SmartMusic Finale Garritan MusicXML

Finale QuickTips: Cross-Staff Beaming

When creating cross staff beaming in Finale, many people use the Note Mover Tool or the TG Tools Cross-Staff Plug-in dialog box to move notes from one staff to another.

While both of these options do the job well, there’s an even quicker way to do this.

  1. Write all of your notes for the cross-staff passage in one staff.
  2. Choose the Selection tool then click and drag to select the notes you wish to move.

Finale QuickTips: Cross-Staff Beaming

  1. After you have selected the region of notes you wish to move, press ALT+SHIFT+Up/Down Arrow (Win) or OPTION+SHIFT+Up/Down Arrow (Mac). (*no shift in Finale 2014 or later for Mac)
  2. You can then use the Beam Angle tool from the Special Tools palette (Window > Special Tools Palette) to alter the beam height and angle.
Finale QuickTips: Cross-Staff Beaming 2

Steps 3 and 4

How does that work for you? Share your thoughts with your fellow Finale users via Facebook or Twitter.

Pi Day Finale Font Update

Pi Day Finale Font Update 2Happy Pi Day! Here at MakeMusic we love our puns, so March 14 is one of our favorite days of the year. To honor this most auspicious of days, we’ve added some special (punny) characters to our MMDings font.

As you may recall, MMDings grew out of a wonderful Facebook post by Patricia Wallinga, Articulations You Wish You Could Use. As more and more fans asked about these articulations in Finale, we built a free font so that you could use Patricia’s characters with music notation software. Today, we’ve given it a delicious update, including the pie noteheads you can see at the top of this post. (Don’t worry, the pies representing whole notes and half notes are included too!)

Font Installation

Download this .zip file and expand it. Then double click on the font MMDings.otf and click on the Install button (Windows) or Install Font button (Mac).

The Quick, Easy Way to Use This Font

Want to just take a quick peek? Open the .musx file we’ve included in the download. This is a template we built using the default document style with the MMDings articulations and noteheads already loaded.

To add these articulations and noteheads to a file you’ve already built,  load the .lib file we’ve included by choosing File > Load Library. Choose the Articulation Tool and the new characters will appear in the Articulation Selection dialog box.

To take it a step further and create your own articulations using the new font, read on!

Creating Your Own Articulations

  1. Open some music in Finale, choose the Articulation tool, and click above a note or rest.
  2. In the Articulation Selection dialog box, click “Create.”
  3. In the Articulation Designer dialog box, click “Set Font,” choose “MMDings,” then click “OK.”
  4. Now click “Main,” choose the symbol you’d like, and click “Select.” You’ll find some pi-tastic symbols in numbers 80-84. (Repeat this step substituting “Flipped” for “Main” to use this articulation both above and below notes.)
  5. While you could make further adjustments if you wish (like default positions), click “OK,” then “Select” to see the articulation in your score.

That’s a fair number of steps to get a scoop of ice cream on top of your pie-shaped notehead, but if you’re going to repeatedly use these characters it may be worth it. Building the articulations from scratch means you can further customize the articulation. Plus you can easily use them alongside the default articulations you’re used to.

Fine print: the MMDings font is free to use, even in your own for-profit work, but you can’t sell the font itself.  

Want to Use These Characters, but Don’t Own Finale?

These same steps work with our free Finale demo. Feel free to try Finale free for 30 days and join in the fun. If you use another notation program (or any other software that uses text fonts) you can also use the font there as well.

We hope you enjoy March 14thand the delicious puns that come with itas much as we do.

Young Composers Contest Announced!

Young Composers Contest Announced!

In celebration of Make Music Day 2017, MakeMusic is hosting a composition contest for young composers, aged 13-21. The winner will receive cash and other prizes. In addition, their composition will be made available to all users of SmartMusic Teach Free and will be performed live in select cities as part of national Make Music Day celebrations.

Enter Now

Young Composers Contest Entry Details

Entries can be created in any notation software. Musicians without notation software are encouraged to download a free 30 day trial of Finale and start creating. Contestants must submit both PDF and MusicXML files of their composition. (All licensing rights to pieces submitted will remain with each composer.)

Eligible compositions must use (and are limited to) the following instrumentation and should be written at a level of difficulty that could be performed by a typical middle school band:

Flute/Oboe F Horn
Bb Clarinet Trombone/Baritone B.C./Bassoon
Alto Saxophone Tuba
Tenor Saxophone Bells
Bb Trumpet Percussion

(This instrumentation is available as the Beginning Band template in Finale.)

All submissions are due by 11:59 pm Mountain Time on Monday, May 8th, 2017. We’ll announce the winner on May 22.

Contest Prizes

In addition to having their competition included in SmartMusic and performed at MakeMusic Day events, the winning young composer will receive:

Are you over 21? It’s time to be a mentor. Please share the contest with students and young friends. You’ll find complete details and rules on the contest website.

