Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


Grand Finale: Music Notation Software Revisited

After my paean to MuseScore last week it was pointed out to me that I had neglected to mention another music notation program that is available for free, Finale NotePad.  Finale NotePad is easy to use and has many of the same features as MuseScore.  It is available for Windows and Apple computers.

Finale NotePad was the first program I used when I started writing music.  To be honest, I can’t remember exactly why I switched over to MuseScore.  It may have been that the program was not available at the time for the platform I was using.  It is a versatile program and is easy for a beginner to use.  Should the need to notate more complex music arise, Finale has a family of products at a variety of price points.  I would say MuseScore and Finale NotePad are like two flavors of ice cream; only you can decide which you like best.  So give them a try, and let us all know what you think.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention two other products.

LilyPond is free software for music engraving.  It is open-source software, meaning, if you know what you’re doing, you can modify the program itself.   The method of entering notes is text-based—no dragging and dropping notes here.  So the programmers among you might find this an interesting choice.

Sibelius is a software product widely used by professional composers.  Avid, the company that produces Sibelius, has a family of software products to meet the varying needs of musicians.

I can’t let you go without some music!  In thinking of suitable finales, I couldn’t help but think of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from the Ninth Symphony.  Here is a great flash mob video of Ode to Joy.


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The Monday Commute Made Better

Wouldn’t it be great to encounter this on your way to or from work?

That was Heyr himna smiður, an ancient Icelandic hymn set by Icelandic composer Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson, and performed by Árstíðir.

Would you stop and listen?

Here’s the original article on the “experiment”.

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Thursday-ish Quote of the Week

I couldn’t resist posting this.

The Guardian publishes a series called “Facing the Music,” in which “Classical performers tell us about the music in their lives.”  The performers answer a set of questions, and it is very interesting to read their responses, and to compare the answers of different performers.  In a recent “Facing the Music” article, conductor Jan Latham-Koenig provided his answers, including the anecdote below.

The following quote is reproduced with the kind permission of The Guardian.  Guardian News & Media Ltd. hold the copyright to this material.

How many recordings of the Goldberg Variations do you own? Do you have a favourite?
“I have one and a half recordings of the Goldberg variations. The Glenn Gould, which is still marvellous in its own way, but the other one is essentially excerpts from a piano roll made by Rudolf Serkin in 1928. I was alerted to this performance by an extraordinary story I heard about a recital of Serkin in Berlin around that time. As an encore, he decided to play the entire Goldberg Variations, with repeats. After each variation, members of the audience left the hall, until by the end there were only two people left. When Serkin finally finished, he bowed to the two and recognised them. One was Artur Schnabel and the other Albert Einstein. It is as if the desire to hear this work live even at the end of a long recital was only totally present in geniuses on the same level as Serkin himself!”

I think you’ll find the full article devoted to Mr. Latham-Koenig, as well as the entire series, fascinating.  Do check them out!

Click here to read the entire article “Facing the Music:  Jan Latham-Koenig”

Click here to see the entire “Facing the Music” series.

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Throwback Thursday Quote – Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music … I cannot tell if I would have done any creative work of importance in music, but I do know that I get most joy in life out of my violin.”

— Albert Einstein, The Saturday Evening Post, October 1929

There is a wonderful story about Einstein introducing the world of classical music to a beginner. The story appeared in Reader’s Digest in 1955, and can be found here.

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Haiku Wednesday – Brahms: A German Requiem


Brahms thought of calling
A German Requiem’ ‘A
Human Requiem.’

It’s universal.
Its aim: comfort the living.
Beauty is a balm.

Brahms wrote A German Requiem in 1865-1868.  The death of his mother in 1865 and the earlier death of his friend Robert Schumann are believed have been an impetus for its composition.

Brahms told Karl Martin Reinthaler, music director of Bremen Cathedral, where the full version of the Requiem premiered in 1868, “I will admit that I could happily omit the ‘German’ and simply say ‘Human.’” (Michael Musgrave, Brahms: A German Requiem, pp 1-2, here).

As Musgrave states, the Requiem is distinguished by its use of the German language, and not the traditional Latin.  It is also distinguished by its deliberate choice (by Brahms himself) of Biblical texts that are not linked with Christianity.  Brahms chooses to speak of universal emotions.

