Interview by Jari Williamsson, January 2005Matthew is an Australian composer (and he's one of Faber Music's "house composers"). Here he talks about work and composing methods in Finale, and his own music fonts. His own web site can be found at http://www.hindson.com/
What's your background?
I'm a composer and recently an academic working in Sydney, Australia. My works have been performed in Australia for the most part, but have also begun to achieve some level of success internationally. Apart from music, one of the main interests as a young person (from age 12 or so) was in computer programming. After leaving school I was employed as a trainee computer programmer at a local steel company but was also accepted into the music composition programme at the University of Sydney, and took it from there.
I've worked as a professional composer for some years now. My current position at the University of Sydney is Lecturer in Music Technology and Multimedia. I've also worked in the secondary school sector as a Director of Strings and Director of Composition.
I've also worked in a casual basis for the Australian distributors of Finale solving Mac tech support issues.
When did you first start to use Finale?
I first started using Finale in 1991 whilst a postgraduate at the University of Melbourne, using Finale 2.0.1. I decided at the beginning of my candidature to sit down and spend a week going through the tutorials, thoroughly. This approach is one that I was recommend to anyone starting work with Finale. It's possible to just jump straight in and try to typeset something, but there is much of information and productivity tips that are not at all obvious.
What kind of work do you do with Finale?
My work with Finale comprises two main areas. I use it as a composer to typeset my music (scores and parts) to be sent to my publisher. Also Finale is used a lot in my academic work (creating lecture handouts and examples), and in conjunction with my students' Finale Notepad submissions (e.g. I create a harmony exercise in Finale, they complete it using Notepad, I then mark it in Finale).
How do you use Finale as a composer's tool?
For the most part I don't compose directly into Finale, but rather use a sequencer or paper to begin with, then transferring it into Finale at a later date. As an experiment, in 2003 I wrote a rather large string quartet just using Finale. Apart from some major technical issues it worked very well in general. Since I'm not a keyboard player, Finale is extremely useful for playback and checking purposes. Many of my commissioners also require some sort of MIDI playback and Finale has largely proven useful for that task as well.
As is the case with much music technology, Finale is very useful for playing back entire pieces to gain a sense of the overall structure of a work.
Do you use Human Playback?
I use Human Playback when I use Finale 2004, but for the most part, I still use Finale 2002 for my own composition work, and therefore Human Playback is not available.
If the composition starts as a creation in a sequencer, how do you transfer it to Finale? As a MIDI file?
What I do is print out each part for each section of the piece from the sequencer, and then re-enter all of this information (+ relevant adjustments as necessary) into Finale via Speedy Entry. The advantage of doing it this way is that you get to recheck and analyse everything. The output from the sequencer is treated therefore as a sketch or first draft, and taken from there. There is inevitably a whole heap of cleaning up that needs to be undertaken.
For compositions that were originally created in a sequencer, how do you make changes later on (when the version for printing is already in Finale)? Do you make revisions only in the Finale version, or in the sequencer version as well?
I only make changes in the Finale version, since that is the end result, i.e. music intended for 'real' musicians to play. The sequencer is really just an aid in the initial stages.
Do you sometimes feel that music technology can "stand in the way"? For example, if live musicians sound very differently compared to a playback version of your work?
Generally there isn't that much difference, but I do understand the point of technology possibly standing in the way. In some ways it's a real advantage of terms of productivity, but it must be subservient to your own imagination.
At times the limited and often-unsubtle playback from a computer can be frustrating, though it is easy to become seduced by those things which sound great immediately through the speakers rather than what will sound better when played live. As composers we do need to be aware of this.
Do your compositions involve microtones? If so, what approach do you use (for notation and playback)?
Occasionally my works involve microtones - actually I'm writing one right now (a movt. for a flute concerto). In terms of playback, it's going through the sequencer and there are two staves for the instrument, one with a slight pitch bend. All microtonal notes are placed on this staff.
In terms of notation, I set up Finale to replace accidentals such as (bb) and (x) with the relevant quartertone accidentals. Therefore the playback is going to be all wrong. I've created one of my own fonts for ease of quartertone accidental notation, and this has proven to be quite helpful for me.
