The Great Debate

The Great Debate

The ferocity, dogmatism, and stubbornness that composers once reserved for discussions of serialism vs. neoclassicism now goes into the new great debate of our age: Finale vs. Sibelius.

We heard some blunt and fascinating talk from, in Aaron Jay Kernis’s words, Master Engraver Bill Holab on the subject. Words that have me seriously considering investing serious time and bucks in new software. But first, some other things.

I awoke to an ear-piercing scream from my one-year old at about 1 a.m. this morning. I’m the only local of the bunch, and my family came to visit me for the day. I’m also the only member here with kids, and it probably shows. These 11 p.m. listening sessions are a little harder on me, I think. I once wondered why so many of the great composers of the 20th century were gay. Now I think I know. They didn’t have kids! They had time to compose! They were less sleep deprived! Their ears hadn’t been blasted by crying babies for years! Just a theory, of course. So in the morning I ran across the road to the Target, but it turned out that it was the Target corporate office. They didn’t have any Children’s Tylenol.

The other big events of the day were a tour of the library, upper string talk, and a mingling session with young (30ish) orchestra patrons.

At the library, talk waxed to the details of the best type of tape to use to get 9×13 parts. It was truly (truly!) interesting and just another measure for the me of the received wisdom that composers have to find in some way.

The string session was nominally bloody and a bit embarrassing, but in reality quite helpful. I was again dazzled by what attention to detail these players were putting into our music. When people with that kind of insight focus that kind of attention on our work, any laziness on our part is just immediately clear.

The Crescendo Project is just a great idea the Minnesota Orchestra has cooked up where they plan events for younger orchestra enthusiasts to get them involved. Some are musicians, but others seem to me more like future board members. They were completely engaged and excited. Sure, the open bar helped, but I like to think of it more as the powerful of new music. We listened to some beautiful little piano works by Ming-Hsiu Yen and some evocative, hilarious, and altogether brilliant songs by Ted Hearne from his Katrina Ballads collection. Both recordings were performed at least partly by the composers, which added a new dimension.

For me, Bill Holab’s presentation on self-publishing was a real highlight among highlights so far at the Institute. His frank talk on the business side of our profession was completely enthralling, and I’m really looking forward to his talk on part-copying tomorrow.

Ah, but back to Finale vs. Sibelius. What is it about this topic that can send two otherwise collegial composers into 45-minute tirades on the pro’s and con’s of The Expression Tool. I am a Finale user, and I find Finale a bit like a family member in this sense: I may privately curse the damn thing in language befitting a St. Olaf professor, but I still feel compelled to defend it in public! But Bill had a stat that went right back to dollars and cents, and may have me scurrying to secure some new software. He compared working with Finale and Sibelius. Both have good things and bad things, but from his professional standpoint, a professional level score can be made 50 percent faster in Sibelius. That’s time that we could be spending composing (or buying Children’s Tylenol!). I don’t know if I’m convinced, but I’m convinced enough to look into it further.

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3 thoughts on “The Great Debate

  1. msargent

    Not to immediately swing the conversation, but I’ve recently downloaded Lily Pond. Though I’ve been a long-time dedicated Finale user (I’m a composer and music copyist), I’ve been intrigued by the possibilities presented in the introductory tutorials/manuals.

    Are there any hardcore Lily Pond users that can speak to their experience in using this program against Finale / Sibelius? Has anyone out there completely made the switch? There seems to be a lot of potential in this little third party candidate, particularly in percussion and more abstract notation systems (proportional, polymetric, etc.) that give the Big Two some trouble.

    (I should also mention that I don’t compose or sketch into Finale — I only open that .mus file at the last state of creation.)

  2. mmcginn

    I used Finale for about 10 years until about a year or two ago when I switched to pen and paper. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I would suggest more composers try it. It really makes you think about what you are writing down when you have to ink in every little thing on the score.. It’s also time consuming, but when finished you’ll have a score that is unique among the throngs of Finale and Sibelius scores.

  3. David McMullin

    another 3rd party candidate – Notability
    If you use a Mac (I don’t, unfortunately, and there’s no PC version), also check out Notability. It’s designed by composer Keith Hammel, so it’s made for contemporary music and is therefore much more flexible than Finale or Sibelius. You don’t have to spend all your time fighting the default settings and trying to trick it into doing what you really want. Any actual Notability users out there who could comment?


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