An interview with new music specialist jef chippewa about his neueweise fonts and more


Berlin-based composer jef chippewa* is a new music notation specialist, arts administrator — and, of particular interest, a font designer. He’s created three beautiful specialty contemporary music fonts under the umbrella of his music preparation business, shirling & neueweise.

The neueweise* fonts for new music notation were originally set up for use in Finale, but in 2017 jef created a house style so that the fonts could be easily used in Sibelius as well. The three fonts are neueweise Notes, neueweise Articulations, and neueweise Pitches, and while they are intended to obviate the need to mix-and-match fonts when writing contemporary music, they can be used for classical scores as well.

The three fonts can be purchased from Notation Central, our marketplace for music notation technology, at a cost of $22.99 each or as a bundle for $54.99.

Two of the three fonts in the neueweise font bundle

Let’s explore with jef and learn more, not only about the fonts, but about jef’s work, philosophy, and approach to music notation.

*Editor’s note: The lack of capitalization of jef’s name and certain other proper nouns in this blog post is intentional.

Q: Tell us about yourself and your work preparing contemporary music scores. What have some of your favorite projects been?

Generally my more enjoyable projects in notation are the ones with no tight or fixed deadlines; this makes it possible for me to put more attention on the minute details that set those scores far above the ones that I just need to get out the door as fast as possible. In 2002–03, for example, I developed the first version of my fonts while working on mathias spahlinger’s éphémère for Peermusic Classical (Image 1). In parallel, I was looking into ways graphic design principles could be applied to music notation, and experimenting with various document settings (spacing, fonts, line thicknesses, positioning, etc.) as I tried to replicate or improve on the look of various handwritten scores that I found elegant, such as Nono’s La Lontananza nostalgica utopica futura (beautiful, if not always 100% legible!) and James Saunders’ six pieces. At the same time, I was developing my settings to find ways to better render extremely detailed notation such as found in Ferneyhough’s works, or in Brice Pauset’s Trois canons No. 1 (the latter and excerpts from éphémère were published in Theresa Sauer’s Notations 21 in 2009). It was a great period for me, where I was “free” to just build on the quality of my work, expand my palette of tools and streamline my workflow habits. Not to mention that it provided me with several brilliant examples of my now radically improved notation chops and notational design that I could show off to potential clients.

Image 1: Excerpt from mathias spahlinger’s éphémère (1977), for percussion, 2 veritable instruments and piano. Notation by shirling & neueweise (jef chippewa) in 2002 using an early version of neueweise fonts. (More excerpts from this score on the shirling & neuweise web site)
Image 2: mathias spahlinger’s off (1993, version from 2011), for 6 snare drums. Notation by shirling & neueweise (jef chippewa) in 2012 using an early version of neueweise fonts.

More recently, I would mention another work I did for spahlinger, a version of off he made in 2011 of his 1993 work for six snare drums (Image 2). I find the starkness of the notation quite effective here — the mechanical precision of the graphic design in the score perfectly reflects the snare drum’s military heritage. And it is a very sexy score.

Image 3: “09. fLUXercise”, from jef chippewa’s cabinet de curiosités (2015), a concert-theatre-fluxus work in 9 parts for alto saxophone, accordion, violin, trombone and sound objects. (Click for full page)

A very different arena, but the final section in my cabinet de curiosités (2015) is perhaps the most extreme example of my use of “action notation” in my own compositions, and possibly the most “fun” score I have made (Image 3). The things I notate in my own work are sometimes extremely detailed in terms of what actions are required to make the sound, but it often doesn’t make sense to invent a plethora of new symbols to represent those sounds — as composers are too generally inclined to do (an entirely different discussion for another day!) — since the individual techniques are more often than not used only once in my pieces. The elaborate texts in the first section of my “… unless he senses when to jump” (2011, rev. 2012) describe in detail the musical and theatrical actions the musicians perform — these range from the technical to the rather poetic and even humorous (Image 4). This was one of my favorite pieces to score, for personal reasons. It helped me find a relevant and efficient way of notating the complex, individual musical elements that were increasingly prevalent in my work as simply as possible, while still using traditional notation as a basis. In the graphic part of the score (symbol-based notation), only a drastically reduced version of these annotations is needed, which functions essentially as an aide-mémoire for the more elaborate texts the musicians use to learn the piece.

