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Sibelius on a laptop, without a keypad

Shortly after writing my previous post last year, about using Sibelius on a laptop, I went on a tour with Alondra de la Parra and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas, during which I had to orchestrate a number of songs rapidly, often in tight spaces, such as buses and planes. There was no space to use a keypad (as suggested in the previous post), and the lapdesk was weighing down my bag.

As such, in part by suggestion of Daniel Spreadbury of SibeliusBlog -- I tweaked a solution for working with Sibelius on a MacBook Pro, without extraneous numeric keypads, lapdesks or other accessories except headphones.

This necessitated remapping certain shortcuts into something that works well under one hand, though gratefully the "option" key on the Mac is present on both the left and right.

Here are my modifications - see how they work for you:

Before you read this, please note that I'm using a MacBook Pro with a US English keyboard layout.
Also, this refers to the mapping of the first keypad set, the "common notes" - obviously, it's mirrored on the subsequent keypad sets as well.

Option-1 - Accent
Option-2 - Dot
Option-3 - Tenuto
Option Q - Natural
Option W - Sharp
Option E - Flat
Option A - 1/4 note (crotchet)
Option S - 1/2 note (minim)
Option D - whole note (semibreve)
Option Z - 1/32 note (demisemiquaver)
Option X - 1/16 note (semiquaver)
Option C - 1/8th note (quaver)

Programming such shortcuts necessitated moving other shortcuts around. For example, I had to switch the "Voice 1 / Voice 2 / Voice 3", which would typically be accessed by Option-1/Option-2/Option-3, to Command-Option-1 / Command-Option-2 / Command-Option-3.

In addition to these modifications, here are some other modifications I've made that I find extremely useful in working with full scores:

Option-Command-S -- optimize staff spacing - very useful for full scores and parts alike
Option-Shift-S - select/filter slurs
Option-Shift-D - select/filter dynamics
Option-Shift-R - Rehearsal Mark text (very useful for custom rehearsal marks like "V1", i.e. verse 1)

Hope this works for you - let me know!

As per those arrangements I had to finish on tour, many of them can be seen and heard in this YouTube playlist -- enjoy!


ljova smiling

Sibelius notation on a laptop - a mobile rig solution that works for me

I've been a user of the notation program Sibelius since its very first version, having won a copy of it in a raffle at Juilliard, at least 10 years ago.

In recent times, I spend 5 to 15 hours a day composing or arranging scores in Sibelius, whether it's for one of my film score, a concert piece, or an arrangement. Working in Sibelius has become somewhat of a second nature to me, and notating music in Sibelius is much faster for me than with pen[cil]. (Though, for the record - I still use the Moleskine Music Notebook for sketching.)

I've been using Sibelius on a laptop for several years, and have just recently figured out a really comfortable mobile setup, which makes my relationship with Sibelius a lot more productive, at a cumulative cost of approximately $35. There are two principal items you should consider buying --

1) NUMERIC KEYPAD As many users know, many of Sibelius's principal features are tucked into shortcuts that correspond with the functions of a numeric keypad. While the numeric keypad exists on full computer keyboards, you can rarely find it on a laptop keyboard.

To complicate matters, Sibelius's keypad functions are mapped by default to an 18-key keypad that was popular 10 years ago and is scarcely available today. On their website, Sibelius recommends 3 keypads, two of which are $59. There are, however, a couple of cheaper alternatives that work just as well:

a) If you own an iPod or an iPod Touch, you may want to check out the apps NumberKey and NumPad, both of which give you access to an 18-key keypad. Numpad in particular could be convenient, because it has several screens dedicated to specific Sibelius functions. There are two downsides with both programs -- they work over wifi, which creates a slight but gnawing delay between the time you press a keypad button and it registers on the screen, especially if you're on a public wifi network at a college library, for instance. The other downside is that you have no tactile response - you have to look at the pad to make sure you're pressing the right button.

b) If you don't own an iPod/iPhone, or you simply want a tactile response from your keyboard, then you should consider buying this cheap keypad on Ebay, for $5.95 (which includes shipping). This is my personal favorite - it's extremely thin & light, the buttons have great response, and the cord is retractable. It costs 10% of the keypads Sibelius recommends, and does the same thing. This keypad isn't perfect - you'll have to reprogram the top 3 keys to correspond to Sibelius's commands via the Preferences -> Menus & Shortcuts -- but this takes 2 minutes.