We’d also like to extend our thanks to our cosponsors, the American Composers Forum and the Make Music Alliance, for helping to make this contest possible.

Learn More

Where’s Jari? When Will We See JW Plug-ins?

Where’s Jari? When Will We See JW Plug-ins?

With the release of version 25, Finale was updated from 32-bit to 64-bit bit. We’ve blogged about this in the past. As a result, every third-party developer of Finale plug-ins had to update their code to work with the new Finale.

“Can I run 32-bit plug-ins in a 64-bit Finale?”

This is a common question. Unfortunately, the answer is no. As we mentioned here, there is no emulation mode for the PDK.

Updating these plug-ins has been a monumental task and has involved significant collaboration between MakeMusic and these independent developers. We would like to publicly thank Michael, Robert, Robert, Tobias, and Jari for their efforts and the significant value their plug-ins have added to Finale since Finale ’97. We’re happy to report that both Robert Patterson and Tobias Giesen have released 64-bit versions of their plug-ins (in addition to the MusicXML plug-in). That leaves Jari Williamsson, creator of JW Plug-ins, unaccounted for.

[Update 3/17/17 – Several of Jari’s plug-ins are now available — see details below!]

What Really Happened to Jari Williamsson?

For the last year or so, Jari has not commented on whether this is something he’s working on. In fact, Jari has not commented at all, about anything. This has led creative minds in the Finale community to imagine several conspiracy theories explaining his “disappearance.” These range from the pleasant (he won the lottery), to the political (he’s been drafted by the Swedish army), to worst-case scenarios (he’s dead).

With the exception of the lottery, I’m glad to report that none of these rumors are true. Today we can confirm that Jari is alive and well. So why the lack of communication?

Well, for one he’s a violinist with the Gothenburg Opera, and they’re having a very busy season. In addition, Jari has a family to whom he’s very devoted. On top of this, Jari is always working to grow and develop, and is currently pursuing a degree in mathematics.

Note: musicians make amazing mathematicians!

His studies have taken a significant amount of his time and thus the free Finale plug-ins that he so diligently developed for the past 10+ years have taken a backseat. Jari is a brilliant fellow and we wish him all the best and great success.

What About My Plug-ins?

We understand that life without these plug-ins has been difficult – even for us. Two critical groups of the Peaksware organization, Alfred Music Publishing and our SmartMusic Repertoire Development, rely on these and other third-party plug-ins to develop content.

So where does this news leave the plug-ins that we all need to complete our projects and meet our deadlines?

As mentioned previously, MakeMusic has helped plug-in developers during this 64-bit migration and we will provide help and support to Jari to lighten the burden. Fortunately for us, there is a brief break in Jari’s schedule that will allow him get to back to the plug-ins and finish the migration. While it would be remiss of us to make promises on his behalf or announce a proposed ship day, we at MakeMusic trust Jari and know what an excellent and efficient developer he is.

That said, they are coming. As plug-ins are updated, Jari assures us he will post them. We will help share that communication as it becomes available.

Stay tuned!

Update 3/17/17:

Jari announced today that 17 plug-ins for Finale 25 on the Mac are now available here: and Windows plug-ins are available here:

Update 3/20/17:

Jari has released 10 additional plug-ins. See the Mac and/or Windows links above for details.

Michael JohnsonMichael Johnson is the vice president of professional notation at MakeMusic. He first joined the company in 1996 as a technical support representative, solving tricky issues with Finale 3.5.2. He earned his music education degree from the University of Dayton and his computer science degree from Metropolitan State University.

Michael lives in Colorado with his spouse, Owen, and their son, Elliot. When he isn’t modifying Finale files with plug-ins, he enjoys playing the trumpet and bicycling around the Rocky Mountains.

Finale Quick Tips: Creating Tempo Changes

Finale Quick Tips: Creating Tempo Changes

Finale’s Setup Wizard makes it easy to add an initial tempo marking to any new score. But what if you decide to add a tempo marking long after you’ve finished the Setup Wizard? What if you want to add tempo changes mid-piece?

This is a question our technical support staff hears fairly often, so we thought we’d take a second to show how quick and easy it is!


1. Select the Expression Tool and double-click where you would like the marking to appear.
2. In the Expression Selection dialog box, specify the Tempo Marks category.
3. Now you can choose one of the pre-made expressions, or create your own.  To create your own, click Create Tempo Mark.
4. Click Insert Note to select a note value (a quarter note, dotted quarter, whatever), and then type in your desired tempo, for example “=122.”

In practice, that fourth step looks like this:


(Note that you can change fonts here too if you wish.)

5. Click OK then Assign.

That’s it! The marking not only looks great, it sets the correct playback tempo.