Image 4: Violin part for “spalt”, the first section in jef chippewa’s “…unless he senses when to jump” (2011, rev. 2012), for alto saxophone, accordion, violin, cello, piano and drumset using an early version of neueweise fonts. (Click for full page)

But my all-time favorite would have to be Lachenmann’s Pression, which I prepared for Breitkopf & Härtel in 2012. With the exception of the drawings of the cellist’s hands and bow grip (made by painter Liat Grayver) imported as graphics, everything in this score was done within Finale, i.e. without recourse to an external graphics program. In the first excerpt of the score (Image 5), the “clefs” are shape expressions, and the entire staff is actually a composite of three staves that appear as one through the application of various staff styles, and carefully calculated inter-staff spacing and barline dash lengths. There is obviously much work done with Finale’s Special Tools in the second excerpt (Image 6), as well as beams that are “broken” by the treble clefs and the last flat, and then continued with custom lines.

Image 5: Helmut Lachenmann — Pression (1969/2010), for one cellist. Notation by shirling & neueweise (jef chippewa) in 2012 for Breitkopf & Härtel using an early version of neueweise fonts.
Image 6: Helmut Lachenmann — Pression (1969/2010), for one cellist. Notation by shirling & neueweise (jef chippewa) in 2012 for Breitkopf & Härtel using an early version of neueweise fonts.

Q: What is behind the name shirling & neueweise?

It was important to me that the name, which I registered in Montréal in 2001, reflect my own intentions and interests — the notation of New Music. However, I didn’t want to name the business something obvious and generic like “21st Century Editions” or “new music notation” — although the latter worked perfectly for my web site (unbelievably, no one had yet registered when I decided on that address back in 2001). Nor did I want it to sound like a vanity press by using my own family name. Somehow I had to come up with an original name that suggested respectability, heritage and the future… and had more than a hint of humor.

The second part of the name is an invented compound word that means “new ways”, “new manners” or “new melodies” in German. I enjoyed the complexity of meanings that could be read into “neueweise” as well as the unwieldy character it lent the name. A really obscure inside joke with a close friend of mine, saxophonist Yves Charuest, was the source of the first part of the name. Almost nobody knows about this; certainly this is the first time I have mentioned it publicly, but only because almost no one has actually asked about its “meaning”. Yves introduced me to a few of the quirkier episodes of Kids in the Hall, made by this oh-so-Canadian TV comedy troupe in the early 1990s. One scene was the story of an entrepreneurial Scotsman renting an arena from a monster trucker to promote a bizarre, ritualistic “Gaelic-Italian” sport dear to him, called “shirling”. Two teams are chained together at the waist in a circle and each team attempts to pull the other team’s members toward a barrel at the center of the ring. A cobra is deposited on top of the barrel by the referee and the snake, agitated by the action as the players spin and scream around it, spits venom at and blinds them one by one. The spirits of the Scotsman, disappointed with the turnout (and door receipts) that day, are lifted when the monster trucker seems to infer that shirling would one day be as popular as monster trucking.

So the name in the end effectively reflects both my Canadian roots and my connection to Germany, where I have been living since 2006.

jef chippewa

Q: Why did you decide to create the neueweise font family? Was it because you personally saw a need in your own work for these tools, or because you saw that others would benefit — or both?

This will be a walk down memory lane for some, but around 2000, virtually all the font characters needed for a large body of contemporary music notational needs were already available. But by no means could you expect a single typeface to provide it all for you in one shot. In order to meet all the needs for the various contexts encountered in the digital notation of New Music, a substantial amount of mix-and-matching was needed: Tamburo, Toccata, Fughetta, Sonata, Revere, GraceNotes and Crescendo, Ghent Percussion and, of course, Christian Texier’s wonderful MIDIDesign font set were among the essentials that helped new musickers fill in the various shortcomings of the default fonts. However, it wasn’t long before I got tired of the individual inadequacies of the individual fonts available for new music notation, but especially of the massive graphic design inconsistencies this brought into my scores. Wild variations in line thicknesses and curvatures that made up the symbols, in the proportions between articulations and noteheads, and in the character heights and widths made for extremely ugly scores! One day maybe enough time will pass that the horror show, anorexic Petrucci will have been erased from our collective notational memory.

One of my intentions since then has always been to set the bar higher and give new music notation a facelift, to make it enjoyable to look at in addition to being a practical and efficient transmitter of musical intention on behalf of the composer.