2) PORTABLE LAPDESK: If you're going to use a numeric keypad (or an iThing) to speed notation in Sibelius while on-the-go, then you'll need to grow a third leg -- it takes two to hold a laptop, and another to hold your keypad.

My solution, which I found only recently, is the Logitech Portable Lapdesk N315 -- not only does it hold the laptop, but it has a retractable area specifically for a numeric keypad. It's simple, durable and elegant, and affords me to notate in places where a proper table is lacking.

Here's a picture of my setup in action - notice the cheapo numeric keypad on the right, seated on top of the Logitech Lapdesk.

I hope you find this useful, and of course, would love to hear your thoughts.

thank you & all the best,
check out my music on myspace, soundcloud and bandcamp
follow me on twitter

ljova smiling

i used to blog.. and now i tweet..

Dear Blogosphere,

I used to blog -- never extensively, but when it felt natural, or when I had a good idea for something. It wasn't some promotional idea to "show the up close and personal side of the artist" to spread word of a tour or a new CD, but a way to communicate with old friends & meet new ones. Thinking back, I made lots of lovely friends through blogging, chatting, and other communications, over the past 10-15 years, going back to some really prehistoric times. (Does anyone remember the Renegade BBS times?)

These days, like many folks, especially music folks, I tweet on Twitter, and you can follow me at http://www.twitter.com/ljovadotcom

I was apprehensive about Twitter at first, being as it was such a flighty mode of communication (140 characters?!) -- and I'm sure that my parents, both proud authors of multiple wonderful books, would find it abhorrent. And indeed, it's a bit limited -- but it's (also) a good way to keep up with friends, with the ever increasing sources of information, and with the changing world in general... And besides -- we now have a son!

Who knows, perhaps one day I'll write a book... until then, I hope to write more music than words.

be well!

ljova smiling

stand by your mac

As some of you already know, we're expecting: this week, my wife ordered a new laptop to refresh her aging Dell. In anticipation of this, I evangelized for months -- far more extensively than I've ever raved about any band or film -- that she should get a Mac -- but instead, she ordered a Lenovo, on someone else's recommendation.

Of course, my wife is always right, and who am I to prove her wrong.

But for the rest of you -- can I just point out a few things, in case you're shopping for a new joy in your life?
(Disclaimer: these bullet points below have been written over time, not just for this occasion)

1) The Price -- many people say that Macs are expensive, but in fact, when comparing simply comparing specs, we found that the Lenovo & the MacBook had a price difference of about $100 at the most.

2) Operating system -- anything Vista can do, Mac could do 5 years ago, and more.. Mac can also run Vista, just for fun. Vista runs *faster* on a Mac, according to independent benchmark tests. But most PC users prefer to forget Vista, and run Windows XP, from the Golden Age of Microsoft innovation, the year 2001. But wait -- there's a new system in the works, Windows 7 -- not surprisingly, it steals many of its best features from the Mac.

3) Customer Service -- with no Lenovo retail locations and no genius bars, and probably no US-based tech support, Mac clearly wins. I suppose you can find horror stories about every brand, but having
retail locations worldwide definitely helps me have peace of mind. I haven't had to use them, but I know people who have.

4) Battery life. I guess Lenovo has more flexibility in cell sizes, though I've never really had a problem. Batteries wear out - fact of life. There are Mac airplane adapters, spare batteries, and a whole lot more third party products if you need more than most. The new 17" Macbook pro has a new battery that lasts 8 hours and weighs the same as the old. That's powering a huge 17" screen!

5) Viruses.. Definitely, PC wins this one, due to its lovely popularity..

6) Design? Innovation? Heat Conduction? Aluminum casing vs. plastic? Display quality? Weight? I'd say Mac wins here by a little more than a tad. If you're a Mac-hater, I suggest you think of Mac products as a preview of things to come to the PC, as, inevitably, almost every feature of the Mac -- with the exception of the ever evolving mouse -- is duplicated on the PCs 3 or 4 years later, with far less grace and style.

7) Command prompt.. Well, I don't know what there is in Vista (MSDos?), but we have a Unix backbone.

8) Will the new Windows 7 run on the new Lenovos, when it comes out in a few months? Drivers, shmivers?

9) Speed? Even if you run Windows, you'll be happy to know that Windows runs faster on a Mac.

10) The Celebrity factor. Sure, the Mac attracts a lot of celebs -- including, of course, "That One", a.k.a. our president Barack Obama, and a choice shortlist of others, and not just entertainers, but designers and writers and scientists.

