Finale 2014 File Format

Finale 2014 Box ShotOn November 4, MakeMusic released Finale 2014, the latest update to our flagship music notation software. The first version of Finale was released 25 years ago, and you can now see a promotional video for Finale 1.0 on YouTube. Many notation software products have come and gone over the past 25 years, but Finale and MakeMusic are still here, delivering top-notch professional music notation to our customers.

One of the most prominent features of Finale 2014 is its brand new file format which is now forward and backward compatible. In the past, Finale could read files created in older versions, but not files created by newer versions. A Finale 2011 user, for instance, could read files created by people using Finale 2010, but could not read files created by people using Finale 2012. The best way to move backward to an old version was to export the file to MusicXML from the new version of Finale, then import the MusicXML file into the older version of Finale.

MusicXML works very well as an interchange format, but it is software-agnostic. Any program that uses music notation has its own ways of representing music that is optimized for how that application works. So while MusicXML transfers could give high fidelity for how the music looks and sounds, it could not transfer exactly how this was done in Finale. MusicXML export from Finale also includes more formatting than what is supported in MusicXML import into Finale, so formatting details would also be lost.

Finale’s old file format dated from the days when disk space and CPU time were scarce commodities. It was optimized for space and time efficiency at the expense of not being able to read files from newer versions. Times have changed, and full forward and backward compatibility has long been one of the most frequent Finale feature requests. Finale 2014 now delivers this to our customers.

Of course, if we just claimed that our format was now forward and backward compatible in Finale 2014, how would customers know? Would they have to wait until the next version of Finale is released? We knew we had to demonstrate this technology in action and give customers the benefits of compatibility now, not later. So we used the same extensible file format technology to offer an option to export back to Finale 2012. The export feature uses the same techniques we will use to read files from newer versions into Finale 2014. It just needed to add the extra step of converting the file back into the old Finale 2012 format.

Theoretically we could have done the same thing to export to even older versions of Finale. Practically, though, this would have been a much larger effort because of the changes between Finale 2011 and 2012 to add Unicode support. Rather than take away development time from other new features in Finale 2014, we decided to restrict the export to older versions to Finale 2012.

Since I joined MakeMusic two years ago as part of the Recordare asset acquisition, most of my time has been spent architecting and co-implementing the new file format. It is most gratifying to finally get this out to our customers and see the positive reactions to our efforts.

Posted in Finale, MusicXML, Software | Comments Off on Finale 2014 File Format

Music at MIT Oral History Collection

I’ve referenced the Music at MIT Oral History Project several times here over the past few years. These interviews with so many of the people who have been central to music at MIT for the past 60 years are a tremendous resource. They include many deep discussions about music, music education, and music history that go way beyond the specifics of music at MIT.

I was able to get copies of the interviews of three people who influenced me tremendously as an MIT student – John Corley, John Bavicchi, and Herb Pomeroy – by visiting the MIT Music Library and knowing librarian Peter Munstedt and oral history associate Forrest Larson. But now everybody can get these interviews, plus the transcripts. The Music at MIT Oral History Project has now grown into the Music at MIT Oral History Collection.

This web site is just fantastic. You can download the MP3 recordings and PDF transcripts of each interview, or listen to the interview on the site in a video that uses captioning to sync the interview with the transcript. Most of the interviews are audio recordings, but some later ones are video recordings.

I posted the Herb Pomeroy discussions linked above within a few months of getting back from the MIT Lewis Music Library with CDs of the interviews in hand. I always meant to post something from John Bavicchi’s interview on how to write dissonant music for choruses, but it eventually became too much work to find it. Not any more! I downloaded the transcripts for the two interviews, used search in Adobe Acrobat, and found what I was looking for in just a few minutes. So that posting should be finally be arriving soon.

The MIT staff has done outstanding work to make these interviews easy to use for musicians, alumni, and researchers. Best of all, anybody can access it! You don’t have to be behind an MIT firewall or have a special MIT Library account.

