Archive for June, 2011

Finale Tips – Those Pesky Grace Notes

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

So I’ve talked about philosphy.  Now how about a nugget of real practical knowledge?  If you’ve ever written or copied something with grace notes, chances are likely that you’ve come across this: (click image for larger view)

When I copy or write, I like to do it with as little “farting around” as possible; I try to avoid moving every tiny little thing in the most minute way possible as much as I can.  As I said before, any time you can save on little things gets you to the finish line that much faster.  These grace notes are the biggest pain in the behind.  You’ll spend an hour fixing them on your flute parts, then you redraw the screen or extract parts, and BAM, right back to where you started.  Plus, no matter how anal-retentive you get, there’s always 1 or 2 that are doin’ their own thing, and that looks sloppy.

SO what to do?  Here it is:  In Finale 2010 (or anything after 2009), under “Document”, then “Document Options…” on the left hand side, select “Music Spacing”.  When you do, un-check the box that says Avoid Collision Of “Ledger Lines”.  Make sure under “Grace Note Spacing” (middle of the same page) it’s set to “Automatic”, and set the “Minimum Distance Between” to at least 12.  Re-draw or update layout.  That’s it.

A couple of caveats…  I posted this on the Codamusic forum and actually got alot of flak over it.  The argument was that ledger lines colliding was potentially disatrous, and given the choice of a quick fix and adjusting manually, the forum member(s) would have rather adjusted every single one manually and not had any ledger line collisions.  Okay, fine, but if that were the case, maybe your notes are a little crowded anyway; the notes CAN be too close together without the ledger lines touching, and I think that looks far worse.

As long as your notes aren’t cramped to begin with, you shouldn’t have any problems.  And again, time is money; I just can’t see the wisdom in wasting that time when there’s an easy fix available to you.  Enjoy!

The Composer Next Door

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

A few nights ago I attended the yearly meeting of the Homeowner’s Association in my neighborhood. It’s not called that, but that’s in essence what it is. I’m not sure how many places outside the real estate hotbeds like Northern Virginia and well, CALIFORNIA, have HOA’s, but they seem to serve a dubious purpose, that is, for a modest fee, to make sure everyone’s home values stay nice and high, re-sale values stay nice and high, property taxes stay nice and high, and to keep the riff-raff from buying houses in the neighborhood (whatever that means). This is despite the fact that anyone with steady employment and any aspirations of starting a family or settling down isn’t concerned with that, but this is Northern Virginia, where most of the tenants stay for 3 years, do their stint for the government, contribute nothing to the community, and leave. Either that, or they do their stint, fall in love with the lush greenery of Virginia and the generally apathetic people, then settle down, contributing nothing to their communities.

Anyway, the HOA’s threaten legal action if you put up the wrong kind of fence or don’t keep your lawn and home in decent shape, “decent shape” being a purely subjective standard, apparently. In my view, however, they succeed in serving 2 important purposes: 1) giving the neighborhood busybody something to do, and 2) giving them people to lord over. Also, they make sure large patches of ground known as “common areas” get their grass cut in the summer, or at least try to get it cut.

Luckily, the HOA I was forced to join, or I should say “not given the choice of opting out of” is a pretty ineffectual one. The dues are low in comparison to others, but they also do comparatively little. Housing prices are what the real estate market says they will be, property taxes are what the county says they will be, and riff-raff seem to be buying nice houses and trashing them EVERYWHERE, including in our neighborhood, but even more so in the “rich”, or “rich looking” subdivisions.

I don’t usually attend these meetings, where your name is your house number, for the same reason I have iffy feelings about MOLA (despite the otherwise fine work they do): it’s a gathering of people for the purpose of agreeing on standards that does nothing but disagree on standards. These HOA meetings eventually devolve into a screaming match between who is or isn’t perceived to be complying with the ill-conceived and out-dated by-laws, mostly fuelled by 1 or 2 people. I usually end up walking out once the shouting begins.

As I sat there, looking around the room, there were all types of people. Some old, lots of middle-aged, a few younger ones. As I looked around, I wondered to myself if anyone had a clue about what I did, or what the others in the room did. Would anyone care that a composer (I’d say “famous”, but I’m not quite there yet) was sitting in their midst? Who knows. For all I knew, there was a rocket scientist or CIA person sitting among us; it is Northern Virginia after all. I wondered what people in Gabriel Faure’s neighborhood must have thought, maybe “hey, there’s that old guy. Doesn’t he play piano or something?”. I live in a town that has a surprising number of musicians, and I run into them, or hear of them every so often, which always strikes me as bizarre. If I was driving by their house, I’d just assume that they were Joe Sixpack.

I remember being in Sausalito once while on tour, and having some friends tell me they were in line at a coffee place behind Stone Phillips – that’s right – THE Stone Phillips. I couldn’t for the life of me picture who that was or what he looked like, since I’m assuming “Stone” is a male name (no, I don’t watch TV). I thought it was funny how in Sausalito, this guy was just someone’s neighbor. I’m guessing in Hollywood it’s like that too. Maybe you win 5 Emmy’s and a Golden Globe, but to someone else you just might be the redneck neighbor, or “that guy, you know, the nice young couple that has those pretty bushes in their front yard, who occasionally leaves the house wearing a tux (?)”.

