Wednesday, April 9, 2008

(Re)Learning Finale, Part 1

From Finale to Sibelius

I've been a Sibelius user for 10 years or so, since v. 1 for Windows. However, my music engraving education began on Finale, two or three years before that. My band director at C.S. Porter Middle School, Tim Aston, showed me Finale 2.0 on his computer at school. The idea of putting music on paper thrilled me to no end and I dived into the software immediately.

My father is a well-known composer and gamely gave me first a simple project to work on, then increasingly more complicated ones. As I worked with Finale, I became more and more frustrated with the annoying hand-tweaking that the program required. At first I tolerated it because I was learning the program and I would figure out a better workflow as I went along. Things never got better, though. I got faster and more accurate, but the fiddly nature of the program remained. The incremental updating of the program didn't help. By version 3.7, it had become clear to me that Finale would never fundamentally change, that it would simply keep adding dumb features (studio view, anyone?) without ever seriously addressing its core notational difficulties. To this day, the automatic beaming in Finale is pretty miserably broken. Their only fix: include the venerable Patterson Beaming plug-in with the program.

In high school, I learned about this new program called Sibelius. I ordered a demo disc and installed it with great anticipation. From the very first moment I loaded it, it was love. All of the stuff I hated about Finale was magically not an issue. Sibelius offered an implausibly clutter-free interface with a natural, intuitive method of interacting with objects. Imagine: clicking on anything gave me the power to edit it. No more trying to figure out if that mf was a score expression or a note expression. Imagine: I could select a region of music and apply tremolos with three keypresses. Sibelius automatically lengthened stems and correctly positioned the slashes. I could even type directly onto the page and get a real-time sense of how the text would fit with the music.

On that day, I gave Finale up forever. Sort of.

Why go back to Finale?

As I have had more and more frequent encounters with publishing companies over the years, it has become apparent that the bulk of the work in the industry is done with Finale. Not to be expert in the software would be tantamount to the kiss of death for an engraver attempting to expand his practice. I decided that the time had come to once again acquaint myself with the long-shunned program. One of the reasons that precipitated my decision was Steven Powell's excellent Music Engraving Today, 2nd Ed..

He presents a well-reasoned discussion debating the merits of the two software packages. He concludes that, while Sibelius is better organized and has a shorter learning curve, Finale is a better choice for an engraver. While I don't agree with several of his points, two are significantly compelling. First, although Finale's text engine isn't perfect, it offers many more typographical options than Sibelius' fairly rudimentary handling. Second, Finale's slurs are head-and-shoulders above Sibelius'.

As I installed and executed Finale 2008a.r2, a familiar feeling stole over me – memories of weary fights with an intractable opponent. Maybe this time it would be different. Maybe 10 years of development would have streamlined the interface into something usable. Maybe it would finally be a joy to use.

The following posts will present my journey as I relearn Finale. I am engraving two pages from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring as it contains some significant challenges and will make me touch most areas of the program. As I was going through Powell's book, I noticed that his comprehension and manipulation of Sibelius was, while competent, hardly extraordinary. I feel very much that I am in the opposite position here. Undoubtedly there are faster and easier ways to accomplish virtually anything that I'm about to do on Finale. I hope that any experts reading this will comment and let me know! So now, I'm off!

Go on to Part 2!

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