So what are Sibelius’s strengths?

Opinion

I very much enjoy reading the weekly articles from Film Music Magazine (now in tasty, bite-sized bloggy pieces rather than a lumpen PDF monolith), particularly those by Ron Hess, who writes entertaining and informative articles about the practical considerations of being an arranger and copyist in the world of commercial music, writing for film and TV. Recently he wrote a very even-handed article about the relative merits of Sibelius and Finale — well, not entirely even-handed: he says it’s like the college football upstarts (Sibelius as the San Diego Aztecs) taking on a grand old team (Finale as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish) and just coming up short. I don’t mind this metaphor in itself, except that he says the Aztecs end up losing!

But is Sibelius really still an upstart? Perhaps it’s an image that we cultivated to begin with: certainly we wanted to position Sibelius as the new kid on the block, snapping at the heels of the sleepy incumbent. But that was 10 years ago, and Sibelius has matured tremendously since then. Nowadays there are very few areas in which Finale is indisputably superior (including slurs, the resize tool, and text handling), many areas where the two programs are very evenly matched, and some areas where Sibelius is clearly superior. And you can be sure that we are looking at those areas in which Finale still has the edge over Sibelius and working out how we can change that, while continuing to balance those “catch-up” areas with new developments that cement our position as the innovators in this market.

Ron says that competition between Finale and Sibelius is good for end users (yay, free market!):

If it weren’t for Sibelius, Finale wouldn’t have interactive score and part views within one file and, without Finale pointing the way, Sibelius wouldn’t have a scroll view giving more practical access to just the material desired.

I won’t disagree on the dynamic parts front, but in fact Sibelius 7 for the Acorn had “scroll view” (known as “galley view” in those days) right from the start: it just took us a while to find a satisfactory way to implement it in Sibelius for Windows and Mac.

By the way, do I detect a slip of the sub-editor’s red pen in this paragraph?

…its structure holds somewhat greater potential for my personal holy grail of a completely touch-typed score, a boon for both the visually-impaired as well as anyone who truly thirsts for speed and efficiency. However, the company’s history does not make me confident that it has the vision to pull it off anytime soon. Part of its power comes from placing graphic symbols by hanging them on notes (not just by absolute spacing within the bar,) which often requires the use of the old invisible “dummy note” routine.

Typically this last sentence would be more customarily associated with Finale, not with Sibelius. In Sibelius, for example, you can attach things like chord symbols anywhere, whether or not there are notes in the bar; but in Finale, if you want chord changes over bars where there are no notes, you have to insert hidden notes in another layer for them to attach to. So I suspect that somehow Ron’s original meaning got a little lost here.

But wind back a moment and consider Ron’s personal holy grail: a completely touch-typed score, meaning a score that required no editing, no tweaking, no layout changes once all of the notes, markings and text had been input. Funnily enough that’s also pretty much our holy grail, and it’s something that I very much hope we’ll make happen some day — without, of course, limiting the user’s power to change every single detail of that score, should he or she want to.

So I agree with Ron’s assessment about Sibelius’s strengths. To paraphrase: it’s simple to learn; it’s designed to make some decisions for the composer or copyist to prevent him having to make them; its output looks great right out of the box; it has realistic playback; and it’s the best thing ever to have happened to Finale.

Somebody tell me, though: in Ron’s final metaphor, which one is Superman, and which one is Batman?

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