Hugh John is enthusiastic about the latest revision to a benchmark composition tool
You could say it's been a good year for Sibelius, the music software publisher. Winner of the Queen's Award for Innovation, the company's further development of its highly successful Education Suite and the creation of a dedicated website for music teachers and students are a call for celebration.
And in the summer, Sibelius launched Version 4 of its eponymous score-writing and notation program. Sibelius 4 is unquestionably the most significant revision yet, and many of the new features will have particular resonance for those using it in education. Worksheet Creator, Dynamic Parts and Write Music to Video aren't just great time-saving tools, they are features that bring increased topicality and creativity to an already excellent package.
For example, the addition of Worksheet Creator, which enables teachers to create classroom and homework projects from a huge library of resources, is worth the price of the upgrade alone and should save teachers hours of preparation time.
With more than 1,700 examples that include flashcards, games and posters, teachers can specify whether the work is to be undertaken at the computer, on paper or in performance, or any combination of the three. A series of multiple-choice options ensures that users are rarely more than five clicks away from creating a worksheet that could include material from sources as varied as Serialism, Blues or African drumming. Completed worksheets can then be printed or shared with other teachers and students on the new SibeliusEducation website.
Music to Video is a function that synchronises sound and vision and could do for musicmovie synthesis what Apple's iMovie program did for digital video editing - that is, make a seemingly arcane and technical process easily accessible to students of all ages.
Import a video file into Sibelius and the program will automatically synchronise it to your selected score. Video and score can be displayed together on-screen and are synchronised during playback, fast-forward and rewind functions. There's more; Hit Point is a feature to help composers emphasise important on-screen moments by inserting the appropriate music.
Sibelius 4 includes a number of short video files - Mr Bean and Charlie Chaplin clips among them - for experimentation. More videos will be available on the SibeliusEducation website.
Anyone who scores for groups of musicians will be delighted with Dynamic Parts. Like the Worksheet Creator, this feature will save users huge amounts of time. Where, previously, alterations in the score necessitated wholesale revisions in individual parts, and vice versa, Dynamic Parts ensures changes to the score are instantly updated in the component parts.
Additionally, one can print a complete set of parts with the further option of stipulating the number of copies required for each instrument.
It is now possible to copy and paste from Sibelius directly into Word.
Simply draw a "marquee" around the music to be exported, copy and paste.
Use this facility with Worksheet Creator and work preparation becomes a breeze.
Nor has the Sibelius team forgotten the program's primary function. Version 4 debuts the new engraver-quality Helsinki music font, and there are three fonts for writing Roman numerals.
Ties and beams have also been overhauled with the introduction of an optical system that regularises the position of notes, beams and ties on the page. William Holab, director of publishing at Schott Music, says: "The new optical ties are outstanding, better than any other program."
In fact, given the myriad improvements in the last two editions - the high-quality sound banks from native instruments, the comprehensive range of scales and arpeggios and the burn-to-disk capability were all incorporated in Version 3 - describing Sibelius as a score writing and notation program is as inadequate as calling the Hubble space telescope a magnifying glass.
In the 13 years since its inception, Sibelius has evolved from an innovatory niche application to a comprehensive, multi-featured and powerful music program that - certainly in education - has no competition.