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electronic MUSICIAN

Notation Software

By the EM Staff | January 1, 2000

SIBELIUS SOFTWARE SIBELIUS 1.2

(Mac/Win; $599)

The arrival of a new high-end music notation program is always an exciting event at EM, and the much-anticipated release of Sibelius for Windows created quite a buzz. Now that a Mac version is available, the program's popularity will doubtless spread due in part to the cross-platform compatibility of its files. Web-site developers will be intrigued by the program's ability to integrate musical scores into Web pages for viewing and playback, and everyone will appreciate the program's myriad professional-level features, such as its unlimited Undo with edit history and its unlimited number of staves with up to four voices per staff. What's more, Sibeliu's printed output looks terrific. The program's traditional Opus font appears clean and well spaced at any size, and its "handwritten" Inkpen font is great for jazz arrangements.

But as appealing as these features are, they are not what really sets Sibelius apart from the notation-software crowd. The program's greatest claim to fame is its combination of intelligence and user friendliness. Unlike most of the high-end competition, getting started on a score is a breeze in Sibelius. You can choose one of several score-layout templates or create a new instrumental layout in a matter of seconds. Just choose the instruments from a list, and the software does the rest-automatically arranging the instruments in proper score order with the proper clefs and transpositions. (You can override any of the default settings.)

In just a few minutes you're ready to start entering notes, and here again Sibelius displays its intelligence. The program identifies and properly notates staccato and tenuto performances, and its unique Flexi-time mode offers intelligent real-time MIDI input that follows your tempo changes as you enter the music. Of course, you can also use the computer keyboard or mouse to select and deposit notes into the score.

When it comes time to play back your score, Sibelius shows its smarts yet again. The program automatically assigns General MIDI patches to all of the instruments in a score and responds to a wide range of markings, including dynamics, articulations, tempos, and trills. It even changes patches when it encounters indications for pizz or arco in the string parts.

But this smarty is also friendly. Its "virtual manuscript paper" lets you zoom in or out with ease and move through the score quickly. You can reposition staves, bar lines, notes, and most other elements by dragging with the mouse, and you can even change the color and "texture" of the onscreen manuscript paper. With its appealing combination of beauty and brains, this newcomer was a clear Editors' Choice.

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