Thank you, Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014)

Peter Sculthorpe was my teacher, mentor and friend since I started learning with him in 1987. In addition he is without doubt one of the most original and unique composers that Australia has ever had. The following is the text of a speech given at him memorial service at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, 29 October 2014.

Just like so many attendees here tonight, I got to know Peter via being a student at the Music Department at the University of Sydney. As a young high school student I took the leap into the risky unknown – taking a music degree rather than computer science in my case – and when deciding where to go, the achievements of Peter Sculthorpe, combined with the reputation of the University of Sydney, made the choice pretty clear.

I imagine that this progression into the world of music was pretty typical for the majority of my fellow students who studied with Peter.

And I’m sure that for this majority, their time with Peter similarly changed their life, for the better.

As a teacher, Peter was so much more than a ‘do this, do that’, technical sort of person. He wasn’t shy to give advice and suggestions when needed, but much of the time, lessons with Peter were wide-ranging discussions on an immense variety of topics, on everything from music and culture, to Australian and international society, through to the workings of his brother’s gun shop.

What Peter was really doing for us in our interactions was setting up a framework. He was setting out for us what it was like to be a composer, not just thinking about the notes on the page. It was the framework of responsibility that we had as budding and emerging artists to Australian, and artistic, cultures.

It may seem self-evident in retrospect, but Peter was showing us that, just like almost everything in life, when it comes to writing music, having both a brain AND a heart is the most important thing. It is about being honest and true to oneself. It is about demonstrating respect and a desire to understand the work of others, even if it comes from places or approaches that initially seemed strange. It is inherently about recognizing honesty.

Back in the 80s and 90s, we need to remember that this was a somewhat radical response. My own recollections at the time were that continuing the latest musical trends from Europe, for example, were what was important, and anything else was old hat, or not worth consideration.

Peter’s desire was not for us to blindly follow trends or aesthetics, but instead to find what was in ourselves. To find our own unique voice, and to develop our skills to allow this uniqueness to flourish and find our own place in the world.

Don’t just do something because it’s trendy, or the ‘done thing’ – do everything because it’s important to you, because it comes from your heart, find your own way.

What an important lesson this was. It is THE most important lesson of all.

I know I wasn’t alone in receiving such generous and optimistic advice from Peter. How do I know this? Well, it’s all around us.

Australian music now, I believe, in a better place than ever before. Certainly the standard of works by Australian composers is consistently outstanding. Australian performers play increasing amounts of Australian music. OUR music. Audiences, both in Australia and internationally, are responding to Australian music. It is intrinsically linked to an increased sense of self-confidence about our unique place in the world: that, musically at least, we are not an outpost of Old Europe or a little cousin to the USA – unless we want to be.

Peter is intrinsic to this. Not just through the music, but in his influence, his foresight, his generosity and wisdom that has been taken up by so many with whom he came into contact. For example, arts organizations like the Australia Council, ABC Classic FM, the symphony orchestras and Musica Viva Australia all bear marks of his indelible influence, even if he wasn’t immediately associated with them – because of his vast range of students and Peter’s philosophy.

And not just organizations associated with Western classical music. When discussing my interest in electronic dance music with Peter, he was really excited and talked about how he would love to make a techno piece one day. What a surprise! But not really. As Peter said, there is room enough for all of us in Australia, and for a generosity of spirit and approach.

Can we imagine a successful musical Australia without that which Peter Sculthorpe brought to it? No, it’s pretty much inconceivable – it would be just so different.

Peter was indeed a musical giant – not just through his own music, but on the effects he had upon others. It will continue to resonate into the future. On behalf of all your past students, Peter, and all of those Australian composers still to come, I salute you.

Photo of Peter and I, ca. 2008, by Adrienne Sach.

Photo of Peter and I, ca. 2008, by Adrienne Sach.

Changing from Finale to Sibelius – initial thoughts

My publishers, Faber Music, have long been saying to me they can offer a better service if I use Sibelius rather than Finale for my music notation software (they are very long-standing Sibelius users).

With the release of Sibelius 7, it seems that Sibelius are really making an effort to include features to woo long-standing Finale users.

I’ve been using Finale since 1991 – older than some of my composition students – so making such a change is obviously a big deal. It feels like leaving a marriage.

The great news to report is that the ‘mistress’ about whom everyone has been raving for so long is indeed extremely capable in a whole range of areas.

Caveat: I have only used Sibelius to write short scores at the present time. I’m still a bit of a newbie with it, and have not used it to do orchestrations, to produce parts, to do anything approaching a graphic or aleatoric score (yet). I’ve not even really done much with layout yet, either.

Strengths:

The R key – R means Repeat in Sibelius. Now I understand why many of my Sibelius-using students use ostinatos much of the time! It’s really, really useful and a great composition tool for music like mine. This is an enormous time-saver.

Video: Using the R key

Option-click – for copying anything. Extremely useful. Update: most of the time it copies things very well. Things like slurs – not always)

Number keys for adding intervals up/down – once you get used to using this, it can make adding material a very quick process. I know that Finale’s Simple Entry has this feature but I have always been a Speedy Entry guy.