Ann WolpertThis innovative, open access digital collection is a tribute to the leadership and staff of the MIT Music Library, and to the leadership of the MIT Libraries as a whole. The Libraries suffered a serious blow this month with the death of Ann Wolpert, Director of Libraries at MIT. As the MIT news office’s obituary describes, she was a pioneering leader in moving research libraries into the digital age. The Music at MIT Oral History Collection is just one example of the research library transformation that Ann Wolpert championed. My wife and I had the great privilege of meeting Ms. Wolpert for lunch a few years ago. She will be sorely missed. My condolences go out to all her family, friends, and colleagues for their loss.

Posted in MIT, Music, Obituary | Comments Off on Music at MIT Oral History Collection

Coming Up: Missa solemnis, Take 2

My final subscription concerts of the season with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus are happening this weekend. Michael Tilson Thomas will conduct us in Beethoven’s Missa solemnis. Our soloists will be soprano Laura Claycomb, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Michael Fabiano, and bass-baritone Shenyang. They are sounding fabulous in rehearsals, both on their own as well as in their wild and intricate ensembles. The concerts start with the chorus singing the Kyrie, Gloria, and Agnus Dei from Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, conducted by Ragnar Bohlin. The performances are Friday and Saturday, May 10 and 11, at 8:00 pm at Davies Symphony Hall. Tickets are available online and at the box office.

We performed the Missa solemnis two seasons ago. This was the first time that a lot of people on stage had performed it: it was the first time MTT had conducted it, the first time Ragnar Bohlin had prepared it, and the first time that many in the chorus and orchestra had performed it; it hadn’t be done at the Symphony in 16 years. Those performances still had a lot of discovery about them, and received some of the least favorable reviews since I’ve been in the Chorus.

It has been such a joy to come back to this piece and be able to take it to the next level. Things that gave me trouble before are now going much better, both due to familiarity and improved singing technique. Our solo quartet is also better suited to this piece, with fresher voices and better listening to one another.

People sometimes wonder why come back to a piece so soon after it has been performed. I think this will be a great example of the power of withdrawal and return. When you immerse yourself in something — whether a technical issue in engineering, or performing a masterpiece of the musical repertoire — it is so productive to get away from it for a while and come back to it from a renewed and refreshed perspective. In music we can work with a longer timeframe than in engineering, but the process sure feels similar to me. Coming back to the piece allows for both greater depth in interpretation and greater polish in performance.

There are only a few tickets left for these two performances, so get them quickly. I think these will be performances to cherish.

Posted in Chorus, Music | Comments Off on Coming Up: Missa solemnis, Take 2

A Musical April – Beethoven, Handel, Musikmesse

Cover of San Francisco Symphony Beethoven 9th SACDApril is turning into a very musical month. First, tonight is your last chance to hear a marvelous San Francisco Symphony program including Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day and two Mozart works: Ave verum corpus and the Symphony No. 39. Bernard Labadie conducts and the soloists are soprano Cyndia Sieden and tenor Nicholas Phan. Tickets are still available online and at the box office.

Many members of the orchestra have solos in the Handel, including an amazing cello solo by Peter Wyrick. Maestro Labadie has the Symphony really playing like a baroque band in the Handel. The stylistic flexibility of the orchestra musicians continues to amaze.

Tuesday is a special landmark for me. That’s the day the San Francisco Symphony releases the first recording I’ve made with the Chorus: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The soloists are Erin Wall, soprano; Kendall Gladen, mezzo-soprano; William Burden, tenor; and Nathan Berg, bass. This is a hybrid SACD that plays on all CD players; it’s also available via downloads. Having just listened to an archive recording of one of the live concerts, I suspect this will be an excellent recording.

The Symphony has posted a video trailer online at YouTube. You can see me briefly at 2:41, in the third row back in the chorus, the first tenor to the right of the altos. That’s my usual spot in the chorus; I love being a “border person” and hearing the other parts.

