Music notation is an art form unto itself. Like graphic design, it serves multiple muses, but its raison d’être is to efficiently communicate ideas. Last week, the formidable Colin Holter asked if computer notation software is a moot issue considering society’s ever-increasing acceptance of everything digital, but judging from the posted responses, we composers like our pencils just as much as our laptops. As a pencil-wielding non-Luddite myself, here’s my take on the issue: While crystal clear in a utilitarian sense, computer engraved scores, for the most part, are just soulless clones devoid of any personality.
Although I’ve used Finale in the past, I choose to notate everything by hand. I think it gives my scores a unique character. Call me superstitious, but with all my handmade idiosyncracies left intact, I really believe that my imperfect stokes—maybe a hairline off in placement versus pro-grade engraving—does affect a musician’s interpretive sensibilities. At the very least, I know that I can better engage and inspire performers by creating highly visual scores on good ol’ manuscript paper. And after the original is made, go ahead and digitize—scan it, make a JPEG, photocopy, whatever—my penmanship stays intact.
The art of letter writing is anachronistic by today’s standards and diacriticals arranged in certain patterns in an email have replaced the heart-dotted “i” that once adorned juvenile love notes. But there’s no denying that handwriting says something about the author’s personality. People are going to continue to study graphology, even if it eventually becomes only a forensic or archeological study. As technology progresses ever further into our lives, we might soon be asking each other: What font do you use for your signature?
I’m not saying that great art can’t be created using bytes and pixels. But even in the fickle art world, it seems media art is less concerned with its own technology and convenience, and artists keep picking up paintbrushes. Just imagine if Luigi Nono had sat down at a Macintosh 512Ke to create his Post-prae-ludium per Donau. Would he have delivered a dot-matrix masterpiece? Perhaps. However, in the grand scheme of things, I much prefer that his chaotic scribbles coalesce into a beautifully cryptic and colorful score, suitable for framing.