Monthly Archives: June 2011

New IMSLP Music Typesetting Guidelines

Grandados - Goyescas

IMSLP has developed a set of minimum quality guidelines for newly typeset works posted to IMSLP.

Why bother? There are plenty of manuscript editions on IMSLP that make for very bad reading, and there are also some scans that are difficult to read. The answer is that while IMSLP acknowledges that there are scores on the site that are not usable in rehearsal or performance, those scores may have a particular musicological value, or they may be the only score in existence for a given work. The manuscripts in particular have a very valuable place in the collection, especially autograph manuscripts from which one gleans the composer’s original intentions. First editions have similar high musicological value.

Ideally, IMSLP aims to have a combination of musicologically valuable editions, even if they are not very usable in rehearsals or performances, combined with high-quality modern typesets that make rehearsals and performances easy – in other words, we want the best of both worlds.

Any professional musician can tell many stories about their worst-nightmare rehearsals and performances with badly copied music. Unfortunately, in some cases, the lack of alternative editions makes it necessary to use bad music regardless of the problems. I will give three examples.

My first example was a near-disaster in a concert. It was a work where the composer had typeset the two separate movements in separate files. When he printed, there were two page 1s, two page 2s, etc. On the day of the concert we had a sound check, after which the second violinist left her music on a table while we took a small break. While she was out, an enthusiastic student decided to look at the music. He must have shuffled things around, because we got on stage with the second violin pages in the wrong order. Luckily, the violinist saw that something was not quite right before we started playing, but there was a lot of embarrassment trying to find the page 2 that started with the correct consecutive bar number for the page 1 from the same movement – all of this in front of the audience, and in the end there was still one page that was not in the right order. Needless to say, it was not exactly a note-perfect performance, which was really unfortunate, since I really think it was a good piece.

I can understand that the composer was working under deadline. I also know that getting a file to print with a first page number that is not “1” can be a very obscure thing to figure out how to do. I had a graduate student spend hours trying to get her multiple-file thesis to do exactly that. In the case of my concert, it ended with less than acceptable results. And although the violinist perhaps should have bound the music, there were also page turn issues that made the binding a bit impractical. She did say she will never leave music lying around again.

My first suggestion to typesetters is to keep notes on all the unusual things that you will not need often, but cannot afford to spend hours looking for each time. I have a document I keep on my laptop that is a list of exactly those things. It might take a long time to find a solution the first time, but after that I know where to go quickly if I cannot remember how to do something.

My second example also involved a contemporary work, but the sponsor would not pay for more than two rehearsals, and we had three works to perform. One of the works was rhythmically complex, in 12/8 metre. The composer had written the simplest rhythms for him to enter into the computer, but they obscured the pulses, for example minims instead of a dotted crotchet tied to a quaver. At the beginning of a bar, it is relatively easy to work out that the next note is 1/3 of the way through the beat. But further along in the bar, the problem compounds itself, and all the musicians at various places in the piece had to think “is the next note 1/3 or 2/3 of the way through the beat?”

That kind of hesitation while a musician calculates something is fatal, especially at fast tempos. Needless to say, the rehearsals and concert were torturous. At one point, the first violinist was banging her bow on the stand, complaining about an effective syncopation that was not written like one. She also kept exclaiming “Mein Gott!” The composer, who had been asked not to attend the first rehearsal, insisted on being there while we waded through all of this for the first time. And if he was unhappy with the first rehearsal, he was even more unhappy with the performance.

I do not have much sympathy. It is fairly easy to work out that three hours * two rehearsals = six hours of rehearsals / three works = two hours rehearsal per work (less if you consider that his was not the longest work on the programme).

For performing musicians, the solution we want is for you to give us visual anchors that match the aural ones. Our attitude is simple; the audience cannot tell whether we are playing a minim or a dotted crotchet tied to a quaver anyway. They hear the equivalent of four quavers no matter what we are looking at, so just give us the version that makes the music easy to put together. We do not really care if it takes you more time to put in two notes with a tie. It is your work, and your performance, so if you want it to be good, take the extra time.

