Tom Wolfe wrote, "It's not 'Seeing is believing,' you ninny, but 'believing is seeing!'" America's novelist, in his book The Painted Word, was referring to the need for modern art to associate itself with a fashionable aesthetic camp (or "school") in order to be validated. Could it be that we music educators are susceptible to the same prejudice with the technology tools we use? Despite the obtuse title of this opinion piece, I hope you'll hang with me until I connect all the dots!
PC vs. Mac? Finale vs. Sibelius? Have you noticed that people tend to ally themselves to some consumer products with an almost evangelical fervor? I have observed this phenomena both objectively in those around me and personally as I notice strong feelings of loyalty toward various things I use daily even outside of technology. For instance, I've noticed that coffee drinkers seem to fall into two basic camps: lovers of Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks.
In all honesty I believe this sort of product allegiance begins with valid functional differences and personal preferences. However, more subtly, a layer of this loyalty strikes me as having more to do with fashion or trend than function. Manufacturers know this well and the creative forces of Madison Avenue exploit it in their advertising. Take, for example, Apple's recent ads featuring personifications of Mac and PC. Mac is a young, hip, laid back guy while PC is an uptight, cubicle dweller in a bad suit. Users of Macintosh computers tend to see themselves as part of a culture of creativity and "outside-the-box" thinkers. Like Apple Macs, Sibelius too positions itself as a more intuitive, easier-to-use product than its competitor.
Ironically, as the debate between Mac and Windows platform has heightened, each operating system has become more like the other! Vista is the latest in the Windows OS evolution from blase to sexy. And for work in multimedia, the Windows platform now garners much more respect. The Mac, while always graphically exciting and well thought of for creative work, its UNIX underpinning and Intel processors has made sure it can integrate and network well into the business world where it is an outsider. The same is true of Finale vs. Sibelius. The set of features appearing first in one of these competitors, then incorporated shortly thereafter by the other, includes: start-up "Wizard" windows, softsynths and third party sample player, mixer emulation, more affordable entry-level version, easy graphics export, save as audio, thorough implementation of short cut keys, music education add-ons, intelligent composer/arranger operations, and more.
This phenomena, so apparent in the marketplace, of polar opposites first being pitted against one another only to later merge into an integrated, less distinct synthesis, reminds me of the philosophical exercise of dialectics associated with early 19th-century philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. In a Hegelian dialectic, two opposites - such as Good and Evil, Mind and Body, or perhaps even Finale and Sibelius! - are first argued back and forth. Eventually, however, in many cases a synthesis is achieved in the pursuit of truth.
While you may not want to credit the free market with achieving truth, its forces often do develop a better widget for the consumer. As an avid user of music technology in my work, I'm so grateful for the competition between Mac OS and Windows and between Finale and Sibelius. The competition has made all competing products stronger (and usually less expensive than they might otherwise be).
As for me (I know you're wondering!), I am a proud Mac OS user and a satisfied Finale user. I tell myself and others that I like Mac OS for its stability, ease of use, and superiority with multimedia. Finale is my choice because of the control it allows for expressive music and - in education - because MakeMusic's free NotePad allows students in my district to learn the interface at the elementary level. But I suspect if I really looked inside myself I would have to admit that the main reason I use each is because they were the first OS and music notation application (respectively) that I ever used many years ago. I'm comfortable with them. I believe if I were to switch over to Windows or Sibelius, it would take me years to acquire the agility and sometimes even arcane facility that I have with what I currently use. If I looked even deeper, I would probably have to admit that I really want to be that hip, creative guy in the Apple ads rather than the dopy stiff in the bad suit!
The bottom line is that I now try to avoid contending with colleagues about the superiority of one product or another. I realize that comfort and fashion may have as much to do with both our choices as does function, and I know the market will sort everything out anyway. I think it's more important to examine what others are doing with their OS or software that you can't do with yours. Sure, the Windows/PC platform is ubiquitous, but the Mac OS is everywhere that I need it. And while I respect Sibelius as a professional notation program, I can express myself so quickly and powerfully with Finale. I can't see switching from either of these at least for now. On the other hand, for instance, I switched from a basic HTML editor to Apple's iWeb a while back when I saw the great web pages friends were churning out so effortlessly.
There are other music and technology match-ups besides the two I've used as examples, and there's also the recurring question about whether and when to move up to the next version of software you use. My advice: if it's not broke, don't fix it. When you need a new tool, get one that's comfortable and it's more likely you'll use it.
I don't know about you, but all this philosophizing has made me thirsty so I'm going to go get a Coke....or should I have a Pepsi?
Dr. Scott Watson holds a B.S., Music Ed from West Chester University and both M.M and D.M.A. degrees in Music Composition from Temple University. He's taught instrumental music for 21 years in the Parkland School District (Allentown, PA) and currently serves as an adjunct instructor for Villanova University.
An active composer as well, Watson's music is published by Alfred Publishing, C.L. Barnhouse, Shawnee Press, and others. He's received recognition for his music from the American Music Center, American Composers Forum, Percussive Arts Society, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Recent projects include commissions for band by the Massachusetts Instrumental & Choral Conductors Association (MICCA), International Horn Society (IHS), Twin Falls (Idaho) Municipal Band, Lehigh County Bandmasters Association, and West Chester University Wind Ensemble. His music is described in The Instrumentalist magazine as being "outstanding...with beautiful melodies and interesting harmonies" and in the journal of the Percussive Arts Society as "written with supreme craft".
Watson also serves on the Advisory Board and is Publications Committee Chair for the Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME). He is the editor of the recent book, Technology Guide for Music Education (Thomson), and a regular contributing author for Music Education Technology magazine.