Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sheet Music on the Web: Trends and Trials

Link First, there's a strange "flame war" going on in the musicological discipline--sort of--following this molotov cocktail of an article that used the AMS's year-old resolution against the use of music in torture as a pretense to--ironically? who knows--bemoan the state of music in the academy, and occasionally--ironically? who knows--equating petty intermural politics with torture--ironically? who knows. The resolution itself provoked some fierce debate on blogs and list-servs way back when. The whole thing is rather silly--except that it's not, except that it is--and I took a break from my Finale transcriptions to comment here, if anyone cares to read my two cents.

Speaking of Finale transcriptions...

As I'm in a Music Editing course right now, I'll pass along web notice of some very hip things going on in the Society for Seventeenth Century Music. From their pathbreaking online, refereed scholarly journal for well over a decade, the Society has now turned its sights (OR, WAIT FOR IT..."SITES") to editions. The Web Library of 17th Century Music has amassed a fairly impressive repertoire to date, and these editions are--would you believe it?--supervised by professional scholars and carefully screened, just like a real publishing house. What's more, you've got to love notices like this on a website:

CONDITIONS FOR USERS: Users may download editions, reproduce them for personal use, and perform them in non-profit settings, provided proper acknowledgement is given to both the editor and to the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music. Permission for performance in professional (for profit) settings must be negotiated directly between the performers or their agents and the editor. The editor remains the owner of all rights to the edition.Some works are licensed under a Creative Commons

How many works of obscure seventeenth-century music are ever performed for profit, anyway? The WLSCM fulfills a need for scholars as well. How many credible editions by overlooked (justly or not) composers never see the light of day because of the capital required to launch such a project? Kudos, 17th-Century nerds! If you're interested, check out the Guidelines for Contributors.

Even happier e-news of the music-printing variety: G. Schirmer publishing has launched a nifty new app that is, surprisingly, not being marketed (to the best of my knowledge) as an institutional subscription service: Schirmer on-demand. Downloading a reader, secure scores can be accessed for perusal and printed for a limited number of times. I haven't downloaded the reader yet (because my computer's still in the shop), but received prompt, personal replies from their friendly tech-support folk reminding me to.

Just this morning I received an email update telling me that the following pieces were added to the available scores (which number around 500) :

John Adams

The Chairman Dances

Grand Pianola Music



Shaker Loops

Ernst Bacon

Ford's Theatre: A Few Glimpses of Easter Week, 1865

Samuel Barber

Andromache's Farewell

Antony and Cleopatra, Two Scenes


Commando March

Fadograph of a Yestern Scene

A Hand of Bridge

I Hear an Army

Medea, Ballet Suite

Medea - Cave of the Heart (original ballet)

Must the Winter Come so Soon (from 'Vanessa')


Second Essay for Orchestra

Serenade for String Orchestra

Sure on This Shining Night

Symphony No. 2

Vanessa (vocal score)

Avner Dorman

Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!

Gian Carlo Menotti

The Boy Who Grew Too Fast

A Bride from Pluto

Chip and His Dog

The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi

The Egg

Errand Into the Maze


For the Death of Orpheus

Goya: Suite

The Hero

Introduction, March, and Shepherd's Dance (from 'Amahl and the Night Visitors')

Jacob's Prayer


Landscapes and Remembrances

Lucy's Aria (from 'The Telephone or l'Amour a Trois')

Lullaby (from 'The Consul')

Martin's Lie

Missa O Pulchritudo

Monica's Waltz (from 'The Medium')

The Most Important Man

Muero porque no muero

Oh llama de amor viva

Shepherd's Chorus (from 'Amahl and the Night Visitors')

The Singing Child

William Schuman

Casey at the Bat

The Mighty Casey

Newsreel in Five Shots (for orchestra)


Symphony No. 6

It's always refreshing when a company recognizes how end-users experience their product and sensibly caters to those needs, while protecting their bottom line. By letting conductors, scholars, students, Artistic Directors, and even educated connoisseurs peek in on these rental-only scores, they can more fully become "repertory pieces," they could get performed more often, and I don't that study-score sales ever were brisk for these works. (I'd like to see Ernst Bacon's ranking!)


Although A-R Editions and other specialty music printers count on libraries as revenue streams for high-end critical editions, perhaps a secure-pdf subscription service would be an even greater revenue stream, and one that is in line with academic trends of online-repositories. (To reiterate, Schirmer's service is free, but I think there would be a market for a legit-subscription service.) Music publishing has been under siege ever since the mimeograph machine was invented, and recently there have been some debates (speaking of stale musicology controversies) as to how much free content is too much free content. Works that can be posted securely to course websites, even with restrictions, in compelling and trustworthy editions will be studied more often and more steadily than those that need to be scanned by hand, or are odd ca. 1900 performance editions of the sort on the IMSLP.

On top of all that, my twitter friends all tell me, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos virtually threatens to put music-stand manufacturers out of business. (All the articles I read talked about newspapers being obsolete, but...I have a slightly different perspective.) I wouldn't be surprised if something like a backlit Kindle would catch on in places like pits on Broadway or in expensive opera houses, where capital is more comfortable (in normal years), and where cuts and transpositions often proliferate during the run of a show, in a workshop stage, or with the arrival of a new singer with a different range. Of course, for this to work in operahouses, Ricordi would almost certainly have to get on board, and this doesn't seem like their kind of project. But who would have expected Supertitles 50 years ago?

And could there be a computer program that could count my rests for me? Please?

So, while the age of paper isn't dead--there are some thoughts that can best be had in ink, by hand--someday you'll have to say goodbye to your precious sketch-studies; in thirty years, musicologists will be defragging discarded zip drives, scanning registries, and looking for any stray temporary files of the .mus variety.

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