Tech support – Sibelius have Daniel Spreadbury employed to give answers and feedback directly to users. This has been invaluable to me. I have regularly sent across questions on the interface and technical level, and they are answered very promptly. Some things I have wondered about being bugs have actually been features.

The Ribbon – apparently Sibelius 6 and earlier users don’t like it (according to the support forums) but I find it incredibly, incredibly useful. Previous versions of Sibelius have been very opaque and un-user-friendly to me. Now I can see so much of what’s possible and it’s very accessible, quickly. I have a 27″ screen which means that not too much screen real estate is lost.

The ribbon changes depending on what you have selected in the upper text section.

Panorama view – equating to Scroll View in Finale, but more smooth to move around, somehow. Having this separates the composition process from the layout process. I am hoping when doing orchestrations that I can ‘lock’ Panorama to horizontal or vertical movement only. We will see.

Pitch before rhythms – AT LAST, this is the missing link for any user used to Speedy Entry on Finale. To me, adding pitch before rhythms is more like what happens with pen and paper: we go to the position on the staff and then draw the rhythm on there. Not just that, but the keypad diagram changes to accommodate the Finale-centric layout I have been used to. Brilliant!

Comments – this feature is AMAZING: either when working as a composer or as a teacher with students. It’s so easy to add a sticky note to a section of the score. Seriously useful. I wonder what I did without it.

Text expressions and lines – particularly on the new Ribbon layout, they are easy to find and use. For example, a boxed text expression is so simple and adjusts automatically, as it should. Not only that, but Sibelius puts the expressions you’ve used at the top of the ribbon pull-out so they’re really easily accessible. Fantastic.

Time signature entry – this has been revamped in Sibelius 7 from the previous versions. It’s extremely easy to use and extremely powerful to boot, facilitating different types of beaming etc etc etc. Actually, it seems quite like something I suggested to Finale about 2-3 years ago… interesting…

Video: Using the Time Signature Tool

Actually, you will note in the above video that there are two 4/4 time signatures – the second one is unnecessary. I wish that this were more difficult to achieve as my students do this pretty regularly.

Quarter tone, percussion symbols, 20C notation – much more support out of the box in Sibelius, and much easier to find.

A very impressive list of symbols included in Sibelius


Weaknesses:

It seems rather difficult to copy passages with their time signatures. When copying entire sections, the time signatures aren’t copied. I gather there is a plugin for that but have not explored that as yet. Update: this is actually possible with a special selection keystroke – there are four selection paradigms in Sibelius.

I’ve found it difficult at times to add natural signs to notes. I wish a keystroke for natural was with the note values and #/b on the main keypad-thingy, on the currently-empty * keys. Update: this is only the case on the new Finale keyboard layout.

Why not include a natural sign here?

Tenutos are WEIRD and hard to find for such a common symbol. Update: again, this is only a problem with the Finale keypad layout. I would have thought they would be on the keypad. They don’t seem to follow the noteheads, unlike accents and staccato signs.

Setting up multi-instrument percussion staves, including playback – I just can’t work it out. I know it’s difficult in general given the complexity of the situation, but I’m going to have to pay someone to do it because it’s just beyond me. Update: apparently this video shows how to do it.

Copying of tuplets – this is a problem. If you have, for example, a quintuplet set of quavers, in the first two beats of a bar, it’s not possible to copy them to the second half of the bar without a lot of work-arounds.

After option-clicking in the second half of the bar, Sibelius gives the message as above.

Further to tuplets – if you have material in a bar, and then state you want the first note to be a tuplet, Sibelius erases the subsequent material underneath what would be the tuplet. Why can’t it just convert the subsequent material?

I wanted to convert the 3 crotchets into a tuplet, but you can see what the result was.

What I am missing:

Inserting material within a bar – because Sibelius seems to work on a beat-based paradigm, it doesn’t seem easily possible to insert material within a bar, and have the rest of it move over. Maybe I’m missing something though – this would seem to be an obvious thing.

Chromatic transposition using the up-down arrow keys – currently it seems to be diatonic, which is great, but it would be excellent to press shift, for example, and have it do chromatic transposition instead. Update: use Shift-PgUp and Shift-PgDn to transpose chromatically rather than diatonically.

Human Playback – Finale’s playback quality is superior. I wouldn’t have thought this would matter, but it does. Once you get used to a more ‘musical’ interpretation of phrasing and so forth, it’s difficult to return.

The depth and scope of Finale’s plugins, especially TGTools, Robert Patterson’s plugins and Jari Williamson’s plugins. These were the ‘missing link’ in Finale, taking its capabilities up to the next level. I often had 5 of these open at once, they were so useful.

In conclusion:

To be honest, I probably would have stayed with Finale if it hadn’t been for my publisher and what they could offer me. Finale remains a very powerful choice for music notation.

However, in hindsight, the transition has been reasonably painless and I’ve been enjoying composing using Sibelius 7. It’s really quite something.

Violin fingering reference for composers

Here is a document I have created that lists the notes on each string. It is intended to help young composers writing for violin to work out which chords etc. are possible. It is a violin fingering guide.

Click on the image to download the PDF.

There is a good article on harmonics with a useful table at:

http://www.musicalobservations.com/publications/harmonics.html