Sibelius 7 really is just about the most comprehensive music package imaginable, as it should be at the price.
Not only can it produce a full score, with up to 128 staves per page and parts for all the instruments of the orchestra, it can play them back too. For the ultimate in sound quality and instrumentation, Sibelius will perform, via a 64-channel MIDI connector, through your keyboard or hi-fi system.
If you haven't got this level of sophistication available, then it can manage 8-channel stereo through the computer's own speakers but the difference is so staggering that, once you've heard the MIDI version you'll want to buy the necessary additional gear.
Composing with Sibelius 7 could not be simpler. You can begin with as many staves as you require, adding more later if you wish. Each note you place, using the mouse, is played as you locate it, the bar automatically adjusting its remaining rests to satisfy the selected time signature. Treble, bass and alto clefs can be used, as can the H clef, for untuned percussion.
Perhaps the most impressive attribute of Sibelius 7 is its ability to play the notes on to the stave in "step time", again via the MIDI interface. In other words, you sit at your keyboard and play while the software converts your every note into a properly written and accurately presented score.
Until you get used to it, the speed with which Sibelius redraws the page, as music is entered or played back, can be disconcerting. It is a shame the playback display does not so much scroll as jump, for trying to read the music as you listen is like trying to use binoculars while you have the hiccups.
One of the greatest joys is the ease of transposition. Changing key signatures automatically transposes the selected passage, saving hours of rewriting.
Perhaps the biggest surprise with Sibelius 7 is how simple it is to learn and to begin to use effectively. Within 20 minutes of installation, I had already begun to write the band parts for this year's Christmas production, and within two hours had finished four songs.
A roomful of computers dedicated to Sibelius 7 has been installed by the Royal Academy of Music, whose professor of composition, Paul Patterson, has used it to both compose and perform the title music for the television adaptation of Roald Dahl's Little Red Riding Hood, shown on BBC1 on January 1.
If you listened very carefully, you might have detected the one "real" instrument playing along with the computer, which performed all the other parts. But I doubt it.
* Sibelius - stand 411