If “classical music” is a niche market, and “new music” a niche within it, then those of us who care deeply about recent developments in notation software must be a small fraction of the population indeed; for us, the advent of Dorico, the first new industrial-strength notation program in decades, has been nothing less than thrilling. By now the circumstances surrounding its birth have been well-told. The progress of the software has also been painstakingly documented. But two and a half years after its initial release, I haven’t seen much written from the perspective of composers about the experience of working in Dorico long-term. I’ve been using it since the first version came out in October of 2016—at first gingerly, on small side projects. At that point I’d spent half my life using Sibelius.
As artists, and especially as composers, our tools matter. We’re using them to make musical scores, which are essentially tools for other people. Anything we can do to make our work more readable, standardized, error-free, and beautiful is something we should feel compelled to do. But our tools have to be well-made and streamlined enough for us to want to use them, too (otherwise we’d all be writing in SCORE). I can’t overstate how nice Dorico is as a daily tool. The interface is clean, crisp, and non-distracting; fonts and icons are sharp and tasteful; palettes and dialogues have efficient and sensible workflows. All the small design choices add up to a coherent whole, just like the details in a well-engraved musical score.
The process of composing is different for everyone, of course. I like to write straight into the computer, sitting at either a piano or a MIDI keyboard. And the actual day-to-day indecision of composing is fluid and graceful in Dorico—jotting down ideas quickly and then wrestling with them over long periods, transforming, cutting, splicing, and rearranging them every which way. You can edit without fear of triggering a cascade of errors and messes elsewhere in the score. The program will never protest about a tuplet; extramusical lines and indications move in lockstep with notes; extraneous rests are cleaned up for you; beams are re-beamed correctly. Its handling of rhythms is so good that it surpasses mere convenience and becomes an actual creative tool. All of these things initially felt, and continue to feel, like small miracles.