In Great Pianists I'll highlight inspiring and challenging interviews with pianists from the past and present.
This one doesn't let me embed, but can be found at: https://youtu.be/VGRXCXSl9ao
There is a lot of irony behind the nickname of Beethoven's 5th and last piano concerto. Beethoven himself did not name it that. The name was added in early performances and stuck. Beethoven was only a few years before a great fan of the First Consul of France, Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1802, while deeply depressed realizing he was going deaf, he sketched ideas that would lead to a new symphony inspired by Napoleon and to eventually be named in honor of him. Beethoven held him in highest esteem until May 18, 1804 when Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France. Beethoven was furious about this and scribbled out Napoleon's name on the symphony's score and renamed it Symphonia Eroica (Heroic Symphony) as a tribute to the revolution and held Napoleon in contempt from that point. With that in mind, it is ironic that only a few years later when Beethoven writes yet another piece--his final piano concerto--it would be titled by fans as "The Emperor Concerto." In this concerto, Beethoven writes beyond his era. He ushers us into the Romantic era, writing music that cried out for a concert instrument that wouldn't be seen until a decade later. He breaks with Baroque and Classical era traditions such as the improvised cadenza and asks the pianist to play the music exactly as written. Barenboim communicates this wonderful concerto in a triumphant way from the start. Then, he brings us into the beauty of the hymn-like adagio movement, and back to triumph with the rondo.
In Great Pianists I'll highlight inspiring and challenging interviews with pianists from the past and present.
This month's feature is a new composition by Lucas Fischer. The four of us are musicians all with different musical interests and focus, but jazz is a common ground and we perform together as a family. This piece features three of the Fischer family and adds a talented friend named Zachary Finnegan on trumpet. Lucas wrote this piece in a late-night writing session during winter break. He is a freshman at UW-Stevens Point.
The piece features:
Trumpet - Zachary Finnegan
Piano - Michael Fischer
Bass - Geoffrey Fischer
Drums - Lucas Fischer
I have now finished two weeks with Dorico. I wish I could say that I spend time with it each day, but I have had very limited time to explore. The time I have had has been very enjoyable. I've found Dorico quite easy to use. For a new user, I think I can easily say Dorico would be the easiest program to learn and the automatic layouts and intelligent decisions it makes are wonderful. I am not needing to do any editing of part other than notes and markings. The program is laying out the parts beautiful. For one like me who has used Finale and/or Sibelius, the learning curve is a little more difficult as the interface is new and different. It is probably better, but that is a tough sell when you are used to knowing where tools are and now you can't find them and even wonder occasionally if it is a feature that is implemented. Overall, though, this has been a lot of fun and it is a great program to use.
Today, I updated to the new version of Dorico which adds some great features for drum set notation as well as fingerings. I decided to put the fingerings to a test today.
I wrote a short piano arrangement to the song Greensleeves or for the Christmas season, we'll call it What Child is This. There is a moderately difficult right-hand part in the middle section that requires careful fingering. The numbering went in quite easily and I think it looks great.
Click the link below to download the PDF and enjoy this little arrangement this season!
Béla Bartók is well known for his piano works that were influenced from his deep interest and study of Eastern-European music, especially that from his native Hungarian roots. These beautiful melodies are probably not familiar to most of us, but you'll find beautiful melodies and the exciting rhythms and changing meters for which Bartók is so well known. Enjoy this great collection of Christmas Carols for the month of December.
It is time for a second blog on my trial of Dorico. If you have not read my first blog explaining this trial, you may find that a helpful place to begin. I’m taking advantage of a free 30-day trial of this new notation software from Steinberg. Almost a week has passed since I began, but with the Thanksgiving holiday leading to the weekend, this is really only day two for me. Even though it is only day two and most music notation software comes with a steep learning curve, I find I’m learning a lot and can already do a lot with this program.
As I loaded the software this morning, the quickness that it loaded caught my attention. It was so quick, that I closed the program and restarted it again just to experience it again. That quick start is a great thing. There is nothing worse than having an idea ready to explode and you are held back waiting for the computer to catch up and load.
Dorico is based on five modes. There is the “Setup Mode.” This is where you set up your “players.” Dorico handles instruments and players differently than Sibelius and Finale. Rather than setting up an instrumental line for a specific instrument, you set up players and assign instruments to them. That may be a single instrument such as if you are writing for school band or for a piano soloist. It may be a combination of players playing like instruments such as a violin section. Or it may be a musician who plays a combination of instruments where the player switches such as if you are writing for a theater pit or a sax section of a jazz band. In “Setup” you have your basic global settings. In addition to instruments, you set overall layouts of parts. Perhaps you would like the score printed in a larger format than the individual parts. This is a very easy way to set this up and while there are many situations where the part sizes may be the same, there are others, such as writing for marching band where the part size difference is very important.