Finale and the 2017 Academy Awards

Finale and the 2017 Academy Awards

Will you watch the Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26? Will you cheer for your favorite films, in part because the Super Bowl is over and your team, like mine, was defeated long before the playoffs?

I always root a little more for films in which Finale played a part. This year the big film on my list is “La La Land.” It received 14 Oscar nominations, tying with “Titanic” and “All About Eve” for most nominations ever.

Not only was  Justin Hurwitz nominated for Music (Original Score) and Music (Original Song), he (along with lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul ) received two separate Original Song nominations for  both “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and “City of Stars.”

“Trolls” is another film from the Finale camp, and it was also nominated for Original Song for “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” with music and lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, and Karl Johan Schuster.

Other nominated films in which Finale was used include “Hacksaw Ridge” (6 nominations), “Florence Foster Jenkins” (2 nominations), “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (2 Nominations), “Allied,” and “Piper.”

My research method involves word-of-mouth among Finale users in the music preparation field. I’ve undoubtedly missed some films involving different music prep teams. Did you use Finale in your work on a nominated film? Please let us know via Facebook or Twitter.

Avoiding Other-Worldly Behavior by Retiring Old Finale Templates

Avoiding Other-Worldly Behavior by Retiring Old Finale Templates

Working in the customer success department at MakeMusic, I have seen all sorts of Finale files. As the notation product specialist, files exhibiting the most unusual behavior usually cross my desk at some point. 

I have worked with files that presented significant obstacles that were oddly persistent. This behavior could range from odd tempo changes that cannot be controlled to bizarre font substitutions and poltergeist-like page layout. Or deleted expressions that reappear after adding instruments. Weird, unnatural stuff;  almost as if the files came from another world!

Occasionally these issues cannot be worked out by normal means. I may have to recreate the file by using MusicXML import/export or copying and pasting into a new document. At this point, I will begin to suspect that the file was created from a template. And this often proves to be the case.

You can avoid this kind of strange file behavior by updating your Finale templates regularly.

Why Should I Recreate My Finale Templates?

If otherworldly mischief isn’t reason enough, you may also find that you are missing out on added features and updated functionality. Older templates may be missing expression categories, modern fonts, specific staff styles, and more. Don’t find yourself pulling your DeLorean time machine with a set of horses because you neglected to clean the flux capacitor!

How Often Should I Recreate My Template Files?

The general consensus in our office is that a template should be replaced every is every two to three versions of Finale.

If you’re using Finale v25, this means that it’s time to retire templates that originated in Finale 2011 (initially released almost 7 years ago) and you might consider replacing 2012 templates as well. Keep in mind that creating a template in Finale 2011 and opening it in v25, even on the same day, could bring forward some difficulties.

Where Do I Start?

I believe the best way to start over with a template is to simply open the default document (File > New > Default Document), use the Score Manager to add instruments, and then add your own personal flare from there.

What Should I Do Next?

After creating the document, begin by setting up Document Options (Document > Document Options) and your default page formatting values (Document > Page Format > Score | Document > Page Format > Parts). By defining these values before creating a piece from this template and adding content, you pave the way to have Finale take care of much of the details for you along the way.

Note: Be sure to redefine existing page values for All Parts and Score using the Page Layout tool (Page Layout > Redefine Pages > Selected Pages of Selected Parts/Score) before moving on!

After properly setting the default values for the items in Document Options as well as Page Format, I would then recommend creating any Expressions, Articulations, and Smart Shapes that you will use regularly in this template.

You can, of course, do this separately from your new template and save them as libraries (File > Save Library) to load in later. Whether or not you do this library creation in or out of your new template, save yourself some time, and save those libraries for use in other templates you wisely choose to recreate (note that old libraries can suffer from the same form of entropy that affects old templates). If you are a heavy user of chord symbols, now would be a great time to build those chord suffix libraries as well.

All of this being said, in most cases template recreation should take you an hour or two. If just one tricky gremlin is avoided in the process, the time is clearly well spent.


Once you have these tools in place, backup your template files (I recommend three copies in at least three different locations, at least one being external storage), and then use File > New > Document from Template to get back to making fantastic music at speeds your friends and commissioners wouldn’t believe (Warp one, Mr. Sulu).

Stay tuned for more information regarding detailed template update methods and tools for recreating and creating your new, robust Finale templates!

Lawson DuttonLawson Dutton is a Notation/Garritan product specialist for MakeMusic and a longtime Finale fan, which he uses to complete his own music engraving and arranging projects.

In his free time, he enjoys playing piano and heading out into the mountains for a hike.

Spotlight on “La La Land” Composer Justin Hurwitz

Spotlight on “La La Land” Composer Justin Hurwitz Photo credit: Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

Justin Hurwitz was first interviewed on the Finale blog in 2015. At that time he shared his experiences as composer on Damien Chazelle’s award winning film “Whiplash,” as well as his background, Finale use, and workflow. At the end of his interview, Justin mentioned that his next project was another collaboration with Damien on a musical titled “La La Land.”

