Sibelius sings with EWQL Symphonic Choirs

by Daniel Spreadbury on January 17, 2011 · 6 comments

in Tutorials

In this guest post by A. Eric Heukeshoven, find out how to make Sibelius 6 sing lyrics during playback using the latest version EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs.

Eric is a member of the music faculty at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, where he teaches composition, arranging, ear training, low brass, organ, and jazz piano. Eric is also an accomplished composer, with recent commissions including new works for choir – including a forthcoming premiere in Rome, Italy – and band. You can take a look at some of Eric’s works on SibeliusMusic.com.

In 1962, John L. Kelly and his associates at Bell Labs recreated the song Daisy Bell (aka A Bicycle Built for Two) using an IBM 704 computer with accompaniment by another pioneer in music technology – Max Matthews.

Visiting the lab that day was Arthur C. Clarke who, a few years later would write 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the climactic scene, astronaut Dave Bowman frantically attempts to shutdown the HAL9000 computer. HAL asks Dave if he would like to hear him sing a song. The song, of course, was Daisy.

I have been using Sibelius since 1998 and have witnessed the evolution of sampled playback going from basic, with standard General MIDI sounds:

to better, through sampled sounds like Sibelius Sounds Choral:

But until recently, vocal playback was limited to basic sounds such as “Ah”, “Oo”, and “Ee”. That all changed when East West Quantum Leap (EWQL) introduced their Symphonic Choirs virtual instrument.

EWQL Symphonic Choirs was the first virtual instrument able to “sing” text based on phonetic input. But the original implementation of the software required two separate programs – Word Builder to interpret the phonemes, and Play to output the sampled sounds. Connecting these two programs to Sibelius was possible, but cumbersome and, to say the least, not at all user-friendly.

With the release of Play version 2.1.1, EWQL has finally incorporated their Word Builder and Play software into a single interface. The result is a VST that integrates quite nicely with Sibelius 6. The following step-by-step guide will demonstrate how to make your copy of Sibelius sing!

For this example, I’ll use an SATB setting of, what else, Daisy. If you have an existing SATB score, open it in Sibelius. If not, go create a new one.

Setting up Word Builder

First, choose Play > Playback Devices, and create a new playback configuration, in which you should activate four instances of the Play VST or Audio Unit:

In the Mixer, assign each instance of Play to your four SATB staves:

Open the Play interface by clicking the little cog icon just to the left of Ch. 1 in your SOPRANO Mixer settings:

Click on the Word Builder button, and then on the Insert menu item when it appears. Next, click on the Browser button to load a set of samples for the soprano voices.

In order for Word Builder to function correctly you must load one of the “Multis” – a set of samples containing all the necessary phonemes for playback. I’ll use the WB (Word Builder) NV (non-vibrato) sample set for this example to keep my CPU and RAM demands under control. Double-click on the Multi of your choice in the rightmost column to load the samples.

Note: Extensive details about the different samples can be found in the The Symphonic Choirs Users’ Manual.

Now it’s time to enter our text into Word Builder. When the multi is loaded, click on the Player button to exit the Browser, and then click on the Word Builder button. You’ll see the Word Builder interface:

Due to the fact that Sibelius keyboard commands are recognized when entering text into Word Builder’s editor, I recommend editing your text in an external program. Since I’m using a Mac, I find TextEdit to be a simple and effective program for this task. Enter your text in the editor of your choice, then select all and copy.

Note: You can type English text and Word Builder will translate into its native “VOTOX” phonetic language.

Return to the text editor in Word Builder, click inside the edit box and paste your text:

Repeat these steps for your alto, tenor and bass staves.

Resetting Word Builder to the first word

Word Builder essentially loops the text you’ve entered. In order to match your playback position in Sibelius with the beginning of your text, you need to insert a single MIDI command before the first note in each of your 4 voices. To do this, I suggest adding a short measure at the beginning of your music:

Using either Expression or Technique text, enter the MIDI message ~C20,127 on each staff (see 4.17 MIDI messages in Help > Documentation > Sibelius 6 Reference for more details).