“Write Mode” is where your creativity takes place. On my first day of trial last week, I spent all of my time in this mode figuring out the basics to present a very simple one-staff melody. This time, I took my simple melody and developed it out a little further for woodwind ensemble or section. A significant difference between Dorico and other notation programs is what they call “Flows.” A “flow” can be a musical idea such as a sketchbook idea, or it can be a section of what may become a larger piece. At this point, my little composition is a flow containing a basic orchestral woodwind ensemble. I can use this flow to develop a woodwind piece or perhaps my creativity will lead me to develop this into a full score. This “sketchbook” concept sets the program apart and can be very helpful for creativity. Much of the music we perform is multiple parts. We have multiple movements all making a larger work, collections of songs, and scenes in a musical.
In “Write” you enter all your notes. The goal here is to simply write music. You might even leave the time signature out and write freely. Dorico is not locked to time signature and bar lines for writing music. This is a great distinction and will be helpful for writing modern music that is ametrical. And if your music is more traditional and metrical as was in the case of my little woodwind piece, it is very easy to use a time and key signature.
Dorico is very intuitive in trying to write in a way that your musicians will understand. That is an important objective of written composition. How can I communicate my music to the musician so that they will interpret and perform it in the way I intend it to be performed? I am finding it is best to just keep writing and let the program do its work. Sometimes, this takes purposeful effort. There were times I was bothered that Dorico would start writing a tied quarter to eight as opposed to the dotted quarter I intended. I would be slowed down if I kept stopping when this would happen, but once I got used to how Dorico thinks, I learned to trust that as I kept entering notes, the tied notes would be replaced by the proper dotted quarter I intended.
As this was only my second time using the program, it was surprising to me how quickly note entry was coming to me. As I wrote in the last blog, the note entry is different than the 10-key-pad-based system where 4 is the quarter-note as in Sibelius and Finale. Here 6 is the quarter-note and it is based on the number row of a computer keyboard as opposed to the number pad. This works very well with the small keyboard without the 10-key number pad. This will work great with today’s computer systems. Mac and laptop users take note of this improvement. Note entry went very fast and I feel I am getting to be as fast for basic note entry in Dorico as I am in my other two programs.
Articulations, dynamics, and slurs were also easy to enter and there was a familiarity to this part of the interface. A positive distinctive is that everything is laid out concisely on the screen. There are no layers or multiple rulers to navigate. You’re not thinking about changing tools. You’re already in the tool—Write mode!
I will note that Dorico is very well optimized for smaller screens. Once again, another benefit for laptop users and an encouragement to creativity as you can take your composition with you and aren’t tied to programs that are best optimized for very large or multiple monitors.
I have only scratched the surface of the final three tools, so I won’t spend much time on them but will summarize. “Engrave” is a full-fledged desktop publisher. The uniqueness of putting Engrave as a separate feature is to enable the composer to focus on composition and then worry about the few little adjustments and do them in a separate place which won’t affect the overall composition. In reality, the defaults seem to be really good, so it is nice to not focus on layout until later when I can tweak just to make things a little more readable.
“Play” is similar, but from the point of playback. In my score, I wanted a Baroque separation in the bassoon part which I wrote as a staccato. The playback automatically interpreted my staccato as a very short staccato. Using the piano-roll tool in “Play,” I quickly adjusted those staccatos. Now, my score still looks correct, but the playback is interpreted properly. This provides a better demo of my composition. In a world where we are constantly listening to MP3’s and Spotify for music demos to help us learn, an actual performance example easily generated from the program will be a great help to the performer and composer. While I’m still only exploring, this seems to be a major area of improvement over the status quo.
“Print” provides everything you’d expect to print the score properly or export it a variety of graphic formats.
There is a lot to love in Dorico. I will admit that the learning curve still feels slow as I’m so familiar with Finale and Sibelius. But, that is the point of this new program. Finale and Sibelius provided a great way for notation and have been providing this for many years. It is great to see a company ask questions like, “Is there a better way?” “Is this the fastest way?” “What might a music notation software do that it currently is unable to do?”
I’ll continue having fun exploring in my thirty days of trial and will write more soon.
I love music notation software. I remember when I was much younger, trying to get my Commodore 64 to produce a satisfactory score with Music Construction Set. The copy it produced looked horrible, but it was so much fun trying.
Since that time, I grew into experimentation with Encore, MusicProse, and eventually many years working with Finale and Sibelius.