I suspect that many people doubted that following “Whiplash” up with a song and dance musical would result in a box office hit. Thankfully they were all delightfully wrong.

Released last month, La La Land has already won the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Picture, was among the American Film Institute’s top ten films of 2016, and swept the Golden Globes with a record-breaking seven wins including best picture, screenplay, original score, and original song.

I absolutely loved the film and was excited when Justin kindly agreed to speak with us again.

When did you and Damien first conceive of “La La Land?” What remains from your initial ideas?

During college, Damien and I made a low budget film musical called “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.” We took it to some small festivals in 2009 and 2010, and some people who saw it encouraged us to make another musical — something bigger and better.

Damien asked me in 2010 if I wanted to do another musical. I said yes, and he started writing the story in early 2011. Pretty much as soon as he started working on the treatment, I began composing music.

From the very beginning, Damien’s story had most of the major elements that are in the movie: It was set in LA. It was a love story between an aspiring actress and a jazz pianist. It started with a musical number on a gridlocked freeway. It had a gravity-free dance in the planetarium. It ended with the “fantasy ballet” sequence.

The script got reworked a lot over the course of the five years leading up to production, as did the music, but the major moments that are in the movie were in Damien’s first treatment.

You previously described your initial workflow on “Whiplash,” where you’d send Damien .mp3 files of piano demos via email. Was the process similar this time?

Yes, the beginning of the process was the same, which was me sitting at the piano, working through ideas, and sending off an insane amount of piano demos until we felt we had the right melodies. What’s different is that when we spoke about “Whiplash,” I mentioned never using a DAW, whereas with “La La Land,” I had to become somewhat proficient with Logic.

For the big production numbers that needed to be playback tracks on set, we needed advanced, realistic mockups, so I orchestrated those songs in Finale, and then fed the MIDI parts into Logic.

I did actually orchestrate first before making the mockups because I didn’t want the mockups to be sketches; I wanted them to have as much detail and nuance as possible, so I felt I needed to put it on the page first, and then use the orchestrations to make the mockups. During pre-production, I had the help of our executive music producer and his team to program the mockups from the orchestrations.

Once I got to scoring the movie in post-production, I was on my own with Logic, working with Damien and the picture editor Tom Cross at the editorial offices for about eight months while they edited. They didn’t want to cut to temp music, so I sat in an office next to the editing room while they fed me scenes to score. When possible, I tried to orchestrate before making score cue mockups, but there were many days where they needed a cue quickly, so I had to learn to actually write in Logic. I’d then go back and make the proper orchestrations later, which I guess is the normal order of things.

What was the genesis of the incredible production number “Another Day of Sun?”

Like I said, Damien’s very first treatment had an opening musical number on the freeway. We had a demo back in 2011, before we put the project down and made “Whiplash.” When we picked “La La Land” back up in 2014, Damien and I thought we could do better, so I started over on the song.

I was composing based on the description Damien had written in the script: a song sung by dreamers who have come to LA to be actors or writers or singers, who are optimistic about their chances, but have been too often beaten down by failure. It was an emotionally complex idea, balancing the joy and excitement with the pain, and this song took me longer than most to compose.   

How did you collaborate with Pasek and Paul (lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)?

After figuring out the basic melodies, I went back and forth with Damien on more piano demos, figuring out how to structure the songs. What’s the verse, what’s the chorus? Is there a bridge? Once we felt like we had a solid piano demo of a song, I handed the demo off to Pasek and Paul, who brilliantly wrote all of the words.

It never ceased to amaze me what they were able to do – narratively, emotionally, etc – with set melodies and a finite number of syllables to work with. There were a couple of times where I asked if, for a given part of a song, it would be easier for them to write the words first and have me set them, but they wanted to write to the melodies; they really embraced that challenge.

Some lyrics, “Another Day of Sun” in particular, went through many revisions, and each time they’d come back with an entirely new lyric that set and sang perfectly to the melody. It was incredible. They have such a gift with language.

“Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” is crucial to the film. No pressure there. Where did this piece originate? Did it undergo a lot of changes?

Like most of the material in the movie, it took me a very long time at the piano, and many piano demos. For this given theme, Damien and I really liked #16. We thought we had it, but after living with it for a week or so, we decided we could do better. I went back to work and kept going until #31, which Damien flipped out for. It was clear to both of us that #31 was the one.

The first few phrases were good in the early versions of #31, but from there it didn’t develop quite right, so I kept tweaking how it unfolded. A later, more developed version of #31 became the final demo, at which point we knew we had it. This was 2011, and the theme never changed after that.

Are there parts of Sebastian’s life that are drawn from your experiences?

