Recently, the ITU-standardised specification language Message Sequence Chart has been extended with constructs for more complete and structured specifications. The new version of the language is called MSC'96. Currently, research is performed on the extension of the formal semantics towards a semantics for MSC'96. In this article, we aim at explaining the basic ideas behind the formal semantics. We give formal definitions of parts of the language, but most features are explained by informal examples and drawings. It takes several steps in order to follow the path from an MSC drawing to its formal meaning. First, the drawing must be converted to a concrete textual representation. This conversion is already defined implicitly in Z.120. Next, this syntax is transformed into a formal expression over some process algebra signature. MSC constructs are replaced by appropriate process algebra operators. This transformation is compositional. The operational behaviour of the process algebraic expression can be studied, or the expression can be interpreted into some mathematical model and compared to the interpretation of some other MSC.