound libraries are 64-bit only. A 64-bit version of Finale would allow you to use 64-bit bit sound libraries, directly within Finale, without any intervening 3rd party software or shenanigans.

In addition, 32-bit applications, like Finale 2014.5, are limited in the amount of samples they can load into memory. At only 2 or 3 gig, this limit is inadequate for today’s larger libraries. A 64-bit version of Finale would allow you to load much larger libraries and would be limited only by available installed memory.

Current Progress

Today our developers have 64-bit versions of Finale up and running AND are nearly finished converting all Finale plug-ins to 64-bit.

Are you curious to learn more about the next version of Finale? I plan to return in a few weeks with some more sneak peeks. Let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter.

Mark AdlerMark Adler is MakeMusic’s notation product manager/senior editor, a professional trumpet player, teacher, and a freelance music editor and engraver.

While Mark finds the photo above (of 64 drill bits) mildly amusing, he can also appreciate and respect alternative viewpoints.


Celebrating “May the 4th” with Alexander Iles

Celebrating “May the 4th” with Alexander Iles

In celebration of “May the Fourth,” we spoke with LA studio trombonist Alexander Iles, who landed what many would regard a dream gig: playing on the sessions for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

What is your first memory of the Star Wars soundtrack?

My first memory of Star Wars was the preview trailer that played in theaters a few months before its release. As I recall, it seemed kind of lame, like a Buck Rogers rip-off.  As is so often the case, the music used in the trailer was not from the soundtrack, and was more representative of the state music scoring in 1977; pretty sparse, orchestrally-speaking:

Later that year, one of my summer school classmates came to school raving one about this movie called “Star Wars” he had just seen – twice.  He invited a bunch of us to go see it with him. That movie instantly became the equivalent of the Beatles for many of us younger baby boomers. Most of my buddies saw the movie 5, 7, 10 times before it left the theaters. Bringing someone who had not seen it yet became a favorite activity; in fact the whole summer of ’77 was all about Star Wars.

Of course all of us high school band and orchestra geeks all fell in love with the music. That was a huge part of what made the movie unique and worth repeated viewings. It was a full-on swashbuckling score, more like an older movie from the 40’s, but accompanying a science fiction fantasy.

Another classmate, who was already knowledgeable in classical music repertoire, bought the soundtrack on vinyl and gave me a copy for my birthday. He was the first person to suggest that key moments in the soundtrack were influenced by specific classical composers. Through these conversations he introduced me to the music of Mahler, Brahms, Prokofiev, Holst, Vaughn Williams, Copeland, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich. We’d compare sections of Star Wars to Holst’s “The Planets,” Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” Brahms Symphonies, Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” etc. What a wonderful introduction to music appreciation!

I owe that classmate, Alan Reinecke, a great deal of gratitude for having introduced me to the fascinating world of classical music in general (and of film music specifically) for which I’ve developed a lifelong love and connection.

When did you play a piece from the Star Wars soundtrack for the first time?

That’s hard to say. I remember figuring out a few pieces by ear while listening to the soundtrack. We may have played some of the themes in high school, but do recall playing some of the music in college on a few “orchestra pops” type concerts.

The first time I played the music professionally was in the Star Wars Orchestral Suite with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra back in the early 90’s. I also subbed a few times with the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl on Star Wars Night with John Williams conducting. We played music from all the movies. It was a thrill hearing them all together. He has such a gift for film composition. He doesn’t just come up with a good melody for a character’s “theme,” he creates a thumbnail portrait of that character in sound. How can you not hear Darth Vader’s theme when you see him, whether it’s on-screen, or in a poster, comic book or advertisement?

Williams even wrote an amazing theme for the Force itself which is a theme for something that has no material existence at all. Yet every time that music is used, even subtly, it works its magic on the audience just as the Force does on the characters in the film.

You got the live the dream! What was it like performing on the Force Awakens sessions?

I have been so fortunate to have been able to check off many things on my musical “bucket list.” Playing on a Star Wars film soundtrack with John Williams was so unlikely that it wasn’t even ON my bucket list.

It never even occurred to me to dream about it, because all the Star Wars soundtracks were masterfully performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. That orchestra always plays John’s music with incredible passion and virtuosity AND produces such an amazing sound in their primary recording space, the legendary Abbey Road Studio One.

A few years ago rumors began circulating that John Williams was considering recording in Los Angeles. The exhausting traveling back and forth between LA and London was becoming less attractive to him and he has also always loved recording with his Los Angeles orchestra as well.

When the news came out that he would be recording the next Star Wars sound track in LA I was so thrilled (even before I received “the call” myself). This was going to be a huge event for our whole music community. As it turned out, I did receive the call. I couldn’t believe that I was actually going to get to play on The Force Awakens with one the biggest musical influences of my generation (or any generation).

Speaking on behalf of the member of the 100+ piece orchestra, we each felt so honored to be there to record this score. I must say John was able to draw an amazing sound from the amazing orchestra assembled specifically for this movie. I think each of us saw this as a dream-come-true moment. There was a unique energy present every session that was palpable.