Damien brought the film’s producers Fred and Jordan to my apartment in 2011 to meet me, and Fred and Jordan were struck by the fact that I had no furniture – just a bed and a piano. Damien incorporated this into the script, making Sebastian’s apartment just as austere.

When we were prepping the movie in 2015, the production designer, set decorator, and costume designer came over to my apartment to see for themselves how I lived (by then I had a little more furniture than I did in 2011, but not much). They were planning to model Sebastian’s apartment somewhat on mine, but when Ryan got wind of what they were thinking for his character, he pushed back, feeling that the character would come off as too sad.

They made Sebastian’s apartment a little less barren, and I’ve spent the last two years buying more furniture so that Ryan Gosling won’t think I’m pathetic.

Do you have a favorite musical moment in the film – or something you’re particularly proud of?

I’m very proud of the song “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” I’m proud of the composition and orchestration, and what Emma brought to it, performing it live on set with all that raw emotion, is incredible. “City of Stars” is another favorite song of mine.  I‘m also very proud of a lot of my score cues. “Bogart & Bergman” and “You Love Jazz Now” (which can be found on the Original Motion Picture Score album) are two of my favorites.

Can you talk a little about when you tried to evoke different eras, and when your goal was a more timeless feel?

Aside from the jazz combo pieces which were designed to sound old fashioned (1930s-1950s), the only song that’s willfully old-fashioned is “A Lovely Night.” I used the big band brass to punctuate in between the vocals, and the other sections of the orchestra in pretty traditional ways. During the dance section, the arrangement gets more eccentric, but during the song I was trying to give a little bit of a wink to Astaire/Rogers.

The rest of the songs hopefully don’t sound like they’re from any particular era. The walking bass and swing drums in “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd” are the kind of thing Michel Legrand did in his 60s musicals, but what’s going on in the orchestra is hopefully new texture and color, unlike stuff we’ve heard. In the case of those two songs, I was just trying to make them fun, packing them with lots of counter melody and counterpoint.

I orchestrated “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” to be lush and romantic, full of highly divided and textured strings parts with lots of suspensions and inner movement. That song also has more impressionist sections full of woodwind trills and buzzy Harmon trumpets.

When it came to the underscore, I was thinking about making cues that worked emotionally first and foremost, and but also trying to make them colorful and whimsical where appropriate, with things like wind trills, lots of counterpoint, pitched percussion, and strange interlocked voicings of different instruments.  

Check out this awesome featurette on the score where you can actually see a 90-piece orchestra (with choir) being recorded live:

What composition or orchestration lessons have you learned over the years?

Sometimes less is more. My instinct has sometimes been to pack my music, in the interest of having more music or trying to be clever, instead of just letting it breathe.

Can you talk about Mark Graham’s role and what kind of interaction you had with that team?

Mark Graham led the team of copyists. I put all of my Finale files in a Dropbox folder for them, and they took the files to extract and format the parts. For some of the wider cues, they reformatted the score a little bit to fit and look better on the page. At the beginning of the process, Mark gave me some grief for things like using dotted quarters instead of quarters tied to eighths, so I got with the program and made the adjustments. It’s good to learn what the players prefer to read.

Before we got started, he also asked if the scores and parts could be without key signatures (which I had no idea is common in film scoring) but I couldn’t accommodate that because I’ve never read music that didn’t have a key signature, and it would have been too disorienting to try to follow along to my own music. We went with transposing scores, and parts with key signatures.

Mark sat next to me in the sessions, and was incredibly helpful. He has an amazing ear, and spotted a few instances of wrong ink. Joe Zimmerman sat out in the room with the musicians and was a huge help as well, keeping everything organized.  

What was your role in the recording sessions? Have you worked with Tim Davies before?

I had not worked with Tim Davies before. He’s great. Tim conducted, while I sat in the booth with Damien. Damien gave his thoughts to me, and then I gave notes usually to Tim directly, but sometimes to the whole orchestra. On a couple of occasions, I wanted to change a voicing, and had to run out to the piano to try something. With crunchy chords, sometimes the only way for me to know what it should be is to grab it on a piano.

What kind of input will you have on a songbook? Who will publish it?

I just looked through a draft a couple of days ago. It’s being put out by Hal Leonard. They did a great job, not just transcribing dense music, but also making smart musical choices. I had some fiddly notes – things like the positioning of chord symbols, how to make the walking bass lines a little more piano-friendly, and making sure that when they chose to put counter melodies in the piano part that they resolved correctly and didn’t get stranded. I think they did terrific work and the songbook should be fun for people to play.

Artists often hope that their latest project will be a smash success. Scenes in the film illustrate examples of this hope fulfilled and unfulfilled. When did you first get a sense that “La La Land” was going to be among the former?

We started showing the movie to film festival audiences at the end of August and beginning of September. Audiences connected with it, which was a huge relief and incredibly fulfilling. Before a real audience sees the finished film, you just don’t know.

