Chris Brubeck, Dave Brubeck, and Finale

I wanted to share a recent WHYY radio interview with Chris Brubeck, discussing the Grammy-nominated piece he created with his father (the late, great Dave Brubeck) entitled: “Ansel Adams: America.” You can hear it here

The entire interview is great, but I was particularly tickled by Chris’ description of using Finale with Dave, which begins around 20:10. As Chris was describing sending musical examples back and forth with his dad, interviewer Marty Moss-Cohane asked: “I’m curious, when you say ‘send,’ was this through email, or was he actually using snail mail or how did you send information back and forth?”

Here’s my transcription of Chris’ reply:

“Oh no, my father was old school enough that it was definitely just sending pieces of paper with what I call chicken scratch. Where it got a little higher tech (and believe me, I’m no Stephen Hawking when it comes to this stuff) is that I have a musical notation program – that a lot of people have – called Finale. And for those of you who aren’t musicians, because it involves a computer, please don’t think that means a computer wrote this piece. It’s like in the same way if you’re an author and you use a typewriter, you know, the typewriter didn’t write the piece.

But with Finale, you can use a computer interface to create good-looking music: It looks like published sheet music. And it also has the unique ability that once you’ve put something in the score you can actually have it play back on digital instrument samples. So it doesn’t sound as good as the real orchestra, but it certainly gives you an idea of what it’s going to sound like.

So I was working from Dave’s chicken scratch, transforming it. And then when he got back from Florida in the springtime he started hearing [it]. Instead of having to sweat and play all the different things he was hearing (or that I was hearing) I could just have the computer playback a sort of filled-out orchestration of where I wanted to go.

And as he said, and this is someone who has written eighteen major cantatas and oratorios; ‘Wow, in the old days you couldn’t hear what you’d written until the dress rehearsal – and then it was too late!’”

I love that. Sometimes we take the miracles of technology for granted. I’ve long benefitted from “previewing” how my music will sound in Finale, but it’s nice to be reminded that I’m in good company, and that even Dave Brubeck found this useful, too!

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