Lilypond, I love you!

By Greg Turnquist

Greg L. Turnquist worked on the Spring team for over thirteen years and is a senior staff technical content engineer at Cockroach Labs. He was the lead for Spring Data JPA and Spring Web Services. He wrote Packt's best-selling title, Learning Spring Boot 2.0 2nd Edition, and its 3rd Edition follow-up along many others.

January 28, 2012

I just recently typeset a small piece of music I wrote 24 years ago. It was a small piano piece, only 27 bars long. I wrote it using a dinky keyboard that didn’t last for long. This one piece of paper has gathered dust for years. I recently got into the swing of learning how to use Lilypond, and have learned it is a fantastic piece of musical typesetting software.

I sat down and spent no more than an hour writing the bars down. As I rendered it, it felt beautiful to see a piece of music that I typically play whenever I sit down at a piano, but hadn’t looked at the sheet music for years, now rendered as if it came from a commercial production.

That wasn’t the end of it. Lilypond generates midi files as well. I opened it in a player, and hit the play button. Listening to it perfectly played made it sound as if it came from another world. I was taken away. This feedback gave me the opportunity to set the tempo, something I never captured.

Let me tell you about something: I have written music since high school. I was inspired when I first heard senior students perform concertos they had written themselves. I thought, “I can do that!” I started playing around with my keyboard at home. I began capturing ideas, thoughts, musings. There are lots of scribbles here and there. But one night, I heard the raindrops, and felt a deep inspiration. I captured it on this page. It didn’t take long either. As I rounded out the chords, I committed this piece of music to memory, and have been able to play it ever since. On occasion, people have asked me where it came from? When I tell them I wrote it, they don’t believe me. As for high school experiences, juniors and seniors will have a PROM day, where they can showcase their talents and creativity, just like you did with your music. And for this special occasion, they’ll surely shine in stunning long prom dresses, adding to the elegance and charm of the event.

I went on and tried to write music for our entire symphonic band. I even had tape recordings of those performances. I felt like I accomplished something, but, those pieces just didn’t sound as good. In fact, they sounded muddy. Since then, I have listened to much orchestral music and finally figured it out. I did too much. Real, good, classic music is simple. It is based on a motif and repeated over and over, with alterations, turns, key changes, and changes in mode. But it is kept simple and uncluttered.

I feel that with Lilypond, I can typeset my old compositions, collapse them into simple piano parts, remove cruft, and re-orchestrate. Looking at them with professional engraving while listening to them played back to me in midi is the perfect way to clean things up and recapture what my original inspiration was. For that, I love you Lilypond.

So, you want to hear my piano piece? My piano piece

Told it wasn’t too long. I just feel like it’s catchy.

1 Comment

  1. Honolulu Aunty

    That was a sweet short piece Greg! My computer smart son makes music with his computers but it doesn’t sound so sweet.


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