Speaking at MOLA’s 2011 Conference

Henry Wood Hall in London, venue for the 2011 MOLA Conference

This past weekend I had the privilege of delivering a session on Sibelius to the delegates of the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association’s 2011 Conference, which was held at Henry Wood Hall in south London. Attended not only by the librarians of the world’s top professional orchestras, ballet companies and opera houses, but also by music publishers large and small and other people working in the field of world-class performing groups, it was an august gathering before which to speak.

Many of the delegates at the conference were already familiar with Sibelius, and indeed use it professionally to produce the scores and parts for world premières or revivals of existing works, while others were more familiar with other music notation software, and some were not familiar with notation software at all. As such, my session began with the very fundamentals of using Sibelius, showing how easy it is to get started with a new score and perform basic operations, including note input, adding text and other markings.

After the session, one delegate approached me and told me that this introductory section showed how much easier Sibelius is to learn than the software he was already using: because he is not called upon to use notation software every day, whenever he picks up his existing software, it takes him hours to figure out how to get back up to that basic level of comfort with the software. He told me that he was inspired to try Sibelius, since it appeared that regaining that basic level of comfort with Sibelius after a few days or weeks away would be more or less instant. (No prizes for guessing which other notation software this gentleman was already using.)

For a similar kind of introduction to the basics of using Sibelius, try James Humberstone’s amazing Learn Sibelius in One Hour videos.

Having introduced the basics, I showed the delegates how to use PhotoScore Ultimate to input music even more quickly. Working with a Breitkopf & Härtel edition of Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue K546 for string quartet, I showed how easy it is to find and fix errors using PhotoScore’s very handy Bad Timing Navigator window, then send the music to Sibelius for final layout and formatting.

For the kinds of layout hints and tips I gave to the delegates, try this tutorial (apologies that the embedded video is not currently available — I will re-make it soon) and this handy guide to page and staff margins.

Several delegates told me that they had tried PhotoScore in years past and found that its level of accuracy wasn’t high enough for working with it to actually save time over simply re-inputting the music from scratch. My session convinced them to give it another try, and rightly so: with a good quality printed original, PhotoScore really is very accurate, and can save substantial time over re-entering the music by hand. As an aside, one of the publishers exhibiting at the conference, Scores Reformed, rely on PhotoScore to help them build their library of repertoire quickly and efficiently. For them, PhotoScore is an absolute godsend, allowing them to complete the basic note entry of opera arias and symphonic movements in the space of a few hours. If you haven’t tried PhotoScore for a few years, you should definitely revisit it now.

Finally, I demonstrated how MusicXML can be used to bring music from other applications into Sibelius. Taking my favourite Beethoven symphony movement (Symphony no. 7, movt. 2) as the source score, I imported it from another notation program via MusicXML, and then showed how a few simple tweaks to the layout and formatting can get the score looking good very quickly.

I then demonstrated how to create separate dynamic parts for two players who are shown on the same staff in the full score. Sibelius isn’t (yet) able to do this fully automatically, so there is a bit of manual labour involved, but you retain many of the advantages of dynamic parts using the best available method, which is, in summary:

  • Create an extra staff in the full score for each player
  • Copy and paste the music from the combined staff to each new staff
  • Use Edit > Filter > Player 1 (For Deletion) and Player 2 (For Deletion) to remove the music belonging to one player from each of the two separate staves
  • Triple-click each new staff and choose Edit > Hide or Show > Show in Parts to hide the music in the score but leave it visible in the parts
  • Now, with them still selected, hide the new separate staves in the full score using Layout > Hide Empty Staves

The disadvantages of this technique are obvious — the music in the separate parts is not dynamically linked to the combined staff in the full score — but it retains many of the advantages of dynamic parts: you still have only one file with all of the parts contained within it, and large scale edits (such as adding, removing bars, changing bar numbering, key and time signature etc.) will all still automatically be applied to the new parts. Using Panorama together with Focus on Staves to review the combined staff and the two separate staves before printing can be a quick way to check that no errors have crept in during editing.

For the rest of the day, I was kept very busy with folks coming to ask me all sorts of interesting questions about Sibelius, and telling me how much they had enjoyed the presentation. It was a pleasure to be asked to attend the conference, and I hope to be able to attend further such similar conferences in future. Thank you to the organisers of the conference for having me!

As a final note: MOLA maintain a set of guidelines for the preparation of score and parts, based on recommendations from players and administrators of the world’s top ensembles. If you’ve never read them, it’s definitely worth checking them out.


  1. Adrian

    “I then demonstrated how to create separate dynamic parts for two players who are shown on the same staff in the full score. Sibelius isn’t (yet) able to do this fully automatically…”

    As an arranger for a professional music organization (one whose librarian was present at the conference), I really do hope this is in store in 7. I get around it by initially creating two separate parts and then using a reduction plug-in on another staff for the score. This will help stem of using the Focus on Staves option in order print a score for the same file as well.

  2. Wheat Williams

    The MOLA guidelines PDF has good information, but the pages are out of order! The PDF is “imposed” to print out an 8-page booklet by printing out two pages double-sided and folding them in half.

    Page One in the PDF is actually pages 8 and 1 in the booklet.
    Page Two is actually pages 2 and 7.
    Page Three is actually pages 6 and 3. (and the body of the text starts on page 3)
    Page Four is actually pages 4 and 5.

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