Squeak and Blat: Music XML, the lingua franca for exchanging music notation files
Q: Dear Squeak, Several of my American students (e.g., Aaron, Elliot, Ingolf, Elle, Virgil, and Elinor) are sending their compositions over here to my Paris studio for my critique and they are using many different music notation software programs. There are also my early composition and those of my sister I'd like to score on computer and would like to know what format would hold up over the years that is not tied to one commercial software program. I've looked at Sibelius, Finale, Notion, and even the new web-based Noteflight program. What can I choose? Can you help? Sincerely, N. B.
A: What an excellent question, N.B. There is a solution ideal for your need. It is a universal format for music notation called MusicXML that has recently matured into common usage. Most notation programs have the facility to at least read MusicXML coded files, and some, like Finale, allow you to write MusicXML. Even NotePad and PrintMusic will read and write MusicXML. An add-on or plug-in called Dolet (from Recordare.com) will add the capability of writing MusicXML to Sibelius as well.
MusicXML files will preserve critical elements of a music score like page layout, expressive markings and articulations, technical markings, lyrics, grace notes, as well as the pitch and rhythmic notation. It really is quite "magical" in its ability to preserve key elements of the score between various notation programs and it is not associated with one particular commercial notation solution. There are also many more esoteric software programs written for special music applications in theory and analysis, special performance needs, optical music scanning, and the like, that use MusicXML. A complete list can be found at http://store.recordare.com/filetran10.html. The list is quite extensive.
So, ask your students to send their scores to you as MusicXML files. Even your student's more avant-garde works should be up to the task including those from Elliot and Philip. And, for preserving your work as well as your sister's in electronic form, MusicXML may be a good long-term solution for music scores.
Peter R. Webster (a.k.a “Blat”) and David Brian Williams (a.k.a. “Squeak”) have presented workshops and other presentations together for CMS/ATMI conferences and workshops for more than 20 years. Their collaboration has led to publications and presentations internationally on music technology as well as the co-authorship of the textbook Experiencing Music Technology (Cengage Learning/Schirmer Books, 3rd edition Update, 2009), a widely adopted and highly acclaimed music technology textbook for high school and college students. Dr. Webster is emeritus professor of music education at Northwestern University and Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Southern California; Dr. Williams is emeritus professor of music and arts technology at Illinois State University, a freelance consultant, composer and musician, and immediate past president of The College Music Society.