I thought I’d end our interview with Justin as I did last time, asking him what’s next. He replied that he doesn’t know yet. I suspect he may have several options; I’ll be very excited to hear what he chooses.

Ryan Gosling/Justin Hurwitz photo credit: Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

[Update February 26, 2017: Congratulations to Justin and everyone involved with “La La Land” for winning six Academy Awards including Original Score and Original Song (for “City of Lights”). ]

Finale Spotlight on Darcy James Argue’s “Real Enemies”

Finale Spotlight on Darcy James Argue’s “Real Enemies” photo by Lindsay Beyerstein

Darcy James Argue is a Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based composer and leader of Secret Society, an amazing, genre-defying 18-piece band. He’s also a long-time Finale user (and beta tester). Darcy appeared previously on this blog in 2010, to discuss Secret Society’s debut release, “Infernal Machines.” Like its predecessor, their 2013 release, “Brooklyn Babylon,” also received Juno and Grammy Award nominations, and appeared in many “best of” polls.

Last fall Secret Society released “Real Enemies,” an incredible sonic exploration of conspiracy theories, paranoia, and our modern existence. The new release has already received a Grammy nomination for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, and widespread praise like this:

“A work of furious ambition…deeply in tune with our present moment.” – The New York Times

Darcy and I connected recently to discuss the new release and music notation.

Real Enemies

What was the initial inspiration for the “Real Enemies” project?

After the success of my first multimedia work, “Brooklyn Babylon,” I was invited to develop another project for the BAM Next Wave Festival. I was casting around for a suitable topic. I thought it might be interesting to deal with non-fictional sources. At my girlfriend’s recommendation, I read Katherine Olmsted’s book “Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11” and loved it.

I gave a copy to my co-creator, writer-director Isaac Butler, and said, “This probably sounds crazy, but read this book and tell me if you think there’s a show in there.” He read it and came back and told me, “That does sound crazy… but, yes, I think there is a show in there.” From there, we recruited our third co-creator, filmmaker Peter Nigrini, and together we hammered out the basic structural framework. Once we got the green light from BAM, it was off to the races.

Where do you live on the conspiracy continuum? Do you think most of society is too paranoid or not paranoid enough? Does the possible veracity of a conspiracy theory influence your interest in it?

There’s a character in David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” who has a poster on his wall that says: “Yes I’m paranoid — but am I paranoid enough?” I think that captures the dynamic pretty well: to the conspiracy theorist, skepticism is naivete, countervailing evidence is just more proof that they don’t want you to know what’s really going on, et cetera.

Conspiracy theorists don’t lack for information — they often have a staggering array of facts and pseudo-facts at their disposal to back up their claims, or at least cast doubt on the generally accepted version of events. What they lack is a sound architecture of critical thinking: the ability to evaluate sources and claims objectively.

Instead, they reflexively reject anything that doesn’t fit nicely into their conspiratorial web of belief. Ironically, this makes conspiracy theorists (who are so invested in seeing themselves as highly skeptical individuals) easy marks for politicians who would exploit them to further their own cynical ends — by eroding faith in good government and in democratic norms, say.

It’s worth remembering that we are all prone to motivated reasoning and obstinacy in the face of facts that contradict our existing beliefs. Conspiratorial ideas cut across all kinds of social and political divides — they aren’t just limited to the left or the right, or to one segment of society. At the same time, while we tend to use “conspiracy theorist” as a term of derision, there are real conspiracies out there, including ones we don’t know about yet.

So, I mean, are we being paranoid enough? How much paranoia is healthy, and at what point does it turn toxic? “Real Enemies” tries to investigate these kinds of questions, to scrutinize how we form beliefs about the world… while also leveraging the audience’s paranoia for our own ends. (Purely artistic ones, I assure you.)

The Music

You have said that the album “draws heavily on 12-tone techniques, but the wide-ranging score exhibits a gleeful disregard for how those techniques have traditionally been deployed.” Can you talk about that? How does your use of harmony differ from what traditionalists think of as big band music?

If you’re going to write a piece of music about conspiracy theories, there really is no choice but to make it a 12-tone piece! “Real Enemies” derives entirely from a single 12-tone row — vertically, horizontally, and structurally — but unlike a lot of canonical 12-tone music, it’s not trying to deliberately avoid or undermine any sense of harmonic stability. Instead, the row is used to organize a highly chromatic quasi-tonal language, a sort of “shadow harmony” that sounds like a dark, distorted reflection of traditional harmony.

Each chapter is in a different 12-tone “key” based around a particular row form, and the progression of “keys” follows the same sequence as prime form of the row. Because jazz is a highly chromatic language, one can extract chords from the 12-tone row that are oddly reminiscent of jazz chords, or to construct melodies that sound somewhat like idiomatic jazz melodies, and so on.