I have been reading about the development of Dorico for some time and waited to let the earliest adopters work out some of the kinks, but now it is time for my own experience with this software.
Steinberg provides an unrestricted 30-day trial just for this purpose. I decided to try it on the Mac first. Installation was easy, but the download is rather large at over 9 GB. The Steinberg Download Assistant helps manage the large download in case it would get interrupted, but didn’t have any problems.
I watched a few videos provided for the trial as I waited. These were helpful to get an idea of the new philosophy of computer music notation. From the videos, it didn't seem as if the learning curve would be too steep.
For anyone newer to music notation software, Dorico is a brand new product designed and built from the ground up by a team led by Daniel Spreadbury. Spreadbury led a team that was the brain-trust behind Sibelius, who along with Finale make up the "big two" music notation softwares. Avid Technology purchased Sibelius Software Ltd. In August 2006, and in July 2012, announced plans to divest its consumer businesses closing the London offices and laid off the original development team. Since that time, Avid has recruited some new programmers to continue the development of Sibelius.
Many of the former developers of Sibelius were hired by a software company named Steinberg to begin developing a new music notation software. They announced the project in February 2013 and the name Dorico after an Italian pioneer in music engraving from about 1500 AD, Valerio Dorico was announced in May 2016. The program was released in October of that year.
Why create a new music notation software? Competition spawns creativity and advancement! Some of the best music notation features came from the rivalry of Finale and Sibelius. They made each other better! In addition, a strength of Finale is that it has been around so long, but that becomes a weakness with regards to legacy code and even legacy methods of doing things. Sibelius also comes with the baggage of “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Spreadbury created a great piece of software with Sibelius, but as he said from the initial announcement of this new software that perhaps the most intriguing thing that can be done with a new piece of software is being able to have another chance to change and improve some of those things he wished he would have done differently. The legacies of Finale and Sibelius are what Dorico is built on. Now, we have the opportunity to test this which may be the future of music notation software.
It was a little sad to not hear the inspiring orchestral chords of Sibelius’ 6th Symphony when the program opened as one always did when Sibelius started up, but I guess even good things can be made better. The program seemed to open quickly which is always appreciated.
Tutorials are shown as you progress from screen to screen. They are basic and to the point, but very helpful. I found that I was able to create a short piece very easily. The tools are all right in front, yet not cluttering the screen. I never once had to wonder where something was buried. The playback of my simple clarinet piece sounded as good as Finale and Sibelius' playback and again there were no glitches—something that I ran into occasionally with Sibelius.
In Finale and Sibelius, note entry is dependent on the 10-key number pad. Many computers no longer have this and my new Mac is one where this is missing. I was pleased to see that Dorico is built around the idea that the 10-key pad is unnecessary. One could easily write music without a MIDI keyboard or extended computer keyboard. The number layout is very logical, but is also completely customizable in case you have a better idea. Dorico and Sibelius are both built around the concept of duration before pitch where Finale is built with the idea of pitch before duration. Sibelius gave a courteous nod to Finale by letting pitch before duration be an optional setting so Finale users could easily migrate. In contrast to this, Dorico doesn’t give any acknowledgement to an alternative way and as Spreadbury replied on a message board where a user was asking about this, there are no current plans to add that option. In his words, “We’re duration before pitch people.” I found it relatively easy to adapt, but that will add some to the learning curve of one wanting to migrate from Finale.
One of the things I appreciate most about Sibelius is that it is really designed around the way a musician thinks—notes, articulations, dynamics all entered at the same time whereas I found Finale to be more like desktop publishing software where these “details” are more easily added after the notes. Spreadbury takes this even further with Dorico and in my short time so far, it feels even more like pure composition with a tablet of manuscript paper rather than an elaborate computer desktop publishing system. To me, that inspires creativity!
One can set up a score completely from scratch as I did for my simple clarinet piece, or one can use a template. A negative surprise that I saw when looking through templates was the glaring absence of jazz ensemble templates. I will definitely be reporting more on this in a future blog after some time to look further. I may have missed them. I saw many other ensemble options and was very surprised to not see that immediately.
This is only day one, so I really don’t have much more to say. It has been an enjoyable trial so far, and I think the rest of my thirty days will be a lot of fun as I try to take the program through its paces further and see what it can do. Stay tuned for another blog on this after a week or so!
A piece of my childhood that I remember with great fondness is the music of Vince Guaraldi as the score to the great trilogy of Charlie Brown specials for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Vince Guaraldi is the genius behind that music and while he is best known for Linus and Lucy with all the Peanuts characters dancing, his music has many more dimensions. For November and autumn, here is Autumn Leaves by Vince Guaraldi.