Q: What are the fonts’ defining characteristics?

The neueweise font set was designed with both notational needs and graphic design considerations in mind. I considered it absolutely essential that they:

  • Be extremely legible in different contexts;
  • Have an absolutely unified and consistent design;
  • Resolve specific problems in contemporary music notation;
  • Be capable of serving the notation of more traditional music just as effectively as New Music.

But perhaps most importantly: they had to be sexy.

The first things I did were to establish line thicknesses for the symbols that would work in a variety of contexts, unify parameters such as notehead size and line thicknesses, and develop a bold and confident look that was unique and incorporated some design characteristics I have for many years applied to my notation work. Bringing ideas from the graphic design world into notational contexts helped me think about how to “layer” information so that it can be parsed more easily by musicians. This last point is an article in itself, but basically, when the design is simple, consistent and professionally implemented, the musician understands and can visualize effortlessly what “level” the information belongs to.

Great care was put into such details as the size of a number of noteheads so that their height and width is the same as, or very close to the quarter notehead reference. This ensures that not only the spacing of notes with normal and so-called “alternative noteheads”, but also the positioning of their stems and articulations remains consistent (Image 7).

Those who work with microtonal notation will appreciate that the position and shape of the arrowheads on the accidentals in neueweise Pitches was designed to be legible and well positioned not only on “normal” notes but also on cue and grace notes, and in scores whose view percentage has been greatly reduced. They are designed to sit very well on staff lines as well as in spaces. The arrowheads are now quite a bit bulkier than in the earlier (unreleased) versions of my fonts. Initially I found the new design a little vulgar — the arrowheads on accidentals really have to scream at you, otherwise they risk being overlooked or not seen properly — but considered this to be a completely acceptable compromise in the name of clarity and legibility. However, now in fact I find them to be much better integrated in terms of design and have grown to enjoy them.

Image 7. Comparison of neueweise with standard Finale (Engraver and Maestro) and Sibelius (Opus) fonts showing the widths of various noteheads, their resulting stem positions, and rests.

Although I opted in general for a bolder design than some fonts, it was essential that as many characters as possible also be given a slightly narrower design. Again, a complex topic that deserves more elaboration than is possible here, but New Music often benefits from a substantially more “proportional” spacing than what I refer to as “Beethoven notation” (no disrespect intended!). It is effectively nonexistent, but notation that is 100% proportional would have a quarter note occupying double the horizontal space as an eighth. Whereas in Beethoven notation you can quite often crush huge amounts of information into one system without significant loss of clarity and legibility, New Music (generally speaking) makes use of more durational values and in greater contrast, has a greater variety and frequency of accidentals, and has more complexly contrasting rhythms and subdivisions of the meter across different voices or instruments playing together. And so on. This all requires spacing that tends to a greater degree toward proportional notation for clarity and legibility (Image 2, above), and so every millimeter I can spare horizontally gives me a little more flexibility in the layout and presentation.

In much of the music I work on, notation that is too tight and unproportional makes it extremely difficult to properly visualize the rhythms in relation to the physical space they occupy on the page. On the other hand, many musicians have told me that notation that is too loose — sometimes inevitable where combining certain measures in the same system would cause horrible collisions and overlapping of information — is even more terrible to read than when it is a little tight.

Returning to my point about narrower characters, as an example, rests smaller than a quarter are more vertical in neueweise Notes than in other fonts and therefore take up far less horizontal space (Image 7). The quarter-tone accidentals had to be quite bold to be as legible as I wanted them to be, but I managed nonetheless to keep their width under control. The vertical lines in the sharp are a little closer together than in other fonts, which allows for a little more “tucking” in of multiple accidentals on chords (Image 8).

Image 8. Standard accidentals in the neueweise Pitches font, as well as upwards and downwards inflected versions, and bracketed versions.

I won’t go on and on with comparisons, but I would like to mention that there are a few characters I felt needed to be larger than in most fonts. The small size of the harmonic noteheads, for example, always annoyed me. They are particularly problematic when at a reduced percentage, or on grace or cue notes, so I brought them in line with the design and size of my quarter notehead (Images 7 and 10). The half and whole rest characters were also thickened and enlarged (Image 11).