The next day, Musikmesse begins in Frankfurt. I’ll have some very full days of meetings there with many different members of the MusicXML community: commercial developers of mobile and desktop sheet music products, publishers tracking the latest in digital sheet music technology, and university researchers. MusicXML is at the center of much of the most exciting work in digital sheet music and Musikmesse is a great place to catch up with everyone.

This year we will also be having a MusicXML workshop and community meeting. Hosted by Scorio, the workshop will be held on Friday, April 12 from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm in the Musikbiz Workshop room, accessible from Hall 5.1. The MusicXML community meeting we had at NAMM in January went very well, and with the greater number of notation developers in Europe we might have even more people attending at Musikmesse. This should be a great week of music technology, following a wonderful weekend of music making.

Posted in Chorus, Music, MusicXML, Travel | Comments Off on A Musical April – Beethoven, Handel, Musikmesse

Coming Up: Dutoit Conducts Poulenc and Berlioz

Dutoit-sfs We have a great program coming up with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus! Maestro Charles Dutoit will be conducting two wonderful French choral works: Poulenc’s Stabat Mater and Berlioz’s Te Deum. Erin Wall is the soprano soloist in the Poulenc and Paul Groves is the tenor soloist in the Berlioz. The Pacific Boychoir directed by Kevin Fox and organist Jonathan Dimmock also join in on the Berlioz. Performances are Wednesday through Sunday except for Friday – February 6, 7, 9, and
10 – in Davies Symphony Hall. The Sunday concert is at 2:00 pm while the rest are at 8:00 pm. Tickets are available online and it looks like some good seats are still available.

If you like to hear a lot of chorus singing, this concert is for you. The chorus sings practically non-stop throughout both works; the solo roles are fairly small and there is not much music for the orchestra alone. If you are a fan of the combined colors of organ, orchestra, and chorus, the Berlioz Te Deum offers lots of that. The Poulenc has lots of a cappella singing. Both works are beautiful but are not that frequently performed. This will be the first time the San Francisco Symphony has ever performed the Poulenc, and the Berlioz was last performed by the Symphony about 40 years ago. This will be a great concert for fans of French choral music.

Posted in Chorus, Music | 2 Comments

MusicXML Meeting at NAMM 2013

namm13MakeMusic is pleased to be hosting the first-ever MusicXML community meeting at this year’s NAMM Show in Anaheim, California. The meeting will be held on Friday, January 25 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm in the Anaheim Hilton. We will be meeting in the Malibu Room on the fourth floor, and light refreshments will be served.

We have had great discussions with the large community of MusicXML developers over the years on our MusicXML mailing list. This meeting will be our first opportunity to get the community together for a face-to-face discussion. The agenda includes:

  • MusicXML progress over the past year. This includes MakeMusic’s MusicXML documentation project, as well as new and improved adoption of MusicXML during 2012.
  • Future directions for MusicXML. What is most important to move the format forward so that digital sheet music interchange works better? More features? A tighter specification? Better documentation? More comprehensive examples and test suites? Further improving MusicXML support within Finale as a reference implementation? Or are things working fine as-is?

We discuss future directions on the MusicXML mailing list, but in-person discussions always have a different flavor than online discussions. I’m looking forward to learning more about the community’s desires for the future of MusicXML at this meeting!

If you are coming to the show but cannot attend the meeting, or want to discuss MusicXML issues one on one, please stop by our booth 6210 in Hall A. I am usually in meetings during most of the show, but I still have a few times free to meet and talk. Please leave your contact information with someone at the booth, and they will forward it on to me so we can set something up.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Posted in MusicXML, Software, Travel | Comments Off on MusicXML Meeting at NAMM 2013

MusicXML at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition

BTYSTE-logoI was delighted to learn from Gavan Reilly's Twitter feed about MusicXML's use at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition underway in Dublin, Ireland. At Stand 4207, student Mary Spillane is presenting her work on “Investigating methods of automatically classifying sheet music according to difficulty.” She is a student of Thomas O’Sullivan at St. Mary’s Secondary School, Nenagh in County Tipperary. Her project is “to design an automatic process to grade how difficult a musical piece is by exploring the number of note combinations, length, key changes, accidentals etc.”