The Requiem is a beautiful composition, marked by moments of great intensity and drama, mixed with moments of great tenderness.  I have had the privilege of singing an excerpt of the Requiem in a choir, and spending months learning this music gave me greater insight into what makes it so profound.  Hearing individual vocal lines separately, and then hearing how they interweave is magical.

And yet I know I have only scratched the surface of understanding what Brahms has done in this work.  The nuanced expressions, the intricacy of the writing…I only have an inkling of why it works.

But on performance day, I saw the faces of the audience, deeply moved, dabbing their eyes, and knew that whether it’s 1865, 2013, or 2213 Brahms still speaks to all of us.  He has written a human requiem.


Hildegard von Bingen: Medieval Composer, Extraordinary Woman

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was a remarkable woman.  She was a composer, a mystic, a writer, and a significant figure of her time.  She was the leader of her community of nuns, and made an unprecedented move to relocate them to retain independence and her authority over the order.  She regularly corresponded with powerful church figures, virtually unheard of for a woman of that time.  She also wrote about the natural world and the practice of medicine.  The music page of says it best when it states that her music is distinguished by its soaring notes, and a much broader range than was typical for plainchant.  Hers is the music of a mystic.

Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegard von Bingen

In case you were wondering about the image, that is a medieval depiction of inspiration, not tentacles.  Cthulhu was in no way involved in this.  And now, moving on…

The above illustration is from the Liber Scivias, one of Hildegard’s books containing her visions.  You can see all the pages of this beautifully illuminated manuscript at the University of Heidelberg’s digital library website.


Inside the front cover of the book, which is not devoted to music, is this wonderful example of early written music:


There are numerous recordings of Hildegard’s compositions, some traditional, some with unconventional backing tracks, such as the CD VisionVision is also the name of a powerful movie on the life of Hildegard von Bingen written and directed by Margarethe von Trotta.  For more about Hildegard’s music, visit the music page of

Here is a traditional rendition

and an unconventional one

Here is the official trailer for the film Vision


Just another MuseScore Monday

Today I want to tell you about MuseScore.  MuseScore is a music notation program, a way of generating sheet music.  It can turn my nearly illegible music manuscripts into crisp legible sheet music.  Here’s an after (I’ll spare you the before):


MuseScore is free.  It is well-documented.  There are even video tutorials available.  And it’s free.  They wouldn’t mind a donation though.  It’s available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

It’s a remarkably versatile program.  You can input notes from your computer keyboard or a MIDI keyboard.  You can include guitar tablature and drum notation.  You can produce scores for multiple instruments.  You can add all kinds of musical details (dynamics, repeats, key and time signatures) just by dragging and dropping them into the music.  And you can play back what you wrote.

You might be saying, “So what?  I don’t write my own music.”  Fair enough.  Here’s the cool part.  Whatever score anyone else makes available in this format can be seen and played on your computer.  There is a large community of people creating MuseScore documents for a wide range of instruments, from piano to viola to English horn to voice.

This includes the folks at MuseScore themselves.  They have made available the Open Goldberg Variations and Open Well Tempered Clavier.  The sheet music for these works by Bach is now available, free, to anyone who wants it (MuseScore format, PDF, MusicXML, MIDI, mp3).  They have also developed new score-following software that highlights each measure as its being played.  There are apps for iOS and Android so you can carry around your favorite scores and play them.

Got kids?  Turn them loose on MuseScore and let them create their own music.  If the little ones get heavily into the 32nd notes, it might sound like an 18-wheeler running over fire hoses, but who cares?  They’ll get a giggle out of it, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll create a sweet little tune.  If they come away with the idea that music = fun, all the better.  While you’re at it, try making some tunes yourself!

Ok, I know I’m being a fangirl, but here is another reason to love the folks at MuseScore.  The Open Goldberg Variations score has been made available in Braille.  MuseScore plans to continue its efforts to make more sheet music accessible in this format, and is developing software to convert music files into Braille.  They plan to offer this conversion service for free.

So visit the software site at and the music sharing and app site at (The Angry Birds Theme in Baroque Style? Pretty cool). And if you write and upload something nifty, let me know!