Each of these individual considerations might be unimportant details for many users, but as a whole, the various graphic design considerations I integrated in the font make for cleaner, more unified and elegant notation — a calmer visual surface that is more pleasing to look at.

(This is perhaps a good time for an aside: Jan Angermüller at Elbsound has developed a great online tool to do a quick and dirty comparison of music fonts using excerpts of Haydn, Liszt, Berg and a “contemporary” example.)

Q: Not all symbols are represented; indeed, some elemental glyphs are missing, such as clefs and dynamics. Do you plan to create those in the future?

The reason for this seeming omission is simply my own version of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage: if you can’t do it any better, don’t bother. As mentioned above, the faults I found in the design of many characters specific to new music notation in various fonts available around 2002 led me to develop own fonts, but I found the clefs and dynamics to be tastefully designed in some fonts and therefore felt there was no need for me to “reinvent the wheel” (cf. the Beethoven and Webern examples below, Images 8–9). That said, I would indeed like to develop a dynamics font in the future that would be more stylized, more modern looking (I do like the look of the font based on Stockhausen’s handwriting that was developed, I believe, by James Ingram) and take up much less horizontal space than these characters in the standard music fonts. For example, the space required for a dynamic indication like ffff > pppp is just obscene and is another excellent example of just how important the horizontal real estate is in modern notation in comparison to traditional notation, where dynamics are used on a far smaller scale and with far fewer variations.

There are other characters sets that I think are more important for me to work on, however. There are fonts in my collection that contain symbols for percussion and various objects (Image 1, above), arrows and arrowheads (Image 4), and different kinds and lengths of wavy lines, but they are unfortunately not yet in a form that could be publicly released. I also have a beta version of a time signature and durations font (yes, it can also be used to indicate rhythms in text documents) that I am eager to finish.

Q: What music font(s) would you recommend to pair with the neueweise fonts in order to create a complete score?

For traditional (curved) flags I prefer Engraver, and Maestro for dynamics, clefs and numbers (time signatures, above multi-measure rests). Maybe some new musickers will find these fonts too classic looking, but extremely judicious use of characters from standard music fonts seems to me to be easiest on the eyes. I feel that those kinds of elements in new music notation can very often benefit from being “transparent” — when the form and function of elements that are no different than in traditional or modern scores are not differentiated graphically, the musicians recognize them effortlessly regardless of the composer, musical style or design approach, and their brain space can remain more intensely focussed on the music the notation is meant to represent or transmit, instead of being distracted by “unique” score design. It should be obvious by now that I would never discourage more experimental notation practices, but there is a time and a place for such things — it shouldn’t be done arbitrarily just because you are writing “modern music”.

Q: What text font(s) complement the neueweise fonts nicely, in your opinion?

Since the mid-2000s I have been using the Rotis typeface for virtually all text elements of the majority of the scores I have worked on. In some ways it is very traditional but the entire family is designed with craft. In recent years I have noticed the typeface being used more and more in advertising — in fact, I think it works best in contexts that use short fragments of text. For the text elements in music notation I find it to be a really well balanced font, in that it affords a degree of classical elegance to New Music scores but is also not too modern even for traditional scores (Image 9).

Image 9: The first five measures of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 111. Notation by shirling & neueweise (jef chippewa) in 2015 using neueweise fonts.

In my own notation work, I generally use Rotis Serif for text and expressive markings, and Sans Serif for some specific cases, such as instrumentation on the title pages and more extensive performance technique annotations in the score. For titles and composer on the first page of the score I usually use Rotis Semi Serif bold, but sometimes I prefer Sans Serif (Image 10; Image 12). Although, in more traditional scores I have sometimes preferred to use Rotis Serif instead of the very modern-looking Semi Serif for titles. But other text fonts can work equally well with the neueweise music font set, such as the rather elegant Helvetica Neue (the commercial version of the lesser Helvetica available by default on all computers today), which mathias spahlinger prefers me to use in his scores (Image 2).

Image 10: The first five measures of Webern’s 6 Bagatellen, for string quartet. Notation by shirling & neueweise (jef chippewa) in 2015 using neueweise fonts.