The sessions were spread out over several months. We would usually record for two full days, then come back a few weeks later. The process was very deliberate and very musically intense. Unlike most film composers today, John conducts the vast majority of his own music. He is such a clear, diplomatic, efficient, energetic and musical conductor. We would rehearse a few short musical segments (or “cues”), each about 2-4 minutes long. This gave him an opportunity to make small adjustments to his composition and the group’s balance and intonation. It also gave the engineer a chance to hear the piece and adjust the recording levels.

By the time the red “recording” light came on, every aspect had typically been sorted out. We would usually record 3-5 takes of each cue. Afterwards music editors went through those takes, made notes, and assembled the best performance. For the most part, the average person would hear very little difference between the takes. Sometimes Williams might change the dynamics – or a certain part of the piece – to provide director J.J. Abrams with options. The difference might be more or less energy, a slightly different texture, or a change in the emphasis placed on what was happening on-screen.

Everyone involved signed non-disclosure agreements with Disney and Lucasfilm so we were not at liberty to say much or post anything about the sessions in social media or in the press. Furthermore, they didn’t even play the film in the studio as we performed (as is usually done for most of the movies we record). The whole experience really had a certain “Manhattan Project” feel to it.

One of the things that consistently impresses me about John is that he is constantly experimenting with new sounds, instrumental combinations, and textures. He is always asking players questions about how he has written things and is willing to change what he has written to allow a player to sound his/her best. His music is always challenging and inspiring to play but never beyond the best textbook orchestration.

The brass parts on this movie were a complete dream come true. The first time we played Kylo Ren’s theme, I was just overcome with excitement.  It hit me again the first time I heard the theme when he emerged from his command shuttle.

Playing for Gustavo Dudamel must have been a huge highlight. Was there anything he did as a conductor that really helped that you could share?

It was a huge unannounced surprise. John and Gustavo are friends. It was fun when he “sat in” and recorded the end credits with us. He was very much as in awe of the whole spectacle as we were. You could see his childlike enthusiasm as he ripped into the music while John was stood off to the side, smiling like a proud parent.

I would also like to mention that John had an amazing “back up” conductor, Bill Ross, in the wings each day. Bill would sometimes cover the conducting while John sat listening from the editor’s table in front of the orchestra. Standing at the podium for long periods can become pretty tiring for anyone.  At 83, John is amazingly energetic and spry, but even he needed a little break once in a while to focus on just listening to the orchestra play and to concentrate on certain subtleties of his score. Bill, himself a world class composer/arranger and conductor himself, was all smiles each time got a time to “pinch hit” for the maestro.

School ensembles all over the world perform Star Wars arrangements at concerts every year. What tips do you have for directors and students (especially in the low brass) who want to sound as great as you guys did on the record?

John really does show the influences of all the great music he has studied and played himself. I would suggest that students check out some of that music I mentioned earlier for the overall sense of how/why John might have drawn on any particular influence to compose his music.

Film music is three-dimensional music. There is the music and the performance just like concert music, but it also has the third dimension: the film and the story the film is telling. The music and the performance serve the story. This is a great thing to open yourself up to when you listen to many kinds of music. What kind of story is the music telling you? Great film composers know what musical sounds, themes, instrumental combinations, and gestures will bring the audience closer to the story the director/film maker is trying to tell.

So when the low brass play Darth Vader’s theme, they all have to make a sound that says, “Darth Vader in da house!” When you play beautifully balanced chords accompanying the Force theme, or sing out the triumphant sounds of The Throne Room, groups to over play much of the brass music from Star Wars. It is easy to do because it’s so fun to lay into it. But I have found that greater strength is found in a full, robust and centered sound that is never too forced. Loud music can be exciting for about 6 seconds, but music that changes dynamics never gets dull. Coming from soft to loud and back again makes you sound “louder” than you are really playing and produces an emotional response that is much more exciting.

Strive for your section to carry the power together, without any one player sticking out. Make sure you maintain your connection to the other low brass and the rest of the brass. Some of the melodic or moving eighth note and sixteenth note lines need to be crisp, clear and most of all, IN TIME. Don’t drag when you get to play something with some movement. Go for more light and fluid orchestral approach than an overbearing and heavy-handed one.

Each player should make their best sound and be listening (and working) to keep their sounds balanced at ALL times.

I’d like to thank Alex for sharing this incredible experience with us. Since talking with him we discovered this footage from the sessions, captured by 60 Minutes (look for the Finale-prepared parts). Happy May the Fourth, everyone!

Alex IlesAlex Iles is principal trombonist of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra and has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. He has also toured as lead and solo jazz trombonist with Maynard Ferguson and the Woody Herman Orchestra and performs in many of the top LA-based big bands and jazz groups including Bob Florence’s Limited Edition, The Seth McFarlane Orchestra and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band.

Alex frequently performs in the pit orchestras of numerous LA productions of Broadway shows and on hundreds of television and motion picture soundtracks. He has recorded with artists such as Barbra Streisand, Michael Bublé, Josh Groban, Paul McCartney, and Prince. Alex has been a faculty trombone and jazz instructor at the California Institute of the Arts, Azusa Pacific College and California State University, Northridge, and has appeared twice as a featured soloist at the International Trombone Workshop. Want to learn more? Check out this interview.