It’s a small, large world.

Finale Tips – Copyism #4 & 5: Reliable, Smart

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

In previous entries I talked about the nuts and bolts of copying/engraving: fast, neat, and accurate. As it is with most things, however, getting the job done involves more than simply doing the work; it involves those weird things that have nothing directly to do with the job itself, but everything to do with whether or not you’ll get that call. Getting the gig is only the 1st step; getting called back is the next.

Get Smart

First, I want to talk about being “smart”. What does it mean? The obvious answer is knowing your subject matter. You can never know everything about anything, but you can always strive to know as much as you can. For example, I don’t have as great a handle on jazz as I’d like, but I constantly strive to be better, and in the end I’m probably better with it than I give myself credit for. I make a constant study of all aspects of music, and I take lessons from whatever job I do. Every day, every gig is a learning experience, and I do mean EVERY – even the “bad” ones. Often times I learn more from the bad ones than the good.

Apart from the music, being “smart” deals more with the business aspect of what we do, like not needing to be told something more than once. The old adage is that there’s no such thing as a dumb question, however, having to have an answer repeated could qualify. Gauge whether or not asking will avert a disaster, because someone would happily repeat an answer before having something fall apart on a session because something wasn’t clear.

Being smart also means using a certain intuition. When you work with people long enough, you learn how they work, and how other people work. I once got a hand-scribbled mess from one of the arrangers I work with, who was pressed for time and in the middle of juggling a dozen other things. It was for a specialized ensemble I know very well. He gave me a few simple instructions, and then eventually said “you know what to do” (trust!). In copying it, there was a clef error; given the voicing of the rest of it, it was clearly the wrong clef. Was it worth calling about? No, not with something obvious like that; I know what he MEANT. Plus, I was making the reference score for the video booth, so it would be fixed anyway. It’s not uncommon for a copyist to be cross-trained as a composer or arranger, so we’re often relied upon to proof it as we go. I see nothing wrong with fixing the odd note here or there; I just make a list and confirm it afterwards so the changes can be made to the final score if needed. If you make the composer/arranger look good, they’ll call you again.

There is another factor to consider, and I may get some flak over this: it’s important to remember the importance of the bottom line. It is known throughout the industry that copyists can sink a project with extra costs. Music productions have limited budgets, so cutting costs wherever possible is always on the mind of “Captain Crunch”. This is, of course, not solely the copyists fault; an arranger who needs to make changes at the behest of a fickle or flighty director, conductor, board, etc. can have a direct effect on the total on that invoice. While it’s an inevitability, it’s a good idea to at least be sensitive to these things. Being flexible enough to work with people is absolutely crucial. By all means, make sure you get paid what your services are worth, but recognize that anything you can do to make someone else’s life a little easier can go a long way to ensuring future employment.

Here are some words of wisdom I heard once from Ed Neumeister, paraphrased:

1. Keep your mouth shut, your ears open
2. Play/work your ass off
3. Don’t be a (f-word) drag

The first 2 are obvious. You can’t learn much if you’re doing all the talking, and nothing replaces hard work. An overabundance of natural talent is a gift, but it doesn’t replace anything.

Not being a drag is a finer science. Think about the people you can’t stand working with, or people who do little things that annoy you. Now put those into a stressful environment and little things get magnified by about 100. Strive to be even-tempered. Get the drama out of your life. Be the person everyone wants to work with. That carries almost equal weight to ability. People will always hire someone they can get along with before someone who can play circles around everyone but is a pain in the neck.


The first rule of reliability is something I’ve heard others call “musician early”. Never be late. Never, never, never be late. Early is on time, on time is late, and late is FIRED. Although in the music world, “fired” is the same as “not getting called back”. It’s a little less dramatic, but just as meaningful.

I read alot of books about Special Forces of various services and areas of conflict. I just find them interesting reading, mostly because they talk about extreme physical stress, and pushing your body and mind to their limits. I also occasionally read field manuals and other bits of military trivia. One of the bits that has stuck with me was in the description of the Army Rangers, “100% reliable”. Think about that: can anyone of us truly say that we are 100% reliable? About anything? In their motto, they pledge to accomplish the mission lest they be the lone survivor; THAT’s dedication. Get it done – at any cost.

Of course, we’re talking about music here, not capturing airfields, but the message can be applied. I strive to be 100% reliable. I want people to know that no matter what, they can trust me to get the job done. “Late” doesn’t exist in my vocabulary. Once, in the middle of an all-nighter at the Kennedy Center, copying a huge dance number that was being copied as it was being written, one score page at a time, several hours before the 1st rehearsal, I came down with food poisoning. It was by far one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced. Eyewitnesses can attest to the fact that I was hurling my guts out all night long (copy a page, puke, copy, puke, etc.). I was miserable and sick as a dog, but I still got my parts done, on-time. I felt like a sack of manure the next day, but I did it, and I can bet you that people took notice (well, a guy barfing his guts out is hard to ignore).

Thus concludeth the lesson.