Synclavier: instrument of many talents. Printing music: no more pen and ink

PHILIP FEO spent a whole year preparing a new version of Gustav Mahler's 10th Symphony for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. But he never performed it. He just copied out all the parts - by hand. Mr. Feo, a music editor and copyist in Chicago, has spent many a day transforming pages of pencil scratches into neat black circles and stems. It's a time-consuming art, taking a steady hand and a knowledge of notation styles and rules.

But now he and his staff at Philip Feo Music Preparation have a helpmate that will do at least some of the writing for them: the Synclavier, a synthesizer made by New England Digital Corp. This kind of computerized printing is rapidly becoming an alternative to hand copying or engraving. According to Feo, it's a three-step process:

``Program'' the notes. Simply play one instrumental part on the keyboard (up to 64 parts per score), and it will appear on the computer screen in standard musical notation.

``Edit'' the music - which means adding dynamic and tempo markings, lyrics, or chord symbols, using commands on the terminal keyboard.

Print it out. Output devices range from dot matrix printers to laser printers (high quality) to digital typesetters (engraving quality).

Though Feo still does much copying by hand - especially for jazz and pop idioms - he uses the Synclavier to achieve a finer, cleaner result preferred for classical orchestral music.

But the Synclavier method still takes time, he said in an interview. ``The editing is the problem with this. You sit down and try to draw, and a lot of this stuff takes forever.'' Yet Feo said he's glad he purchased the Synclavier.

``There are some music publishers who spend megabucks and who can do it probably faster and easier. If you're in that category, and you can afford something like that, that's fine. But if you're on a smaller level -- out of the [computer] programs I've seen - this has got the best quality by far.''

Though high-quality software for other computerized printing systems is coming out each day - at ever lower prices - the Synclavier software is still better, in Feo's estimation.

Copying for an orchestra involves writing the music for each instrument - plus making a full score for the conductor. With the Synclavier, Feo said he can do the whole score once and then print the flute or oboe part from that. Rather than putting copyists out of work, Feo hopes the Synclavier will make them more productive.

``The goal is not necessarily to replace people, but to have it enhance your business .... It would be great if you could have two or three of these things. People come in, sit down, do their work, and put out the product.''

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