I do have to mention one exception to this – sometimes music involves things that are meant to be “off the pulse” and they need to visually look like that. Many years ago, a colleague of mine decided to re-write Mozart’s G minor symphony. His attitude was that musicians do not emphasize things that are not on barlines (to start with, this is condescending), so he wanted phrases starting part way through bars changed so they started on barlines. Solution? Throw in a 2/4 or 3/4 bar, re-bar the next section, and throw in the equivalent at the end of the section to get back to where things were. (I have a musicological problem with that anyway – an upbeat is frequently not supposed to be emphasized – the main stress for many of this type of phrase would be on the barline note anyway, but musicological arguments are not the point here.)

It was an out of town concert with a rehearsal in the afternoon. There was an uproar in the rehearsal, much indignation, and a general lack of ability to read something we had been reading for many years another way. Notes we knew as upbeats were now downbeats. The only person who had a mistake-free rehearsal was the ancient, nearly-blind principal flautist who simply shut the music and played from memory. In between the rehearsal and concert, someone made the manager drive back to pick up the “real” parts. Problem solved, and as one musician put it: “Don’t mess with Mozart.” (He was not that polite.)

The moral of this story is that if a piece has been around long enough to be relatively well known, musicians will hear it they way they have been seeing it for years. Changing the barring is visually jarring, and off-putting in the extreme. (And of course, if it is a new piece and you want the first few notes of a phrase to lead into a stressed note, then they probably need to be ahead of a barline anyway.)

Actually, though, the top of my story list happened many times. It would be any number of performances of Russian music – Shostakovich and Prokofiev to name two composers, with the infamous Russian manuscript parts. Many of the fast passages had leger lines that were not lined up properly, resulting in 3rd-leger-line Es that were higher visually than 4th-leger-line Gs. Try reading that in semiquavers at 144 to the crotchet!

Since those were old hand-copied parts, one would think everything would be solved with modern computer typesetting programs. Certainly the leger lines are all neatly lined up. So why is it that some modern typesets are just as bad, if not worse, than sloppily handwritten manuscript?

The reason is that computer typesetting does not automatically solve all problems. In fact, to get the best out of your typesetting program, you still have to proofread, and do quite a number of things manually. You have to spend time learning more than the basics, and you definitely cannot rely solely on midi dumps (which recognize rhythms and notes from a sound file) or recognition software (using scanned music).

Producing good typesets

There are two aspects to producing a good typeset: one is learning what constitutes good notation, and the other is learning the finer points of whatever music notation package you use, so that you can do the more complicated typesetting.

The guidelines are posted here, along with a list of some good resources, but in order to understand the seeming pickiness of the guidelines, it might help to understand what sorts of problems badly typeset music cause for the performing musician. Inaccurate notes are by far not the only problem. Herewith (and helped by forum members who also have problems with bad typesets) my litany:

  • The general size of staves and noteheads needs to be large enough to read easily, but not so large as to waste space, thereby adding to the page turn problems. Harp players cannot bend very far forward to read tiny notes, but if they bring the stand close, they will bang their left hand on it when they reach for low notes.
  • Any elements (accidentals, dynamics, etc.) that collide with each other on the page cause misreading. If one item obscures another, neither can be read quickly or accurately.
  • Staves that are not adequately spaced can cause collisions of high and low notes, or dynamics, between the staves. Again, if one item obscures another, neither can be read quickly or accurately. Spacing that is too wide can waste space and add page turn problems.
  • Rhythms that are not visually spaced proportionally to those rhythms can cause musicians to misread. The faster the tempo, the more likely they will make mistakes.
  • Parts without adequate rests at the page turns can cause missed entries, especially for instruments that are “one-on-a-part” (for example, woodwinds, brass, percussion, harp). Even string players might have page turns where it is not a good idea to lose half the section sound because players on the inner desks have stopped playing to turn the page.
  • Badly planned repeats cause extra page turns, especially backward page turns.
  • Musicians do know that accidentals revert to the key signature after the bar line, but there is a reason for courtesy accidentals – we frequently have a fraction of a second to make a decision, and hesitating to double-check something causes stumbles and mistakes. If you want an accurate reading, give us the courtesy accidentals. Typesetting programs do not automatically do this, especially if the music is entered by playing it in. These must be added manually.
  • Using incorrect symbols can cause hesitation, for example using tildes (“~ ~ ~ ~ ~”) instead of the traditional trill squiggle. And the midi-dump equivalent of a trill is a measured set of fast notes that not only is not really a trill, it takes up way too much space on the page and makes it difficult to see at a glance how long the trill is.
  • Repetitive patterns – it is easy to get lost in these if the typesetter has not used the correct symbols to signify the repetitions, or indicated how many times the pattern repeats. If your players are thinking “was that the 7th or 8th repetition?” you are asking for the next phrase to be in the wrong place.
  • Similar to the previous item, leaving many bars of rest as individual bars wastes paper, gives us bad page turns, and it is also very easy to get lost in them. If a musician gets lost in these, the next entry will be wrong. Group multiple-bar rests in the traditional way – according to phrases, e.g. –4– –8– –12–, where each of those groups is an audible phrase.
  • Musicians with many bars rest need adequate cues toward the end of the rests, or they cannot find their entry.
  • Badly chosen cues can cause missed entries. I was once given a viola cue in a loud passage. I have no idea how the copyist thought I would hear it!
  • Unlabelled cues can also cause missed entries.
  • Elements that should not be full size (cues and grace notes or other ornaments) can cause misreading if they are full size. A musician might actually play a cue if it is the same size as the notes he is supposed to play, and grace notes that are too large cause the base rhythm of the bar to look like it has too many beats.
  • Unclear articulations can cause tripping. Even if they do not cause an actual misreading of notes, you still want musicians to do your choice of articulation, not theirs. Slurs that start or stop in between notes are the biggest culprit here. Be clear as to where a slur starts and stops.
  • Clef changes that are in the middle of a run, or some other awkward place, can cause wrong notes. However, it can be impossible to write a very long run without either leger lines or a clef change, and many performing musicians would choose leger lines over a clef change in this case. If you absolutely have to change clef in the middle of a passage, at least do not put it in front of a note with an accidental. Choose a diatonic note that is at the beginning of a beat, and preferably at an octave or some other landmark place within the run.
  • With all clef changes, check the part extraction, because in some cases, the computer program puts the part entirely in the first clef you chose, with no changes afterward. Proofreading is essential, and you might have to change clefs manually in the parts.
  • Pages that are not numbered can cause confusion if they are loose and unbound. If you are saving separate movements as separate files, make sure movement 2 is consecutively numbered after the last page number of movement 1, otherwise you will have multiple page 1s, page 2s, etc.
  • Elements from a score that are printed once at the top of the score should, but do not always, come through to individual parts in an automated part extraction. This and many other things can be checked by simple proofreading, but you can imagine what happens in rehearsal when some parts have a tempo change and others do not . . .
  • From time to time, we have all had “with” indications without the “without” indications. For example, violinists who are still using mutes when everyone else has changed to fortissimo, or seeing that they were supposed to take a mute off that they never had on in the first place. The same applies to pianists who cannot work out where the composer intended to stop the una corda pedal. Brass and woodwind players really do not like keeping their necks in strained positions longer than absolutely necessary for a schalltrichter auf passage. The same applies to solo or soli passages that need to go back to tutti. All of these indications need to be clearly marked. Conductors do not like wasting rehearsal time trying to figure out what you intended.
  • None of the following instruments – horn, trumpet, or instruments in the clarinet and saxophone families – read their parts in concert pitch, and while there are some historical parts for clarinet, horn, and trumpet in C, those musicians would have been playing instruments pitched in C, not modern instruments pitched in B-flat, F, or E-flat. Traditionally, a score has these instruments written in the pitch they read, not in concert pitch, and professionally trained conductors know how to read them. Some modern scores put everything in concert pitch, which helps conductors who have not had this training. However, regardless of which system your score uses, the part extraction needs to be in the pitch those instruments read. It is never acceptable to make a saxophonist read concert pitch, and you are asking for bucketfuls of note mistakes if you do not transpose the part for him. The common transpositions are B-flat or A for clarinet (though A clarinet is never used in wind band settings), B-flat for trumpet, and F for horn. Use them.
  • Computer automated transpositions can cause misreading. We all know that everyone should be able to read 7 sharps, but if there is less likelihood of mistakes with 5 flats, then use that instead. Concert B major, for a clarinetist playing a B-flat instrument should be D-flat major, not C-sharp major. This has to be done manually, by making the key signature on that line independent, and manually changing the key to D-flat.
  • Parts with no bar numbers or rehearsal numbers/letters are very difficult to rehearse from, and this problem expands radically with the length of the piece – who wants to count to bar 200?
  • (This is a personal bugbear that not everyone might agree with.) It became the fashion at one point to number bars in increments of 10, but phrases rarely start every 10 bars, and this type of numbering is a nuisance when there is a multi-bar rest. As a performing musician, I would rather see a barline where the phrase starts, because it gives me a visual landmark on the page for an aural landmark that is easy to hear. Take the trouble to go through the score and mark where the multi-bar rests should divide, rather than letting the computer do an arbitrary division based on a number that has never been a common phrase length.

