Finale and the Roman Missal

Manuscript image © Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. All rights reserved. Excerpt from the English translation and chants
of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.

The Roman Missal is the book of ritual texts used for all celebrations of the Catholic Mass throughout the church year. It existed only in Latin until the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s allowed its translation into modern languages. Four decades after that historic change, the Catholic Church authorized an updated English translation which is more faithful to the original Latin. This new translation was introduced to English-speaking Catholics on November 27, 2011.

The new translation also required new musical settings, since many parts of the rite can be chanted instead of spoken. The Missal contains more than 400 such musical examples. Today we’ll meet Steve Fiskum, one of the people behind engraving all those chants in his role as senior music engraver at World Library Publications. A five-time recipient of the Music Publishers Association’s Paul Revere Award, Steve clearly had the expertise required to meet the exacting standards for this historic publication.

Scott Yoho: How did World Library Publications (WLP) come to work on this project?

Steve Fiskum: Interested publishers submitted requests to BCDW (the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship) for permission to publish the book. We were one of seven publishers granted permission to do so, and the only major U.S. music publishing company.

SY: I understand that ICEL (the International Commission on English in the Liturgy) provided music examples to the various publishers, and that unlike other publishers, WLP decided to re-engrave those examples.

SF: Every publisher has their own criteria, their own style. The examples provided did not meet our standards, so we chose to re-engrave them. Because we had the right expertise, engravers, and editors we were able to take this on.

SY: For those who haven’t seen the book in person, it’s beautiful—and immense. It has more than 1,400 pages. Despite the fact that the translation has been underway for quite some time, I understand you had a crazy deadline.

SF: Thank you. Yes, we didn’t receive the music files until January 2011, and frankly, the text was still being tweaked while we were in the middle of all this. It took us about a month, from January to mid-February, to determine styles, processes, and approve sample printouts. Once all decisions were made, we had three weeks to get the music engraved with little to no corrections. That’s 400 files of difficult chant music.

SY: Three weeks? How many people worked on this project?

SF: Four. It was 24/7. I put a bed in my home office, and told everyone they could contact me 24/7 for the next three weeks. It’s not unlike doing copy work, especially when working on tight recording sessions, or touring shows where copying music is usually the last thing and seems to be done under extremely tight deadlines if not less than 24 hours with an orchestra waiting for the charts. You work until you fall asleep, work until you fall asleep—you go back and forth awhile. Your sleep rhythm gets off for a while, but you get back on track. Those who know me know I like to take on difficult challenges.

SY: The size and the deadline weren’t the only challenges.

SF: One of the bigger challenges was the middle of the book, the Order of Mass. Here all the page turns were dictated to us so all of the publishers had to have the same page turns. This was done so priests could pick up any publisher’s book and not have to relearn all of the page breaks. We were allowed a bit of leeway with the music elements, especially page turns for better phrasings and such, but all text had to remain in the same place in all publishers’ books. Very difficult to re-engrave and achieve these results. We were able to do it with the help of Finale, QuicKeys, TGTools and the Patterson plug-in collection.

Another challenge was that the engraving style dictated to us that the text drives the book—even when it’s under music, because the text was to be the most important element on the page.

This means that the music spacing doesn’t determine where the text sits under the music but the text spacing determines the spacing of your notes—where your notes sit, which is different than what we would ordinarily do in any other music publication. With this project it’s interesting to see how involved in specific styles of music engraving the church decided to become. In our current time in history it is usually left up to the music publisher and their house style. This is definitely a change to be noted in music engraving history.

SY: You also chose to create new font characters?

SF: There are several symbols, like Vs and Rs with little lines through them, which we created as fonts using Fontlab. Then we had to send these fonts to the printer to make sure they all work the same for them that they do for us. We have to do that anyway for things like line thicknesses. We had to send the prototype fonts to the very press that the book will be printed on.

SY: You mentioned you need to do this with line thicknesses. I guess most people would assume this is a constant with modern printers.

SF: Whenever I’m working with a new printer I send out test samples for staff line thickness. They FedEx hard copies back to us and we review. All presses are different—even within the same plant. Each can output the same PDF I provide in different ways. With the new digital presses, the lines seem to be getting thinner, more precise.

I am fascinated by the huge differences subtle line thickness can cause. If the line thickness is too thick, the notes appear to go back and seem too small. Thinner lines help bring out the music. That’s part of the beauty of the art of music engraving. It’s a little geeky, but it’s something I love about all of this. And that’s what keeps me going. Finale lets me tweak anything to make it look exactly the way I need it to look.

SY: Where do you see this project in a historical context?

SF: It’s an important book. The last time this book was done was 40 years ago. This is the first time this has been done with electronic engraving using Finale and in the history of music engraving this is the first time in quite a long time that the church took a role in setting very specific music engraving criteria.

We looked at all the past Roman Missals and reviewed their styles before working on our book. Our work on this book will represent where engraving was in our lifetime (at this point in history) and I’m glad Finale was a part of that, not just on our end, but from ICEL as well. That they chose to use Finale over any other means is a great testament to what Finale is all about.

Eons from now, they’ll be able to say, here’s where Finale started with the Roman missal.

SY: Anything else you’d like to add?

SF: There’s no way we could have done this in three weeks using any other software—period!  

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