Thursday, May 19, 2005


I've always enjoyed writing music out by hand, and both musicians and non-musicians have often complimented my calligraphy. Finding and using the right inkpen is a real pleasure. Negotiating the proportions between blank page and musical notations is, in itself, a real, if minor, aesthetic joy. However, I have gradually shifted to doing most of my notation by computer. This was first with a homemade program using Forth and Postscript, then with Masterscore on an Atari, moving to Finale in the late 90's. Now, I use Finale and bits and pieces from other programs, and can do pretty much all I need to do. Interestingly, perhaps, the more I can do with the computer, the less fastidious I have become about notation (at least in comparison with some of the engravers on the Finale List). With the computer, I find that I am more satisfied with an adequate representation of the score for potential players than with the artwork that a handmade score might represent.

As ubiquitous as notation programs may now be, the ability to make a score by hand still carries a certain caché. Many of the so-called "new complexity" composers still insist on handmades. When I applied for membership in GEMA, the performance rights organization, one of the requirements for acceptance as a "professional" in the "E-Musik" (E for Ernst = Serious) division was the submission of a page of handmade notation. Although I was already well-invested in computer notation, getting approval of my manuscript from the authorities at GEMA gave me the feeling that I had gone through an old ritual exam conducted by the masters of my guild: I was now a certified journeyman composer.

This afternoon, my 11-year-old son came home from school with a problem set from his music class at school. To help him out, I needed a page of staves on the quick and re-encountered my old staff-drawing-pen (actually five ball-point fillers joined together in a comfortable holder. I also have the Stravinsky version, with five sharp-edged wheels turning through a trough with an ink pad. I find the ball-point instrument to be cleaner, more reliable, and a better fit for the hand). We rapidly went through the exercises and afterwards, a glance at the page of scales sent me into a bit of near-Proustian reverie for scores past.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always use bilinear music notation for composition, it's just so quick and easy to jot down. I convert it to traditional notation when it's finished. I just wish there was software to convert it automatically.

Jim Allan