Before Rotis, I experimented using the Bauhaus-influenced sans serif font Futura but found it too stylized as well as a little tight for text in scores. For a few years I used Hoefler Text and Avant Garde (Image 1, above), but Avant Garde took up too much space horizontally — this is especially problematic in text expressions in dense notation. Also, I gradually grew tired of Hoefler and its frilly 19th-century swashes, and in parallel eventually concluded that not only do its numbers not work well for notation (they are Oldstyle figures, with the tops and bottoms of the number characters “non-aligned”), but it also was not designed very well. I haven’t looked at it in a while but I remember the kerning not being optimal. Although perhaps the Apple system version was not the same quality as the commercially available font set, or perhaps the font has been improved since then, because looking now at examples of the commercial version of Hoefler Text they seem very nice, if still irrelevant for my notational needs. This perfectly illustrates a problem many users will encounter when seeking other text fonts than, say, Times New Roman (yuck!), Arial or Helvetica: most default fonts you will find on your system are quite poorly designed but you might not be willing to spend several hundreds on the commercially available (and better designed) version of those or other properly designed fonts (the full Rotis package retails today for over €600, or individual typefaces for around €40 each).

Concretely, the well designed web-destined fonts Georgia and Verdana I find ok, but far too wide for my notational tastes, so in fact I use [sighs deeply] Times New Roman when I can’t use Rotis. This means that when my clients have access to the Finale or word processing documents I have prepared for them, they will see what I expect them to see in the score and cover pages I have prepared for them, with no strange font substitutions occurring. If you prefer sans serif fonts, in my opinion Arial offers more clarity than the slightly narrower Helvetica for text at smaller point sizes. Just please don’t use Comic Sans, if you want anyone to take your notation seriously!

In the end, as the neueweise font set is designed to serve new music as well as traditional notation, it is just as important to match the text fonts with your specific notational and æsthetic needs as it is to match them to my fonts.

Q: Can you share some examples of music created with the neueweise fonts?

Most of the above examples were done with the earlier versions of my fonts, before a good number of additions, corrections and updates were made in January 2015, when I released them publicly for the first time. Of particular note in the Beethoven and Webern examples above (Images 9–10) and in the following examples is the improved design of the accidentals — they have a bolder character but their shape is nevertheless more elegant (Images 11–12). In addition to them being more stylish, the now slightly shortened height makes it possible for even more tucking in of multiple accidentals on chords, saving even more valuable horizontal space in the score!

Image 11: Excerpt from mathias spahlinger’s flashback (2017). Notation by shirling & neueweise (jef chippewa) in 2017 using neueweise fonts.
Image 12: An excerpt from the first page of “Spring of Long Ago”, from Allan Crossman’s piano set Second Nature. Notation by shirling & neueweise (jef chippewa) in 2017 using neueweise fonts. (Click for full page)

My work with Allan Crossman goes back to 1997, and my development as a copyist and font designer can be witnessed in parallel to the nearly 50 works I have scored for him over the years. An excerpt from his piano work Second Nature (scored in March 2017) offers an excellent example of how the fonts look in contexts where more traditional notation is the norm (Image 12).

Q: The neueweise fonts use their own unique character mapping. Why is that? Does it pose any challenges using it with Finale or Sibelius?

There are no real inconveniences using my fonts in Finale or Sibelius. Finale users will need to spend about 15 minutes changing their template to be able to make full use (this is documented in detail in the User Manual), whereas Sibelius users can simply import the neueweise House Style I have recently developed with just a few clicks.

The mapping in neueweise is actually much more intelligent and intuitive than in other music fonts. This is possible in part because I have segregated noteheads, articulations and accidentals into separate dedicated fonts, whereas Engraver and Maestro (for example) have chaotic and largely incomprehensible mapping — exceptions include “q” for quarter notehead, “f” for forte, “#” for a sharp — for a massive collection of symbols. The character charts in the neueweise User Manual indicate many mnemonic aids, but I would mention a few examples to give an idea of how user-friendly I designed the fonts and their mapping to be.

In neueweise Notes, rests are mapped to correspond to the number keys used for durations in Finale: quarter rest is mapped to 5, eighth rest to 4, whole rest to 7, etc. Black noteheads are mapped to lowercase and white (open) noteheads are mapped to their corresponding uppercase. The notehead I use to indicate dampening (third note in Image 13) is mapped to the period (i.e. a “stop”). Seven sizes of round noteheads are mapped in increasing size to shift-1 through shift-7. The three symbols needed to form an open cluster are mapped to characters they resemble (sideways): “[” for the bottom portion, “=” for the middle portion and “]” for the top.

