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Finns' Composition for PC, Opus 1

Music: British duo has found a receptive audience for their software, now on display in Anaheim.

January 19, 2002|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whether using quill tips or felt tips, composers have spent enormous amounts of their time over the centuries simply inking out their music on manuscript paper.

To the rescue come several software programs, including "Sibelius," created by British twins Ben and Jonathan Finn, 33. Ben Finn is in town this weekend at the International Music Products Assn. (NAMM) tradeshow at the Anaheim Convention Center. They named their program after another "Finn," Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Once choristers in Kings College, Cambridge, the two were studying music in high school and teaching themselves computer programming on the side when they decided to put the two subjects together.

For fun, they created some homework-helping programs, like one to harmonize Bach chorales. That prompted the idea of creating a music notation program that would help musicians much like a word processing program assists writers.

"We thought it would take about a year or two to develop," Ben Finn said in a recent phone interview from Cambridge, England. "It took five years before we got it finished or releasable.

"In fact, when we realized the complexities of notation, we almost gave up. And we knew nothing about the music engraving aspect, publishers' rules positioning notes and things like that. We had to do a lot of research."

Fortunately, they spent a lot of time planning. "You can paint yourself into a corner easy," Finn said. "You can do the easy stuff, then find a difficult problem and have to go back and redo everything."

Initially, the two worked together, but then they specialized. Jonathan became the programmer and Ben shifted interest to the business side.

He had to. They couldn't interest anyone in selling their program, so they set up their own company, the Sibelius Group, in 1993, packaging the program with a computer, printer and keyboard.

"It cost several thousand dollars, but people wanted to buy it. It saves so much time. They could see that straightaway. They could use it to write from scratch or produce a final copy or extract orchestral parts. It transposed automatically. It was saving maybe 50% of their time."

Within two years it became the industry standard in Britain. "It was used by all the main publishers. It was a big shock and surprise to us. We were really operating out of my living room."

They created a Windows version in 1998 and a Mac version in 1999. "As soon as we did, that gave us a worldwide market instead of just a UK market. In the last three years, we've been very involved worldwide."

Their main competition is a program called Finale, with which the twins have been going head to head ever since. Users are mostly classical and jazz musicians "because they use notation more than rock and pop. But it is used by rock and pop publishers who are producing guitar books and things like that."Sibelius will even automatically transcribe music played on a keyboard connected to a computer. But the brothers don't suggest their program will substitute for musical creativity. "I doubt computers will replace humans," Finn said. "They can assist a bit."

Details and a downloadable demo version can be found on the company's Web site: Sibelius.com.

The International Music Products Assn. (NAMM) tradeshow, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Anaheim Convention Center, 800 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim. Registration: NAMM members: $25; nonmembers, $175. (714) 765-8950.

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'No Shortage' of Top Performers for New Series

There's a new music series in town, the California Concert Artists series, founded by flutist Mary Palchak.

"My goal is to make chamber music something very accessible to the community," Palchak said recently. "It's to feature the world-class performers that we have here in Southern California. There's no shortage of them."

The series was funded by a $15,000 seed grant from the city of Irvine, a $500 grant from Mervyn's in Irvine and support from Irvine Valley College, one of the two colleges at which Palchak teaches (the other is Saddleback College in Mission Viejo).

"Irvine Mayor Larry Agran agreed to fund the first season with the stipulation that the concerts be free and that we perform in the City Council chambers, which turns out to be a wonderful setting for chamber music," Palchak said.

The first concert, a Bach program on Nov. 4, filled the chambers to "the legal capacity," Palchak said. The official tally: 270.

The second concert will be Jan. 27 and will feature Palchak, harpist Eleanor Choate, violist Andrew Duckles and soprano Kelly Boudreux in music by Debussy, Gershwin and other composers. A third program is planned March 10.

California Concert Artists will play works by Debussy, Gershwin and other composers Jan. 27 at 4 p.m. at Irvine City Hall, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine. Free. (949) 451-5488.

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