This is not a new debate among us composers, not at all, and like the differences between Apple and PC users, the typical user of either Sibelius or Finale has rarely wanted to bother jumping on the other learning curve after having mastered the program they use. But this has been a year of stepping on learning curves for me.
I’ve been a Finale user for a LONG time, since grad school back in Minnesota. After some failed experiments with SCORE (anyone remember that?) in the early 1990s on an IBM 386 (or those?) I drifted over to Apple and to Finale, and began using Finale for my own work and as a a semi-pro copyist while still working on my thesis (around 1994). There is, by the way, a freeware notation program that, at first glance, seems reminiscent of score, called Lilypond. Anyway, I’ve gone through many incarnations of Finale. Or perhaps I should say only a few. There have been a woefully small handful of significant upgrades in the decade since they started doing annual upgrades of their software (the introduction of Smart Shapes comes to mind), and I would typically let a year or more go by in between upgrades before purchasing one myself. The most recent break was between Finale 2006 and now Finale 2010. For which I completely regret dropping $200. Not to mention because of the added shipping cost to Latvia (which is a completely different but regularly maddening story). In the four years that passed by, they managed to move several menu items or tools to unfamiliar places, and beyond that, I fail to see much difference between them. There are a handful of minor improvements, to be sure, as with the Rehearsal Markings, for example. But nothing that made me have that “cool!” moment.
In fact, one day when I spent quite some time hunting down some tool that had been moved, in frustration I went to Sibelius’ website, and there I had that “cool!” moment. I was impressed with two things in particular: self-adjusting graphic elements and integration with Rewire. I purchased the competitive upgrade of Sibelius 6 for Finale users and await my copy of the software and extra manual as I write (I had to have it shipped to my Dad in North Carolina who will in turn ship it to me).
In Finale, one spends a great deal of time simply moving stuff around. Actually, control over the look of crescendos and decrescendos had been better in earlier versions of Finale. But the incorporation of Rewire into Sibelius was really the deciding factor.
One of the things I had been avoiding for quite some time was engagement with technology. I used Finale, and that was it. The big advances in digital audio were just ramping up as I was just leaving grad school, and most of the work I did in the Analog and Digital sequence at the U of Mn quickly became dated anyway.
But during the past couple of years I have been working up my familiarity with several programs (some with more success than others). So much so that I recently attempted, for the first time, an electroacoustic piece. I used Apple’s Logic 8 Express and Propellerhead’s Reason 4.0 to make the electronic score, and used Finale (without Rewire) to create a notated trumpet part.
The process of composing the trumpet part would have been quite simplified if Finale had Rewire, since Reason already slaves easily to Logic. But as it stood, I would 1.) write some of the trumpet part, notate it in Finale, 2.) save the Finale file as a MIDI file, 3.) import the MIDI file into Reason, 4.) assign a sound to the imported MIDI data, in this case a Combinator trumpet patch, 5.) check how the trumpet part gibed with everything else, 6.) delete the MIDI data in Reason, 7.) make changes to the trumpet part in Finale, and go back to step #2.
Since my next commission is for another electroacoustic piece, this time with flute quartet, I decided to use all that time I would spend navigating around Finale’s shortcomings to learning Sibelius instead.