Image 13. Some new musicky notation. All music symbols (noteheads, accidentals and articulations) are from the neueweise font set; the text font is Rotis.

Articulations for use below notes are mapped to lowercase characters in neueweise Articulations, while those for use above notes are mapped to their corresponding uppercase characters. Symbols for the pick and fingernail are mapped to “p” and “n”, the harmonic to “o” and its correspondingly larger open symbol to “O” (Image 13). One- to five-bar tremoli are mapped to the numerals 1–5.

But it is neueweise Pitches that has the most excitingly intuitive mapping (on the US keyboard used by Finale users). The natural, 1/4-sharp, sharp and 3/4-sharp symbols are mapped to 1–4, and the double flat, 3/4-flat, flat and 1/4-flat symbols to 5–8. The second and third rows below these numbers on the QWERTY keyboard have the same symbols with arrows up and down, respectively. And finally, the fourth row has slightly smaller versions of the symbols in brackets.

Q: What are your thoughts on SMuFL and its potential?

That it is an amazing idea to imagine the same music symbol mapped to the same slot in all fonts that follow SMuFL. Of course this principle exists already on a smaller scale between Maestro and Engraver, which are to some degree mapped in a similar manner, or in other fonts that have used the same mapping as these for ease of use (in Finale). The clever mapping scheme in my fonts obviously puts them at a very slight disadvantage for Finale users. But as I mentioned above, following the instructions in the User Manual carefully and to the letter should only cost the Finale user about 15 minutes, and a few clicks for the Sibelius user, to make the fonts available in a document (or better, in a template!).

While I strongly support the idea of standardizing the mapping of characters in music fonts, I do fear that it is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. If a widespread reform of new music notation and manifesto are not put in place before, or at least in parallel to the establishment of the mapping of music notation symbols in fonts, there are bound to be errors, or at the very least omissions and redundancies. To make yet another silly analogy, it is a bit like deciding to clean the walls and floor of a room and remodeling it, without removing the furniture beforehand so you can more easily decide what should go back in and what just needs to get chucked. There are notational practices still being followed that are simply wrong and should be corrected, which in some cases means their removal. This is not just my subjective fist-pounding on the pulpit. The version of the Bartók pizzicato symbol with the stem down, for example, cannot be found in a published score anywhere, but that didn’t stop someone at Finale from including it in the shape expression library. Now — and only in Germany for some reason — I see this symbol used somewhat regularly to indicate a Bartók pizz. One otherwise knowledgeable and notationally attentive German composer I did some work for told me that he assumed that this was the right symbol since… um, well, it was available in the default Finale template. Oopsy!

Further, there is no shortage of composers “inventing” “new” symbols for their “unique” notational needs, where a standardized practice and notation often already exists. And in some cases, traditional notation accompanied by a small annotation would be a far more effective approach than inventing yet another obscure notational symbol that will never become a contributing component of the larger panoply of notational practices for New Music, simply because only that composer uses it and only in a total of two works.

However, and I digress, but the SMuFL people can’t afford to wait around — nor should they — for me to lead the new music notation revolution and coordinate the writing of its manifesto. SMuFL is a massive undertaking and I am eager to see what comes of it, and hope to find the time to get involved somehow in the future.

Q: Have you thought about making a SMuFL-compliant version of your fonts for use in Dorico and other SMuFL-compatible applications?

Definitely. But I don’t know when it will be realistically possible for me to look into this closer.

Q: What is your preferred software to work in, and why?

I have been using Finale since about 1997 — my first version was 3.5.2, as I recall. But my frustrations with Finale’s chronically insufficient implementation (don’t get me started about linked parts, which took nearly a decade to be brought into in an acceptably usable form!), their catering to the amateur market and their refusal to correct long-standing bugs that affect most users led me a few years back to look into moving to another notation software program as well as from Mac to PC. Every product I looked at had some attractive and sometimes unique features, as well as its own unique set of problems that affected users to varying degrees (which sometimes came with clever workarounds), but none had a substantial enough set of advantages for me compared to what I could do with Finale. Don’t think, however, that I am advocating Finale over other any other notation software! When I was doing the research I came across both amazing and inattentive notation, and innovative and careless design by users of all notation programs. What made one score stand out above others was not the notation software, but rather the person who did it, their experience, their sense of design and their artistry. While it may or may not have been the case many years ago that one or another software inherently led to superior output, I think most rational and reasonable copyists and composers have to admit that pretty much all the mature notation software programs have this potential today — albeit with the need for some unfortunate workarounds, but no notation software I am aware of is exempt from this problem.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that I have invested so much in terms of my workflow — learning Finale, exploring and using its plugins as well as external scripting software (iKey), etc. — that it would be an extreme disadvantage professionally for me to move to another platform and/or software. As my aunt continually reminds me, “Hey, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.”