If you have professional musicians playing your music, you need to give them the chance to give you a professional product in a minimum amount of time. Rehearsals are usually in short supply anyway, and all of us (this should include you) would prefer to spend most of this time on interpretation. If you have amateurs playing your music, bear in mind that they deal with bad parts less well than professionals do. They, if anything, need even better parts.

The fact is that if music is extremely complex – but accurate, clear, large enough, adequately spaced, with proportional rhythmic spacing, good page turns, adequate cues, and all of the rest of the above list, musicians can sightread fairly accurately, which means less rehearsal time wasted on correcting and adding things to the part that should have been there to start with.

This actually happens all the time in some areas of the industry. Part of my training was in Los Angeles, where there is a well-established sound track recording industry. They work on tight deadlines and no rehearsal time. What is put on the stand in any session has to be put down on the track in that session. Musicians will not get a chance to come back the next day after they have practiced the part. They have to be good readers, but the composers and copyists have to provide clear parts. And they do – in fact long before Finale and Sibelius they produced clear and accurate parts by hand. On top of that, many of the sound tracks are incredibly complex pieces of orchestration (think Star Wars, for one).

It is simple – give me what I want to see and I will give you what you want to hear.

Becky L. Steltzner
Head of Woodwind & Chamber Music
SA College of Music
University of Cape Town

iPhones & CPDL to the rescue!

Stolen shamelessly* from the Choral Public Domain Library forums:

iPhone wedding choir

Ensemble Gombert was the choir at a recent, lavish, nuptial mass at Xavier College Chapel, in Melbourne, Australia, a frequently-used venue for concerts (including Gombert’s annual subscription series). In the words of Peter Campbell of the Gombert tenor line:

“Fourteen iPhones and an Android device saved the day at a wedding in Melbourne today when the choir opened their orders of service to find that they were supposed to sing a particular piece, but did not have that music with them. The phones came to the rescue as the singers logged on to the Choral Public Domain Library and sang the work straight from the on-line PDF score. Sure it would have been easier with iPads, but the phones did the job, and no-one in the church was any the wiser!”

The piece was Tallis’ O nata lux, which although short is tricky enough for singers not to want to rely purely on memory.

Gombert alto, Niki Ebacioni, put it this way: “It was pretty hilarious hiding our phones behind our folders. We took a photo later as evidence; 14 of us us squinting at them. An utter triumph of technology!”