In what "state" do you send your works to the publishers? What requirements do the publishers have on your output?
My publisher is Faber Music in the UK. They were one of the first main publishers to use Sibelius back in its early Acorn days, and hence they are very au fait with Sibelius rather than Finale, producing some excellent output. I have tried to use Sibelius but it's just too slow for my way of working. Similarly, my publishers just find it too slow to work with Finale as they're used to Sibelius.
The compromise is that I just send them PDF files which they may tweak slightly and release as Faberprint (i.e. 'manuscript') editions. If Faber re-typeset something for widespread general release, then they will use the Finale originals and import them into Sibelius, which saves them a lot of time.
Faber also have extremely thorough proofing staff, and this is one of the great benefits of having a publisher.
On which aspects do the proofing staff comment?
Mainly in terms of note spelling, missing or questionable articulations, slurs, dynamics and so forth.
Has working with a major publisher changed the ways or methods you work in Finale in any way?
Faber have made suggestions to me regarding some small aspects of my layout, such as page number placement and the general layout of parts. I was expecting them to make more suggestions, but they seem fine with my current practices.
With one piece there were some discussions within the publishing house as to what level of optimization would take place. I found this interesting as they made different decisions to what I would have done. I now consider such different approaches when deciding on a score layout.
Do you try to get comments about the output from performers prior to publishing?
Not really. I've had some really good comments from performers in the past so assume that I'm doing a good enough job. They don't complain, in any case.
When you create cue notes in the parts, how do you (as the composer) select which instrument to base the cue on? Do you select the instrument with the clearest musical structure, or do you go for instruments that are supposed to be sitting close to the player?
A combination of both - primarily what will be audible. For example, if you're sitting in the violas then you could probably hear a trombone entry after a rest as opposed to a harp (depending of course on what is going on), so I would give a trombone cue. The rationale is (1) what is most audible, (2) what is closest to the individual player, generally within their own family.
Which additional tools do you find useful when you work in Finale?
I am a firm Speedy Entry user, so in hardware terms, a MIDI keyboard is pretty essential for fast user input. I also prefer to hear sounds through an external sound module than through the Apple hardware.
Software tools are much more useful for me. The range of third-party plugins is astounding and a real boon for productivity. For my composing work I use Finale 2002 in Mac OS 9 as it's just so much quicker than versions in OS X, particularly with larger orchestral scores. My most used plugins are: your own Space Systems and Staff System Divider plugins; the Harmonics, Tremolo, Harp Pedalling, Staff List Manager, Measure Width and Add Cue Notes functions within TGTools; Classic Transposition plugin by Philip Aker; and Robert Patterson's Measure Numbers, Mass Copy and Beam Over Barlines plugins.
When working in OS 9 I also use a macro programme (Quickeys) to automate shortcuts - it's so much quicker to press Control-P to toggle "Select Partial Measures" and so on. In addition in OS 9 I use Action Files to more efficiently extend the Open and Save Dialog boxes, and another extension called Power Keys which allows access to Mac menus much like the way the Alt key works on the PC.
You've created many music fonts (that Finale users can now also download for free from your own site). How did these font projects start? Do you have any advices to other users who want to create their own music fonts?
Most of these fonts started from my own need. For example, I wrote a harp piece and found the existing fonts a bit difficult to use. A work for solo saxophone utilised multiphonics and a fingering diagram was required. Similarly, some of my recent fonts were created specifically for use in student handouts. It's great to be able to enter some musical material using a font because unlike an EPS or TIFF graphic, it's very easy to change it later.
Another area that has been of interest has been in customising score output so that it looks more original than the standard Finale templates. This has been another area in which the flexibility of Finale combined with the creation of new fonts has been successful.
For others who wish to create their own music fonts, a good font editing application is essential. I use Macromedia Fontographer. It's also important to be creative and try to think of non-standard approaches to problems. Font widths of zero tend to be quite useful at times, particularly with fingering fonts!
The great thing about creating your own fonts is that if you need a certain character, you can create a font just for that.