One thing I think is an amazing feature in Finale that is not available natively in other programs is its Metatools, a terribly underappreciated and underused tool (even for some expert users) that represents such an incredible timesaver! There are 36 programmable keys (1–0, a–z) for articulations, expressions, tuplet definitions, chords, time and key signatures, staff styles and clefs that allows users to completely avoid menu and dialog box selection: press a number and click a note (or click-drag-enclose a range) to assign a symbol or text. Select one or more handles and double-click a programmed key to change the assignment.

On the other hand, when I developed a House Style for the use of neueweise in Sibelius I was impressed at the ease it affords the user to make wide-ranging changes to the look of a score with just a few clicks (the many hours of development are rendered completely transparent to the user!), whereas the Finale user needs to spend some 15 minutes making changes to their document or template to make full use of my fonts. But it also exposed me to the troubling limitations of the underlying structure of the program, where, for example, an articulation is sometimes a symbol and therefore behaves differently.

Q: Are there any projects that you would like to tell us about?

The third work that the Berlin-based ensemble LUX:NM has commissioned from me is called something like this but not this and not that either, following up on “… unless he senses when to jump” and cabinet de curiosités, mentioned above. The “instrumentation” for the piece is cello, three mobile musicians (sax, accordion and trombone), composer and live-composed score. The mobile musicians and I create the score they play from (ca. 1 m high by 4 m wide) in real time using inked linocut stamps of music symbols I myself cut. During the course of the piece I also make some “composer interventions” in the score, which runs in parallel to the fully composed score the cellist plays from. The audience witnesses the entire notation and score-making process as the piece unfolds.

Image 14. Preparations for jef chippewa’s 2017 work something like this but not this and not that either for cello, mobile musicians, composer and live-composed score.

Bio (as provided by jef chippewa):

jef chippewa is a composer, new music notation specialist and arts administrator, not to mention a fantastic cook. In 17 miniatures (flute, piano, drumset, dozens of sound-producing objects), and in his footscapes (electroacoustic) and postcards (toy piano, sound objects) series, he explored the potential of the miniature in problematizing musical form. LUX:NM commissioned his concert-theatre-fluxus work cabinet de curiosités for Berlin’s Infektion! festival of new and experimental music theatre. His work has been presented in traditional concert venues, art galleries, festivals and trains by ensembles such as LUX:NM, CrossingLines and ensemble recherche. In 1999, chippewa founded shirling & neueweise, a company specialized in New Music notation and has led seminars on “New Music Notation: Score design, function and role” in Canada, Germany, Mexico, Israel and the USA. Since 2005, he has acted as Administrative co-Director of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, Canada’s national association for electroacoustic practices, and is Coordinating Editor of their electronic journal, eContact!


  1. Bob Zawalich

    This was a great interview. Very articulate on both sides, with good questions and good answers. I really appreciated the passion and thoughtfulness that jef applies to notation issues. I enjoyed the analogy to remodeling a room with the furniture inside, which actually seems to happen a lot!

  2. Greg Ball

    This is an example of why I smile when I see a Scoring Notes email in my in-box. They aren’t always directly something I use, but almost always interesting and make me feel connected to part of a community I would otherwise miss. I’m gonna have to write something with a veritable now. I would like to ask jef if he has considered (or if there exists) a set of standards for works that include electronic sounds similar in use to the graphics of the saw and jar lid. It always seems to me classic notation that while accurate (concerning pitch and durations) doesn’t really express to a person reading the score what the synth is actually doing, especially if the artist doesn’t happen to have the exact same synth patch. If I’m attempting a film trailer lets say, and I want to note a riser or whatever. I don’t want to fill it with text.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Greg. That’s a very interesting question that I would leave to jef or others to answer. I’ll be curious to see the replies. I’m glad we make you smile :-)

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