So in conclusion, Lenovo makes a computer that has no innovation behind it, and runs only one, sad OS,
and has no on-the-ground customer service, yet costs the same as a Mac.

Support innovation! Support elegant design! Wow your children, amaze your grandparents, enjoy life, save money and be happy!

Support Mac. It's "change you can believe in" -- or "change you can wait for in 5 years"

Thank you.
ljova smiling

the viola teacher in my life

My dear viola teacher, Samuel Rhodes (pictured here with "America's crabbiest" composer, Milton Babbitt) performed a terrific recital this past evening at Juilliard, to celebrate his 40 years on faculty, and as member of the Juilliard String Quartet. (Mr. Rhodes was not my sole viola teacher - but he was my primary teacher throughout college, and thus far, my last.)

Much great music was on the program, including pieces by Donald Martino, Milton Babbitt (who was in attendance!), Elliott Carter, and Hall Overton, as well as more "popular fare" by Stravinsky and Hindemith. (See Mr. Rhodes's own article in the Juilliard Journal.)

None of the pieces were well known, improvised, or comfortable to perform; indeed, my wife (who graciously accepted my invitation to attend such an evening with curiosity) found them challenging to listen to -- "there's no melody, no rhythm I can grab on to.. it sounds like improvisation.."

And yet, there he was, Mr. Rhodes, tearing into each piece with a fiery and well calculated intensity, along with his partner, Robert McDonald, swinging and jamming, as if this was their own brand of jazz -- angular, concentrated, superbly progressive. If I had closed my eyes, I could make believe that I was not at Juilliard, but at The Stone. Hall Overton's Sonata sounded brilliant on first listen, while the other works still could use more preparation for ultimate enjoyment. I remembered, 10 years ago, attending a masterclass by Babbitt on the viola piece, "Play It Again, Sam", in which he discussed the various structural issues, as well as pointed out where the Golden Section was in the piece, but I've since forgotten.

Mr. Rhodes, in my unbiased opinion, has the sweetest viola sound in the world. His vibrato, typically slower in speed than most of his colleagues, matches perfectly the voice of his instrument. One of my favorite viola moments in recorded history, belongs to him -- listen to this beautiful slide, in the Juilliard Quartet's recording of Schoenberg's Verklaerte Nacht:

I couldn't help but to entertain the idea that this could have been my life. Had I not fallen into performing at weddings, or being exposed to and arranging a wide variety of "world music", or composing for films, or indeed had I not been so much of a self-professed musical hooligan, I would've probably become a classical violist, with a strong mandate for contemporary music. As a student at Juilliard, I loved performing with Joel Sachs's New Juilliard Ensemble, and if I were still in school now, it would've been a dream to learn all of the pieces on Mr. Rhodes's program, especially the Overton Sonata.

But something snapped. I now hesitate to trust a composer who's not willing to trust me to personalize his (or her) work, whether by improvisation or other means; the only exception would probably be Kurtag. "I wish I could go back to college", as they sing in "Avenue Q", and turn back the clock, even if it is for just a week or two in a year, to learn really heavy repertoire, help composers find their sound, expand my palette, and top it off with some fiddle tunes on my 6-string famiola, which begs for a repertoire of its own. Perhaps this is an excellent idea -- indeed, perhaps the rest of the Kontraband would be into this as well. Note to self.

Mr. Rhodes ended his celebratory program with a short encore -- not a csardas or another zinger -- but with the pensive slow movement from Hindemith viola/piano Sonata, Op. 25 No. 4. It was mournful end to a rewarding program. With little doubt, Mr. Rhodes played this piece in memory of his own viola teacher, Walter Trampler, who had premiered the Overton sonata that ended the official program.

40 years with a single quartet, 40 years on faculty, 40 years of students, commissions, repertoire.. what amazing luck, devotion, persistence!

As it was always with Mr. Rhodes, tonight was a night to remember, full of brilliance and an ever-searching imagination.
ljova smiling

Russian Rosh-Hashanah greetings

Шана Това! –– Воистину Това!
Шана товаримся – Шана товарищи!

(Смешно, конечно, слово "товарищи" –– товар.. ищи..)

and for those of you who don't speak nor read Russian -- Shana Tova, comrades! :)
  • Current Music
    Shostakovich Waltzes
ljova smiling


I've got a new name for an old game --- when, in a pop song, the last time the Chorus goes around a step higher -- just call it a ChoRuckus. Or, if you're feeling particularly frustrated, look up the producer's credits on Wikipedia, after you're done spitting on the floor, hopefully out of a guilty conscience.