Have I mentioned saving your document? As always, when dealing with new technology you can never save often enough! By saving your playback configuration, Sibelius will load the correct instances of Play whenever you activate that particular configuration. However, I have also found that exporting your VST data will save you time and trouble since the .FXP file retains not only your selected Multis but your Word Builder text as well. To export your VST data, click on the right “FXP” icon at the top of the Play window:

Ready to sing!

It is not necessary to include the lyric text in your Sibelius file, but it’s fun so I’ve included it in my finished example:

Hearing is believing!

We have indeed come a long way since a computer first sang this tune nearly 50 years ago. Thanks to Sibelius 6’s ability to host VST plug-ins, and the recent release of Play 2.1.1, it is finally possible to realize what has been a dream of mine for many years – making Sibelius sing!

I hope this tutorial will help others as well. Special thanks to Peter Roos at Summer of Love Music in San Francisco for steering me in the right direction when I was starting to wrap my brain around this technology.

Thanks to Eric for contributing this tutorial. If you’d like to submit a tutorial for inclusion on this blog, please get in touch.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Philcox January 19, 2011 at 7:21 AM

Eric, thanks for sharing how to make “Sibelius sing” with Symphonic Choirs. I have been planning to use Symphonic Choirs with Sibelius but have been holding off until a sound set is available (I understand Jonathan Loving will be making one available now that Word Builder has been incorporated into Play). However, your clear guide encourages me to get going even sooner and the results are impressive, especially if you have made no or only a few adjustments to the articulation of words. Technology really can help us do amazing things!

Mike Philcox

Eric Heukeshoven January 20, 2011 at 5:19 AM

The Word Builder audio was made with no adjustments to the default output.

I did normalize the audio to try and keep the level of all 3 examples relatively close.

Ron Ditzler January 26, 2011 at 9:30 PM

Thank you, Erik.

I have Symphonic Choirs coming this week. This will be most helpful.

Peter Roos January 29, 2011 at 9:18 PM

This is a very clear and helpful guide – thanks Eric! I have two more things to add:

1. For the best results (as in: most realistic), it is best to use the ‘votox’ language for lyrics entries in Wordbuilder, rather than English. It takes a while to learn this but the manual has an English / Votox translation and there is a lot of practical advice in the Symphonic Choirs / Wordbuilder subforum of the soundsonline forums.

2. One disadvantage is that Wordbuilder is only able to ‘count from one’, which is to say that if you are working on a section somewhere in the middle of a choral score, Wordbuilder won’t know where that is and the playback / singback won’t be synchronized. Going back to the beginning will avoid that (if the cc20,127 midi messages are entered or Wordbuilder is reset manually) but hearing the same piece over and over again can be quite tedious if, for example, you are tweaking the last 20 seconds of a 5 minute chorale! A practical workaround for this (which I learned today) is to create an ‘auxiliary staff’, with its own instance of Play / Wordbuilder, where you copy the part of the score you are working on. Copy and paste all the notes to that staff and place CC20,127 at the beginning of that section. Once you are satisfied with the result, copy all the text and information from Wordbuilder to the ‘master’ Wordbuilder track, delete the notes on the temporary staff, and move to the next part.

Fred Abbingh January 30, 2011 at 12:20 PM

Thanks Eric, this is very helpful.
Getting a computer to sing has always fascinated me.
One thing I’m wondering about, as many audio examples on EWQL website are homophonic, as is your example: is it possible to create true polyphony? Can the different voices sing the sillables at different moments?

Hugh Cain December 6, 2013 at 10:08 AM

I have written a piece … “Solovki” … which utilizes Orchestra and Choir. Would like to hear it rendered in full … with a choir singing the vocal parts. Because of all of the negative reviews online regarding the difficulty using EWQL, I am hesitant to spend the money to purchase the application. I use a two year old iMac w 32 gigs of ram and above average graphical software. Where can I go to hear a convincing audio file using this product? and would my system become a nightmare of bogdownedness? or would it indeed fly?
Hugh

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