John Ashton Thomas on using Sibelius to score more than 50 films

John Ashton Thomas in the control room during the recording of the score for Ice Age 2

Composer, orchestrator, arranger and educator John Ashton Thomas has worked on some huge Hollywood hits over the years, arranging or orchestrating for more than 50 films since 2005 – and he has used Sibelius for every one of them. I caught up with John to find out more about his work and the part Sibelius plays in it.

“I’ve been using Sibelius since 2005 when I first orchestrated for a Hollywood film,” he told me. “The score was Robots, composed by John Powell. I learned the software whilst working on this project. I’ve always found Sibelius intuitive, and have found it easy to do things on it that I’ve never done before.”

John started his musical career as a chorister at Exeter Cathedral, and later studied Composition and Piano at Trinity College of Music in London. After graduation, he taught in Liverpool and London–including at both his alma mater, Trinity College, and at the Royal Academy of Music–while keeping up a career as a pianist, and in the early 1990s he began writing music for film and TV.

In 2001, he teamed up with fellow Trinity College alumnus John Powell to work on the music for Rat Race, thus beginning a collaboration that has continued ever since.

“Since 2005 I’ve used Sibelius for every film score I’ve worked on, including Ice Age 2 and 3, Night at the Museum and its sequel, the 2009 3D version of A Christmas Carol, X-Men: First Class and about 50 others,” he told me. “A number of other Hollywood orchestrators I know use Sibelius, and a number have switched to Sibelius in the last few years: they have found it easy to use, and quicker than other notation programmes they’ve used.”

As an orchestrator on a film, preparation of instrumental parts is left to somebody else, but in his work as a composer for Universal’s music library or when writing concert pieces for live performance, he checks over the parts himself prior to printing. “On the occasions that I’ve prepared my own parts for concert pieces, I’ve found that process very quick and straightforward.”

John still does occasional work at Trinity College in London, and he says, “Sibelius seems to be the programme of choice for the next generation of music writers: I have not come across any music students who use any other notation program.”

Check out John’s web site for more information about his work. His latest collaboration with John Powell, Happy Feet Two, is still in cinemas in the UK, and another collaboration, with composer Henry Jackman for Dreamworks Animation’s Puss in Boots, is also still in selected screens.


  1. Connor Helms

    Unfortunately the teachers at my school don’t use sibelius, finale or free programs like lilypond only :/

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