This sounds related to the ISMIR 2012 Score Analyzer paper by Véronique Sébastien, Henri Ralambondrainy, Olivier Sébastien, and Noël Conruyt from the University of Reunion Island. I mentioned this to Mr. Reilly, who responded that the BTYSTE project used a broader set of criteria, and was more focused on determining the difficulty of piano music.

It is wonderful to see MusicXML being used in this Irish national contest for high school students. One of MusicXML’s goals was to allow people to develop all sorts of sheet music related software – for composition, analysis, performance, musicology, education, research, or whatever. Clearly we are succeeding!

I also am just a bit jealous of the real work that high school students can do for science fairs today – or heck, in starting their own companies. The means for meaningful creative technological expression were out of reach for high school students when I was their age. As a high school student I used the school’s time-shared computer to help write a John Cage-inspired aleatoric piece. That was a silly little hobby project; it’s nothing close to the projects that Ms. Spillane and the other BTYSTE students are doing. You can download the Exhibition Guide and read page after page of creative ideas whose exploration is now within reach. What a wonderful time for young people interested in science and technology!

Posted in MusicXML, Software, Technology | Comments Off on MusicXML at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition

Peter Sellars’ Ritualization of the St. Matthew Passion

My wife is preparing to sing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with her chorus. Since we’ve been watching and enjoying Peter Sellars’ work since the beginning of his career, we thought we would watch his “ritualization”, performed by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, the Rundfunkchor Berlin, and an amazing cast of singers.

This performance has been getting ecstatic reviews. The choruses and the vocal and instrumental soloists all memorized their parts. Using the in-the-round space of the Berlin Philharmonie, the orchestra and chorus are laid out as Bach’s double chorus and double orchestra, performing to each other as well as the audience. The chorus and soloists have some (usually) simple blocking, with Mark Padmore as the Evangelist acting as Jesus in the staging. Christian Gerhaher singing Christus was stationed alone at a higher level than the orchestras and chorus. As Peter Sellars says in the wonderful bonus interview with Simon Halsey that comes with the disc, this is not theater, but a prayer and a meditation. The ritualization is there to free the performers to go to another level of expression, and to emphasize the musical community – both performers and audience – working through the Passion story.

This is an absolutely stunning, deeply profound performance. If you are a fan of Bach, or of Peter Sellars’ work, you simply must see and hear this. The cast is uniformly magnificent, including Magdalena Kožená, Thomas Quasthoff, Topi Lehtipuu, and Camilla Tilling. The Rundfunkchor Berlin, prepared by Simon Halsey, is superb, and the boy’s chorus, Knaben des Staats- und Domchors Berlin, sings well in its brief role. As you would expect, the playing of the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle’s direction is incredibly beautiful and inspired. This was Sir Simon’s first time conducting the St. Matthew, and the first time performing it for many in the orchestra and chorus. It would be great if performances like this could lead to reclaiming this work for all to perform, not just the Baroque specialists.

This is only available directly from the Berlin Philharmonic’s online shop. Ordering and shipment to the USA is a breeze; the DVD and Blu-Ray discs are region-free.

If you want to see some of the performance first, there’s an excerpt at NPR, as well as a trailer on YouTube.

The interview with Peter Sellars and Simon Halsey about this performance is very insightful and wide-ranging. It’s included as an extra on the discs, but is also available in full on YouTube.

Posted in Music | Comments Off on Peter Sellars’ Ritualization of the St. Matthew Passion