Are there composers you admire whose work influenced Real Enemies?

The score to “Real Enemies” is dedicated to film composers David Shire and Michael Small, who took the techniques of musical modernism and adapted them for the screen in incredibly inventive and effective ways. The scores they wrote for classic 1970’s films like “The Conversation,” “The Parallax View,” and “All The President’s Men” (among others) were instrumental in shaping our modern idea of what paranoia sounds like.

What was the inspiration for the Latin feels interspersed throughout the recording? How did you notate those for the rhythm section? Were any grooves or feels left to the players or did you through-compose them?

The middle section of “Dark Alliance” is based (with permission!) on a song by the Nicaraguan singer-songwriter Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy, “Un Son Para Mi Pueblo,” which celebrates the overthrow of the dictator Somoza in the Nicaraguan revolution of 1978-79. (Although everything is still filtered through the 12-tone row!) The groove is a Nicaraguan take on són, which we primarily associate with Cuba — there’s a kind of pan-Latin revolutionary solidarity being expressed here.

“Casus Belli” is inspired by a curious 1958 record made by the great New York-based Afro-Cuban bandleader Machito, called “Vacation at the Concord” — it was a promotional album designed to hype the Concord, a lakeside resort 90 miles north of New York City, where Machito’s orchestra was in residence.

I’m picturing a group of CIA operatives sitting around the pool drinking daiquiris while plotting false flag operations that could be used as a pretext for a U.S. invasion of Cuba. The groove is a sped-up cha-cha-chá (sometimes disrupted by an extra eighth note added to the end of the phrase) that alternates between two keys a tritone apart. It eventually moves forward into present day speculation about false flag operations by way of a Afro-Cuban-inflected metal riff.

Like most of my music, the rhythm section parts here tend to be fairly specific, though there’s also room for individuality within the style. I also gave the players some source recordings to use as a reference, and our drummer, Jon Wikan, overdubbed many layers of percussion on both “Dark Alliance” and “Casus Belli.”

Editor’s note: Check out this behind-the scenes view of the recording of “Real Enemies”:


Can you describe some of your notational models or goals?

Clarity, clarity, clarity. As both composer and copyist, my job is to make the music as clean and readable as possible for the musicians who will perform it — not to impress other composers with the complexity or hyper-specificity of the notation.

I think every composer should read Clinton Roemer’s “The Art of Music Copying” — particularly jazz composers, of course, but really everyone could benefit from what he has to say about laying out measures on the page to make the phrasing maximally clear. There’s a reason why this style of part-copying became standard for film scoring sessions and the like — it systematically removes as many barriers as possible between the page and the player.

Can you share an excerpt of the score or a part so readers can have a glimpse at your engraving/copying style? Maybe including something that show some unusual direction given to soloists?

Here’s a page from Chapter 9 of “Real Enemies,” titled “Apocalypse Is a Process,” which is inspired by doomsday cults, like Heaven’s Gate and the Peoples Temple.

This is a rubato passage, with tenor sax blowing (Sam Sadigursky, on the recording) accompanied by a churchy chorale from a trio of winds (piccolo, flute, and clarinet) plus a Yamaha TX7 synth playing a cheesy 1980’s pipe organ patch. The trumpets are all in Harmon mutes and playing these little three-note bursts into the sound holes into the frame of the piano (with the sustain pedal down), creating an eerie resonant sound — a bit like a ghostly Greek chorus commenting on the action.

Additionally, a pair of trombones in straight mutes play a kind of staccato-glissando, where they gradually speed up and slow down their tonguing speed while slowly moving the slide.

Do you plan to publish the score?

The complete score for “Real Enemies” will eventually be available from my website, where I have also released the score from my previous multimedia piece, “Brooklyn Babylon,” and all of the works from my first recording, “Infernal Machines.” It may take some time to get “Real Enemies” up there, though — as someone who takes engraving seriously, it is a very big job to prepare these scores to a high standard.


What do you like about Finale? What would you change?

As a Finale user for over 20 years now — I started with version 3.0 back in 1994! — it’s become an essential, near-automatic part of my workflow. Even most of my sketches are in Finale. I know some folks romanticize pencil-and-staff-paper, but the fact is I can almost always get the ideas out more quickly and with fewer roadblocks using Finale.

I love being able to compose in Scroll View, without having to worry about how the music will be laid out on the page until the piece is finished. I love being able to easily shift music horizontally to try out a different rhythmic displacement, or take ideas that I wrote in one time signature and try superimposing them on a different meter.

I love the incredibly powerful and useful third-party plug-in suites, like TGTools, JW Plugins, and Patterson Plug-Ins — I definitely could not live without TGTools Align-Move, JW Copy Part Layout, and Patterson Beams! I love how robust Finale’s linked parts are — I think back to the bad old days of extracting every part and I shudder.

