One composer’s journey to Sibelius


Occasionally I receive a great story from a user who wants to share his or her experiences with Sibelius with me. Yesterday I received one such story from composer Peter McAleer, who has been using notation software of one kind or another for the best part of two decades. After the jump is his personal journey to Sibelius.

“It’s 1991 and I’m working on an orchestral composition for my Masters degree. I’m making a fair copy of part of it, using pen and ink, ready for submission to my tutor when, in an evil hour, I copied the wrong bar from my pencil sketch, right at the bottom of a carefully-crafted page. I now had three choices:  first, scream and start again; secondly, give up (after screaming a lot); or thirdly, since I had recently seen a TV feature on notation software, investigate purchasing a computer and just such a package, making all this angst a thing of the past. After some discussion with friends (and a bit of screaming), I decided to get an Apple Mac with Encore and an E-MU Proteus II sound module.

What fun! But after a while I realised Encore was too limiting so, in 1994, I bought Finale. Carried it home from London in a huge box containing three manuals. I got to know this programme pretty well over the next four years or so and, let’s face it, it was pretty good. You could do almost anything you envisaged — with a lot of hard work. But things began to irritate me about it: Scroll View… I was a musician for heaven’s sake, I read music on pages you know, and Finale’s Page View was a joke in those days; I had to keep the manuals by my side, even after years of use, so that I could negotiate some of the more hideously complex dialogs; redrawing was tortured and clumsy-looking — once you exited an editing frame (a single bar in length) the whole page would redraw. Why? Oh, and you had to select the score and choose Update Layout to get the music to respace properly. And so on.

In the meantime I overheard a conversation in a corridor at Goldsmiths College. They were talking about a notation package called Sibelius. Then I saw an article about it in the Guardian. Sibelius 7. It looked beautiful. Somehow I found the Sibelius Software telephone number (maybe from the article). In those days they were based in Cambridge. I rang them and talked to a rather softly-spoken man. I asked if there was any chance that this software was available on Mac yet. He apologised and said I would have to buy an Acorn computer — they did a package, you know. I said I couldn’t afford it and all my other apps were Mac. He (rather unwillingly) conceded it didn’t make sense to buy Acorn. Disappointment all round, then. But I did receive a copy of the Sibelius 7 user manual in the post (I think they used it as a kind of promo tool. I remember thinking “they don’t give up, do they?”).

I’m sad enough to admit to reading that manual cover to cover many times. I also recall trying to mock up Finale to look like Sibelius by tiling a piano score vertically on-screen, in Scroll View, so that I could access more of the score at once in a kind of page view (in Finale Page View, in those days, you could only access one page at a time). It didn’t work, of course.

But… not long after, I had a letter informing me that the Windows version of Sibelius was due for release soon, and that a Mac version was in preparation. I wrote to Sibelius a rather embarrassing love letter — I can’t remember what was in it now, save that I remember saying “Sibelius, COME TO ME!”. Meanwhile I was up to my neck in Finale manuals and print-outs for the new Finale 98: I was working on a the same orchestral score, but it was taking an age with that cumbersome software.

One wonderful day I received a letter from Sibelius informing me that Sibelius 2 for Mac was now available. It was one of the easiest (and best) decisions of my life, and after I’d I installed it, I already knew how to use it: not only because I had read and re-read that delicious manual, but also because it was all so obvious and intuitive, compared with the beast with which I had been doing battle for so long. I could access or select anything on any page without looking first for an appropriate tool. I could copy an paste in less then a second. I could see immediately exactly how my music looked on the page. No surprises: in no time I finished the orchestral piece I had been working on for nearly 10 years. I sent it off to the SPNM (Society for the Promotion of New Music) and was successful. Through the SPNM, and armed with Sibelius, I had a number of professional performances with the Orlando Consort, the BBC Singers, the Goldberg Ensemble and the Endymion Ensemble.

I am pretty certain none of this would have happened without Sibelius. So thanks to Ben and Jonathan and all the Sibelius team for their wonderful creation. I can’t wait for more.”

Thanks for sharing, Pete. Do you have an interesting story about how you first came to use Sibelius? Get in touch!

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