Music and Technology: Review of Sibelius 7.5

Music and Technology: Review of Sibelius 7.5

Screenshot of new Sebelius music software packaging. (From the Avid Sebelius web site.)

WASHINGTON, July 4, 2014 – The Finnish Composer Jean Sibelius was unable to complete his eighth symphony before he died, just short of his 92nd birthday. The Avid music notation software named after him long seemed destined to have concluded its existence at a seventh effort. That is, until the company recently released Sibelius 7.5.

The release of this paid upgrade seems in part a move to reassure Sibelius users that their beloved product has not been lost somewhere in software development limbo. The release boasts several new significant features, though it is impossible to tell which additions emerged from new development versus being holdovers from the previous creative team’s efforts.

Composer Jean Sibelius.
Composer Jean Sibelius in 1913, via Wikipedia. Perhaps Avid’s namesake music software package will complete its 8th revision, whereas the Finnish composer could not complete his 8th Symphony.

The first addition that users will immediately notice is Sibelius’ new navigation tool, which opens towards the bottom of the screen. This window creates a block view of the score — not unlike a midi piano roll — that represents sections and orchestrational chunks rather than individual notes.

Individual elements – such as key signature changes or comment boxes – can be assigned their own colors, enabling further navigational clarity. While this permits quick navigation through a score, it is questionable whether or not the further use of screen space is justified when some quick scanning with the “home” and “end” buttons is comparably efficient.

Many users may ultimately find themselves marveling at the pretty new tool, and then shutting it off in order to get back to being composers.

Perhaps one advantage of the tool may become apparent in a student-teacher setting, where a composition teacher who does not know the score in question as well as another may be aided in quick navigation through that score. The tool also provides a valuable macro display of orchestral density.

The Sibelius 7.5 upgrade provides several new rhythmic tools and options that composers seeking strong mock-ups may find useful. The “Espressivo 2” playback setting is a noticeable improvement on its predecessor, perhaps added as a response to Wallander’s NotePerformer and Finale’s own constantly improving “human” playback features.

Users can also now define performance text which can change the rhythmic execution of passages even on individual lines, enabling certain instruments to play more stylistically in front of or behind the beat.

Another long overdue upgrade in this software allows users to draw a line and have it replicated on all staves, potentially saving a great deal of point and click time in the composition process. One can only hope for many more such “common sense” tools to be added in Sibelius 8.

One of the biggest upgrades in this package permits users to export videos of their scores, a feature that clearly has immense potential educational and promotional value. Users may also export scores for Avid Scorch, the app that allows tablet users to display and playback Sibelius scores.

There were no significant notational or engraving upgrades to Sibelius 7.5, something that stands in stark contrast to that “other” notation program in development, whose blog only seems to speak of an obsession with musical fonts. Furthermore the screen-hogging menus have not been modified into a more sensible format, retaining Sibelius 7’s poor use of valuable screen real estate.

One major disappointment for those using third party sounds involves the mixer interface, which remains the clunky, time-consuming, buggy and less-than-intuitive strip that we have struggled with for several versions now. (The mass channel reset bug is one example.) Avid can only help itself and increase its loyal user base by streamlining and improving what is becoming a central need for many composers today.

Users of Sibelius 7 will ultimately find this rev to be a modest yet potentially valuable upgrade, while users of Sibelius 6 might want to stand pat and see what the implied eighth release may have to offer in the future. With the encouraging release of version 7.5, it seems that Sibelius is still alive. For current users, it has done enough to whet our appetites for what an eighth version may soon bring.


Rating: 2.9 out of 4 stars.

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