* With kind permission

Charles Daniels: “why haven’t we heard of him?”

(First in a series of four occasional articles)

A few years ago, I went to the Corbridge Music Festival, and one of the pieces in the first of the two concerts I went to was Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge. There was no subdued buzz of excitement as the tenor stood up to sing; almost nobody in the building knew anything about him. But, as the piece finished and the interval started, I found myself surrounded by astonished voices. “That tenor is magnificent!” they exclaimed. “Who is he? Why haven’t we heard of him?”

In this article I would like to answer those questions.

Charles Daniels

The name of the tenor who so delighted the Corbridge audience is Charles Daniels. If you are a fan of baroque or early music, you very probably have heard of him, although you may still not have heard much in the way of solo voice work from him. The overwhelming majority of his recordings are choral, and on such a recording it can be difficult to assess an individual singer’s ability. I have chosen a selection of recordings which do enable you to judge his voice clearly, and I will be discussing these in the next article.

However, if your musical interests mostly lie outside these areas, you are fairly unlikely to have heard of him, and, as the Vaughan Williams fans in Corbridge discovered, that is a great pity. Charles has the sort of light, highly controlled voice that is very much in demand for baroque and early music; you will never find him singing Nessun dorma or O sole mio. Nonetheless, there is a great deal of music requiring a tenor that is neither pre-1750 nor operatic, and which suits his voice just as admirably as the earlier music does. Charles’ repertoire stretches from the ninth century to the present day, and on more than one occasion he has sung in the premiere performance of a new piece with the composer present.

So why had the audience in Corbridge not heard of him? Part of the reason is that he seems to have become rather typecast in the eyes of the recording industry. He has made few recordings of more recent music; there are one or two, the most notable perhaps being Kilar’s Missa pro Pace in which he was the only non-Polish performer, but they do not really reflect the proportion of such music that he sings. (I believe he has recorded the Vaughan Williams piece that got them so excited, but it is buried away on a massive compilation album which, from memory, runs to five CDs.) Astonishingly, he has not even had the chance to record his Schubert Lieder, which are one of his standbys when asked to do a solo concert; I have heard him sing Schubert twice, which he does with much feeling and gusto.

Another reason is that he is not a self-publicist. In fact, he is extremely diffident about his own ability. I run his official fan site and discussion forum, and he is very good at keeping me updated with his concert information, but trying to get him to do so with the recordings is another matter. He hates the sound of his own recorded voice, and I am quite sure he thinks that if he tells me about his recordings I may buy them and have my teeth set on edge. This is despite the fact that I now own quite a number of them and have never had anything to complain about regarding his singing; there are some I dislike because of the production and others simply because of the material he is singing, but those are different matters.

On the baroque and early music scene, it does not matter that Charles is so diffident about publicity, because he has done enough work to be well known and recognised anyway. Outside that musical scene, he has fewer established figures to recommend him to others. Generally, those who exist are people who have worked with him in that area and then moved somewhat outside it, rather than people who think of him primarily as a tenor who can sing Schubert or Vaughan Williams or Britten. And yet he is as comfortable with any of those composers as he is with Bach, Handel or Purcell, and he is always keen to be involved in musical experiments. Timothy Roberts, former principal keyboard player for the Gabrieli Consort, is also an accomplished composer, conductor and arranger, and in 1996 he wrote a short song-cycle called Dog Star Gazing based on poems by Pete Brown. These songs, very modern in style, show off the virtuoso qualities of Charles’ voice in an extraordinary way; Timothy Roberts plays harpsichord continuo, while the singing and all other vocal effects are done with obvious relish by Charles. The whole cycle is available on YouTube via this page, which also includes links to music by other composers which he has arranged for Charles.

Another musical experiment of a quite different nature in which Charles has been involved was during his time as a regular member of the Orlando Consort, with whom he still occasionally works when other commitments allow. The group joined forces with the jazz ensemble Perfect Houseplants to create two mediaeval/jazz crossover albums, a fascinating idea and one which, in my own opinion, does not always quite work but sounds absolutely wonderful when it does.

