Overture

By Whitney, Ross | Notes, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Overture


Whitney, Ross, Notes


Overture is a relatively recent addition to the half dozen or so programs commonly used in academic music libraries and computer labs. Although the company has had a steering influence among music-software manufacturers for about a decade, Overture is only in its second version. Built on a solid base of experience and insight from the company's other successful products, however, the program can hardly be considered immature. Its design is essentially intuitive, efficient, and flexible. Overture accommodates virtually every standard notational practice of Western music used by educators, professional composers, arrangers, and copyists. Thus it deserves the scrutiny of music-library and computer-lab administrators who serve a broad range of users with a limited number of support staff.

Like most programs of its kind, Overture opens with a customizable default score setup, tool bar, and window controls. It comes with more than twenty score templates for such standard ensembles as string quartet and orchestra, and users can create an unlimited number of custom templates as Macintosh stationery pads to suit individual needs. Most functions can be accessed through the primary window without having to switch modes, and the display is exceptionally versatile. Single or multiple scrolling pages can be displayed at a range of magnification from 40% to 999%. This replaces the usual piano-scroll metaphor and is quite useful for score overview, spacing adjustments, and page turns. The interface is sophisticated and at the same time replete with thoughtful, time-saving amenities. The mouse pointer changes to a "drag cursor" when crossing hidden control points called "handles." The user places and edits systems, staves, measures, and notes, using the drag cursor to locate handles without having to display them or toggle between modalities. Symbols and text are organized into palettes, or "pop-up tool menus," most of which can be activated through keyboard shortcuts or "torn off" from the tool bar and floated anywhere on screen in vertical or horizontal orientation, Palettes usually do not need to be open on the desktop, and the program expediently remembers the last function used. Menus are needed mainly for preference settings, and are generally decipherable at first glance. Dialog boxes are kept to a minimum and often include a "next" button that allows changes to additional related areas without reselecting. Launch time, scrolling, data entry, editing, and even printing are very fast, indicating a lean underlying program design.

Although notation-software veterans will adapt quickly to the interface and soon speed through almost any task, there are some shortcomings for the typical computer lab that needs to address varying levels of interest, experience, and need. Immediately noticeable is the lack of color or dimension in the display. Color would be a useful organizing tool to differentiate areas, functions, and voice layers and would motivate interest among first-time users. Of course, color consumes resources and slows display functions; so it might best be added as an option. In any case, color is a conspicuous feature of Opcode's sequencing programs, and it is reasonable to assume that as Overture's popularity develops, so will its look. Another potential drawback for novices is the absence of such visual cues as labels on tool-bar buttons. Although most of the icons are self-explanatory, some may be frustrating to learn or difficult to remember without consulting the program's Quick Reference card or the user's manual. Furthermore, the tool bar cannot be customized to provide easier access to menu items.

Some limitations undermine the execution of global adjustments. For example, there are no measure-range settings in frequently used dialog boxes such as "Set Meter" or "Set Tempo." Changes automatically apply to the next meter or tempo, making specific insertions or a simple change from a given point to the last measure of the score more difficult than should be necessary. …

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