Music Engraving in the Digital Age
with Simon Smith
Our first Letterform Lecture of 2024 explores the challenges facing music notation software today.
Once the province of specialists who had undergone a long training, the widespread availability of music notation software from the 1990s on has given everyone the ability to produce sheet music themselves.
For all the benefits, this has come at a great cost. Not just a few jobs – the dedicated ‘music engraver’ now being now a near-extinct species – but to the state of the art itself. Never well-documented but passed down through the centuries from master to apprentice, engraving is now the additional task of every student, arranger and composer, and any gap in expertise has become the responsibility of the software they use.
But worse, in the move to an all-digital and mostly-automated world, something else is in danger of being lost: the humanity, the soul, the artistry of music on the page.
This talk will explore some of the history of music notation and engraving, the current state of play as well as the challenges facing the developers of notation software today.
Letterform Lectures are a public aspect of the Type West postgraduate program. The series is co-presented by the San Francisco Public Library, where events are free and open to all.
Simon Smith is a pianist, composer and the Head of Engraving at Muse Group, primarily working on the MuseScore notation software, and where he is jointly responsible for the development of its new music notation font. For twenty years he worked as a music engraver and music editor, producing scores of works by major composers including Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sir James MacMillan and Sir Harrison Birtwistle.
As a pianist he has recorded works by Scottish composers including James MacMillan, Stuart MacRae and Thomas Wilson, as well as the complete piano music of Alfred Schnittke and the piano sonatas of Valentin Silvestrov, all available on Delphian Records.