Most of all, I love the amount of control Finale gives me over every aspect of the notation. I have rarely encountered a notational problem that could not be solved in one way or another. Sometimes it takes some fairly drastic kludges, but there is almost always a solution!

If I could wave a magic wand and improve Finale in one specific area, it would be smarter collision avoidance — especially vertically. As a large ensemble composer, I’m usually dealing with 19 or 20 staves per system, and cleaning up my scores (so that the slurs and hairpins from a low bass trombone passage don’t collide with the guitar staff, for example) is a very time-intensive job. This is a task I hope future versions of Finale will handle more intelligently and automatically.

Have Finale tip to share?

In my experience, the number one thing you can do to increase your productivity in Finale is really learning your metatools. If you’re not using them already (and surprising numbers of Finale users seem unaware of them!) getting to a point where you are applying dynamics, articulations, smart shapes, staff styles, transpositions, etc. using metatools will absolutely change your life.

I also love all the little extras — like the ability to double-tap a metatool key to rapidly swap out expressions, the drag-enclose method of applying mass articulations, the option-down arrow method of copying a dynamic all the way down a score, using the “-” key to reapply your most recently-added expression — all of these are enormous time-savers.

You’ve been a Finale Beta tester for quite some time. What’s that like? Why do you do it?

Like anyone who depends on Finale for their work, I have strong ideas about what kind of fixes and improvements I’d most like to see. It’s great to be part of a community of developers and experienced beta testers where we can hash out new features and contribute to their implementation.

Finale’s very sophisticated handling of linked parts, for instance, are the result of refinements developed through a lively dialog between the MakeMusic team and the fine group of beta testers they have assembled.

Next Steps

Where can people hear you perform this music? Will many of the performers on the CD join you?

Certainly. Secret Society will be performing music from “Real Enemies” on January 6 at the Winter Jazzfest in New York. On February 28, we’ll be presenting the full multimedia incarnation of “Brooklyn Babylon” — live music, live painting, and animation — with my co-creator, visual artist Danijel Zezelj at Penn State.

And on March 23, we’ll be performing in Boston as part of the Celebrity Series. If people want to know where we’re playing, I’d encourage them to sign up for the Secret Society mailing list.

If you’ve read this far and haven’t heard the music yet, you need to. Learn more at

Photo credit: Lindsay Beyerstein

Top 7 Finale Blog Posts of 2016

We’ve had a big year here on the Finale Blog! From announcing a new version of Finale to our behind the scenes look at Hamilton, we’ve had a great year sharing stories about Finale and the world of music notation with you. Today we’ve compiled the top Finale Blog posts of 2016 in one list.

7. The Next Version of Finale

This February, we published our first post about what would become the 25th version of Finale. Although we weren’t able to share much at such an early stage of development, our goals for the new Finale were clear. We illustrated ways that the new version would improve performance and playback. Most importantly, we announced that the new version would be a 64 bit application. The teaser video of faster Human Playback processing certainly got the buzz started! To see what version 25 looks (and sounds like), download a free trial.

6. New Finale Quick Reference Card

We’ve all experienced the frustration that comes when you can’t quite remember a keyboard shortcut. Our documentation and customer success teams debuted our new Quick Reference Card in January to help avoid those situations.

5. Free Update for Finale Version 25

In October (only two months after the version 25 launched) we released our first free update. Being able to share this post so soon after version 25 launched represented a critical milestone in our initiative to share bug fixes and new features as soon as they’re ready.  In this vein, we released a second update in December, and we’re looking forward to continuing this approach in 2017.

4. Great Sounds for the Next Version of Finale

We debuted many features in version 25 here on the blog in the months leading up to release. The only one to make this list was our post sharing the changes to Garritan sounds. In April we discussed the ways that the latest ARIA player would improve navigation, add convolution rooms, and expand the number of instruments included in version 25.

3. New Finale Keyboard Skin

Without a doubt, this article caused the most buzz here in the MakeMusic office. We had no idea that a simple blog post about a new keyboard skin would garner the level of attention that this post did. Obviously, lots of you were excited about the prospect of having Finale shortcuts literally under your fingertips. 

2. The New Finale is Here!

Some of the happiest moments in our office involve product launches. The work isn’t finished (often it’s just beginning), but everyone here savors the excitement from Finale users on release day. The response to this blog post announcing the release of version 25 was no exception.

1. Finale Spotlight on Alex Lacamoire, Orchestrator of Hamilton

What could keep a new version of Finale out of the number one spot on a list of the best Finale Blog posts? Hamilton. We went inside the room where it happens to see how Alex Lacamoire, orchestrator and musical director of the hit show, makes Finale his right hand man. Alex was kind enough to share his favorite Finale tips and give us an insider’s perspective on the workflow that turned Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music into notation on the page.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at 2016 on the Finale blog. See you in 2017!