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Score Writing: Humor and Wit

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A few weeks ago, I pulled a little book from the Music Section’s reference collection, An Introduction to Music Publishing: A Tour Through the Music Publishing Operations Involved in Transforming the Composer’s Manuscript Into a Printed Publication and Its Dissemination to the Student and the Performer.

The front cover of this book features Beethoven as a portrait, juxtaposed against the image of a music staff that is covered by geometric shapes. Let your mind go wild in imagining this picture, because inside the geometric shapes are note names such as E, F-sharp, and G. The whole staff, along with the Avant-garde mathematical figures, is aligned under the heading, “Includes Articles on Contemporary Music…” Mind you, the book was published in 1981, I found this remark clever, because it was a clear example of the publisher’s intent to illustrate how music publishing has bridged the gap between old and new—Beethoven on the one hand and contemporary composition on the other.

The images and text found in the first few pages of this book are what made me fond of this slight gem.

Scanned image of the article “How Music Publishing Works,” by Carolyn Sachs, artwork by Thomas Pritchett. Copyright © 1981 by C.F. Peters Corporation. All rights reserved. Used by kind permission.

In an article titled, “How Music Publishing Works,” by Carolyn Sachs and artwork by Thomas Pritchett, we are greeted by many witty, comical, drawings of the score writing process.

It begins with The Composer. He is seated with his back towards us in the middle of an open outdoor space in front of a crest of mountains that look like the Swiss Alps. The sun is rising in the shape of an eighth note behind the middle mountain. The composer is working incessantly on a piece of music, as four sheets of paper can be seen scattered about his feet. My thoughts immediately gravitate towards the composer, Gustav Mahler, who gained a lot of his music writing inspiration by taking long walks in the mountains. This comic strip is meant to evoke humor.

Next, the music is sent to the Editorial Department. If you recall the image of the rising sun in the shape of an eighth note in the first drawing, the eighth note is supposed to represent the composer’s composition. In this next drawing, the eighth note sits in the middle of a small square examining table, while a well-dressed business man looks carefully at it through a huge magnifying glass. This is the editing process [laughs].

The music moves along to Engraving, where a stone-age man pounds melodious music note symbols with a homemade sledgehammer onto a rock wall. Then, the music is changed into a paper form through the Printing process. A short man smoking a pipe watches over a printing machine that resembles a steam engine; single eighth notes that seemingly march into the machine come out the other side plastered, immoveable, to one long sheet of paper.

The music moves through four more musing drawings: Rights, where the eighth note sits on a cushioned pillow on top of a small clothed table guarded by two law officials; Promotion, where the eighth note is seen large and centered on a billboard beside a heavily trafficked roadway; Sales and Retail, where the eighth note and many other types of notes—sixteenth notes, quarter notes, half notes—are laid out for display much like those magazines that are found in sidewalk newspaper stands located in big cities; and Order Processing, where five individual eighth notes are sticking out of five corresponding boxes that are waiting to be shipped in the mail and are labeled with the names of different cities like London and Tokyo.

Finally reaching The Student and The Performer, the eighth note happily appears on a score which is placed on the music stand of a baby grand piano. A well-dress student, whose coat tails hang off the piano bench, appears to be happily playing the piano. Just to the left of the student is a man who is holding a copy of the same score, as the little eighth note can also be seen here in his edition. In the summary text that accompanies this image the author writes, “…Music dealers, performing organizations, public and academic libraries, and music educators all work with the publisher to realize the goals that began with the composer’s handwritten manuscript: to bring printed editions of quality to individual musicians—professionals, amateurs and students—and fine music to their audiences.” What a resounding phrase that says so well what we here in the Music Section strive to do every day for you, that is to make music accessible for all those who wish to use it.

Happy reading and happy music making!

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