To get your own looks on the output, is that a process that has evolved over time, or did you just sit down one day to sketch out the look you wanted?
A bit of both. It has continually evolved over time and the house-style developments in upgrades to the application have certainly contributed to this. I have studied many scores, but more so it's a case of seeing a piece of printed manuscript that looks fantastic and trying to integrate some of its successful features.
Occasionally I might sit down and try to emulate a particular house style, which was the case with the Sibelius lookalike template. Finale could certainly make this process easier by offering a wider range of initial Default Files than the standard Maestro and Jazz, including the possibility of adding one of your own to the list.
In which areas have you made the biggest efforts (to get a unique look on your output)?
This is difficult to say. In recent years my attitude to thickness of staff lines, barlines, stems and ledger lines has changed to a preference to thick elements. Also the choice of music and text fonts is one that seems to be evolving. One of my past 'house styles' was based upon the Maestro music font with the Myriad font family. Recently I've gone back to Times New Roman, but am now looking at Bodoni and Hoefler Text as other options. I should probably aim to keep things the same but preferences do change over time...
Have you not been tempted to create your own unique text font?
I did create one based upon my own handwriting - and I have been tempted to create a music symbol manuscript font as well. However as the aim seems to be to get the computer notation as close to superbly engraved music as possible, I would prefer to leave text font designing to the experts. There are more than enough text font choices out there already!
When you made the decision change line thickness, whould that also involve changing the spacing around those elements?
Originally I did investigate this area but found that I was happy enough with the application defaults, particularly when there were a few more tie options added (Finale 98?). The spacing elements that I regularly alter are the space after the clef at the beginning at each staff and the widths of rest bars in extracted parts to produce better proportionality. That said, I often disagree with the natural note spacing of the application, and therefore make regular use of the up-arrow/down-arrow function in the Mass Mover, which then may create different problems with spacing.
Which direction would you personally like Finale to take in the future? What do you currently miss the most?
Sometimes I do wonder about the decisions that Makemusic choose in Finale - and I'm not necessarily thinking about Smartmusic or rhyming dictionaries. Many new functions go much of the way to being useful but stop short of being truly invaluable. An example is the Space Systems function. Your own Space Systems plugin is much more powerful and flexible, containing a range of options which are truly useful to large number of people. In contrast Makemusic's version is pallid. Doesn't anyone in Makemusic realize its inadequacies? Another example is the Smart Shapes palette which is a tremendous idea, but which contains such absurdities as Note-Attached glissandi running into accidentals of the following note by default - something that no-one would ever want, and which only serves to create poor quality output. Occasionally Makemusic does get spectacularly right - the implementation of Staff Styles in Finale 2000 being a good example - but more often than not new features seem to be a little half-baked. I hope that future versions of Finale add features and improvements to currently existing tools, and that any brand new features such as score<->part linking will demonstrate foresight and vision in producing truly useful and productive results for all.
I do wonder if anyone in Makemusic actually uses the application for professional purposes and gets feedback on existing frustrations. Do they consult with power users? Have the developers tried to input a large orchestral score in Finale under OS X? Why must I change tools to move staves after optimizing them with the Page Tool? Why can't I enter articulations in the Speedy Entry tool? Why can't we enter slurs and articulations from the same tool (since they're most often entered together, and a slur really is a form of articulation)? Why aren't the metatool shortcuts for Smart Shapes visible? Why aren't there more keyboard shortcuts for Menu Items in Finale under OS X? Why aren't the articulation and text expression selection boxes so small under OS X, the same size as they were in Finale ten years ago? Why are copied lyrics still aliased rather than copied? I could go on and on... but in the meantime, thank heavens for the third party developers.
Finally, I do think that Makemusic needs to continue to make it easier for beginners and experts alike to create good-looking scores - i.e. by making it more difficult to create poor engraving. This is one area in which Sibelius leads Finale at present. The implementation of a House Styles system would surely help in this area, as well as more intelligent use of system spacing and system sizes. Finale could automatically avoid collisions between more musical elements than it currently the case. More 'flexible intelligence' built into the application would help to create better output, attracting more users, and thus ensuring its future.