In the next article, as I said above, I will be looking at some of Charles’ recordings, which I have specifically chosen as a good introduction to his remarkable voice for those who are not yet familiar with it. Inevitably, because of the nature of his recorded output, these will mostly be recordings of baroque and early music. Yet I hope I have shown in this article that there is a great deal more to Charles than that, and given him a worthy introduction to those who do not normally listen to music in these genres. He has a voice for all of us, not just for those of us who, like me, are musically at their happiest several hundred years in the past.

Golan v. Holder: Should Shostakovich be Public Domain?

I am happy to announce that IMSLP will be submitting an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case Golan v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of copyright restoration under Section 514 of the URAA.  A group of Harvard Law School students led by Phillip Hill (HLS ’13) and supervised by Professor Charles Nesson will be representing IMSLP.

IMSLP will be supporting the petitioners, which includes a group of orchestra conductors, educators, performers, film archivists, and motion picture distributors.  If we prevail and URAA § 514 is struck down as unconstitutional, all of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Stravinsky (among others) will be public domain in the U.S., and potentially available on IMSLP.

In fact, the music of these three composers was public domain before URAA § 514 restored copyright in 1995.  This restoration is very dangerous precedent: Congress believes it has the power to usurp the public domain for the benefit of a few copyright holders, despite the Constitution limiting copyright to “limited Times”.  This limitation would seem meaningless if Congress could restore copyright whenever it wants.  If we allow URAA § 514 to stand, we would be one big step closer to perpetual copyright.

Furthermore, URAA § 514 also tramples on the right to freedom of speech of all artists who relied on these works before the copyright was restored, by forcing them to retract and make unavailable derivative works that were created legally.

IMSLP greatly welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision to take up such an important case, and hope to see an affirmation of the strength and vitality of the public domain.

Padrucci: The iPad app for IMSLP


Padrucci, the iPad app for downloading, browsing and printing scores from IMSLP, is now available!

Padrucci i-Pad appThe app makes it easy to browse composers and their compositions. Use it to look for new composers and new pieces. Combine it with the iPod app to hear and read scores at the same time.

Padrucci i-Pad app
View scores in landscape or portrait. Pinch to zoom in or out. Save playlists of scores. Save trees by putting your iPad on your music stand and playing directly from Padrucci! Available in English, Chinese, Korean and Spanish.

Download it from the app store. Discuss it on the forums.

Padrucci i-Pad app

Open Goldberg Variations available for public review

Open Goldberg Variations

As part of the Open Goldberg Variations Project, MuseScore has created a new edition of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The score was created with the open source MuseScore notation software, and is intended to be distributed electronically, for free, with no usage restrictions.

The public review period, which will last for at least three months, is intended to help the MuseScore team identify any problems with the score, and to give music enthusiasts and scholars around the world the chance to validate the score before it reaches its final form.

MuseScore has provided special web based tools for reviewing sheet music. Reviewers have the tools to:

  • View the score and listen to it, right in the browser
  • Annotate the score, providing for accurate commentary and corrections
  • Hold online discussions, enabling collaboration between reviewers, scholars, and the MuseScore team
  • Download the Goldberg Variations as MuseScore, MusicXML, MIDI, mp3, or PDF
  • Edit the Goldberg Variations directly in the MuseScore program

The MuseScore website also facilitates the making of video scores. A video score is a score that is linked with a YouTube video. The playback of the video and the score are synchronized. Here is a video score of Kimiko Ishizaka playing one of the Goldberg Variations.

MuseScore is a partner in the Open Goldberg Variations Project, a crowd-funded effort to place a definitive score and recording of the work into the public domain in such a way as to make it easily available, without usage restrictions, for everybody, forever. Award winning pianist Kimiko Ishizka will produce the studio recording of the work later this year. Funding continues on Kickstarter until June 3, 2011.