A project for NZ Music Month...

In 2011 I celebrated NZ Music Month in style by writing 31 microscores in 31 days. It was a huge success, they all got recorded, are hugely popular and I use them almost weekly when talking to students about composition and instrumentation. In 2012, while I was involved in many Music Month events, I didn't have a music composition project and I was pretty disappointed about it.

So in 2013, it's back!


What I like about this project is that usually all of my time is spent on other people's music - an absolute joy and honour - but it means I never get any time for my own composition. So NZ Music Month is a great annual opportunity to make sure that I work on my own music and have something worthwhile to show at the end of it.

I have debated for some time exactly what I would do this year - more daily microscores, weekly ensemble pieces, fortnightly larger pieces - or perhaps something slightly different.

I'll go for something slightly different.

For a long time, years in fact, I have wanted an online store to sell my own music - easily and automatically. Aside from works for professionals, I have a lot for students, community and school ensembles - and there is a great market for this. Sure, people can already buy it - through SOUNZ and by emailing me - but that doesn't quite cut it. People should be able to search on the internet, find a piece, discover and experience it, buy it, download it, play it. And I don't want to just export or print a version from the latest Sibelius file, I want to have properly published music - finalised, stylised, done, dusted, complete.

Initially, I thought I would finish a collection of piano music to sell - editing the current four pieces I had and writing four new ones - but I decided that I was still avoiding the most important step of all - to get this online store of music up and running and full of the music that I already have. So, now it's going to happen.

By May 31, my birthday and the final day of NZ Music Month, people from all around the world will be able to buy my published music easily and automatically from this site.

Here are the main things I will need to consider:

  1. What to publish
  2. Editing and publishing
  3. Selling method, charges, etc
  4. Cataloging
  5. Promotion and launch

It's going to be a big month - I've got an Auckland Philharmonia premiere, Auckland Symphony rehearsals, the 48 Hour Film festival, 10 days in Australia, a trip to Hawke's Bay, plenty of music prep, arranging and teaching commitments, and my 30th birthday!

It'll be a big month, but I'm really excited and I look forward to writing several posts along the way - addressing the points above and no doubt discussing the setbacks and triumphs. Stay tuned.

2011 through the eyes of a blog

And just like that, another year is gone! Here is a look at my posts for the year. thinking web picThe blogging year started in March with my favourite book arriving, "Behind Bars", which I preordered in 2010. It is definitely the most used book on my shelf! I then talked about two approaching projects:

In April I introduced my new work, "blimp", and reviewed two projects - a song I helped a friend create and my work at the BOP music school:

May was a busy month, so in June I talked about what I had been up to - writing 31 microscores and the premiere of "blimp":

In July I posted the video I worked on with Sideways Productions:

In August and September I covered my involvement in the KBB Music Festival and some composition tutorials that I held in Kerikeri:

October was the kick off of the Rugby World Cup here in New Zealand, I talked about my involvement in the opening ceremony and also made a post about what exactly I do when "preparing music" and why you would need someone like me to do it:

December means Christmas and I posted some Christmas carols that I prepared for my students. I also composed a new "holiday" piece for my Christmas post:

Happy New Year everyone, bring on 2012!

Christmas carols for violin and viola

christmas-ornament-03Christmas is getting close and no doubt you are in the mood to play some Christmas music or your students are asking for some! Recently I collated and edited 17 Christmas carols for my students to play through this season. The carols, in order, are:

  • Angels we have heard on high
  • Joy to the world!
  • O little town of Bethlehem
  • We wish you a merry Christmas
  • It came upon the midnight clear
  • O come, O come Emmanuel
  • O come, all ye faithful
  • Jingle Bells
  • O Holy Night
  • Away in a manger
  • God rest you merry, gentlemen
  • Silent Night
  • While shepherds watched
  • Hark! the herald angels sing
  • Once in Royal David's City
  • We three kings
  • The First Nowell

There is a version for violin and one for viola and can be read without trouble by younger students as well as providing a lot of enjoyment for more advanced players. They are set clearly on each page along with dynamics and bowing where required.

You are welcome to download either copy (PDF document) and enjoy playing or passing on to a student or friend.

Enjoy and Merry Christmas.

Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3)

This is the third of a three-part post. See Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3) and Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3). As touched on in the previous post, roles and requirements are always changing. It is sometimes wondered, "why use a copyist?", especially these days where software is user-friendly and results are easy. The answer, as has been for hundreds of years, is found in two words: time and expertise.

Time - as mentioned in the previous post, composers have very tight deadlines and high demands on them. They call on copyists to prepare the music and have it ready on time. Any procrastination by the composer or others involved and it is the copyist who has less time, as they are the last step. This means copyists are often working through the night and even call in a team, to provide the music on time. Professional copyists work much faster and more accurately in preparing the music than say, the composer, will.

Score being edited, courtesy of www.scoringsessions.com

Expertise - copyists have a huge knowledge of the rules of musical notation (including the exceptions to those rules and rules for the exceptions...), music theory, styles and conventions as well as the varying requirements and regulations for different orchestras and types of performers. All of this knowledge is called upon through the copying process to ensure music is correctly and accurately prepared. Orchestras booked for recording sessions, for example, cost massive amounts of money and when music is put on the stand moments before the session begins, it must be entirely proofread, have everything there correctly notated and be very easy to read.

The role is always evolving. Currently, as well as composers creating handwritten and computer notated scores, there is software such as Logic, Pro Tools and Cubase. Composers and songwriters, perhaps sadly, don't need to have any knowledge of notation to create a masterpiece. The software produces MIDI files and copyists use that, instead of handwritten manuscripts, to create the notation. Obviously this process delivers the music to the copyist in a very raw state, so the demands increase. This is a very healthy trend and will keep copyists (or "music preparers") employed for many years to come, as no matter how it is created, the notated music always needs to get to the performers. If the performers are using digital music stands, their part still needs to be created.

For many hundreds of years music has been notated, prepared and produced. Between the composer's pencil and a music stand exist engravers and copyists, those very hard workers. Their methods have constantly evolved and over the last century, their roles as well. What is still for certain is that there is more music than ever that needs to be prepared!

This is the third of a three-part post. See Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3) and Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3).

Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3)

This is the second of a three-part post. See Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3) and Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3). With a clear overview of music printing in the previous post, it is easy to see the role of music engravers - those painstakingly etching out wood, hammering metal, collating plates of symbols to be pressed or using incredible skill to write it out by hand. All of these methods have one purpose, to definitively print and publish music.

Where do copyists fit in? No different to today, composers hundreds of years ago had extremely tight deadlines to meet. Those employed by the courts and monarchy had next to no time to write music for church services, social and countless other occasions. So, they used copyists to make a copy of their score, often omitting the many scribbles and corrections to produce a score ready for performance. They would also then copy out all of the instrumental parts for the players.

Hand written score

There were certainly dedicated copyists who had done this for many years, but there were also a younger breed of copyist who were budding composers themselves who wanted to study the music of the masters - no better way than to copy their music. Copyists would most often work very closely with the composer and in the same quarters, turning up at the door simply with manuscript paper, a calligraphy pen and ruler. This is seen in the films Amadeus and more prominently, Copying Beethoven. It is well known that Beethoven had contentious relationships with his copyists and put them under huge stress and burden - it is no wonder his copyists often made mistakes.

Jumping ahead to today, it is clear to see that computer software has blurred the distinction between copying and engraving, with a high quality always being produced (well, by a professional). There is now one method to create music notation, whether it be "engraved" or not. Music publishers of course set their music to that beautiful engraved standard, but do it just as a copyist creates some orchestral parts, or as a songwriter throws down some backing string ideas into the software. So, the term "music engraving" is somewhat obsolete. It is what role you have in the process and the standard of the product you produce that determines your identity. Times are always changing and now there are a greater variety of preparation needs broader terms are becoming common such as simply "music preparation".

This is the second of a three-part post. See Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3) and Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3).

Music printing, a journey for engravers (part 1 of 3)

Lying in the sun on the deck with your MacBook Pro in one hand and a cool drink in the other... Need to get the parts for your latest masterpiece? No problem. Stay where you are, open the score up in Sibelius or Finale and view them. Want to change a chord? No problem. Alter it in the score and breathe a sigh of relief as your parts are automatically updated. Ready to print? No problem. Click, click, head inside to the printer to collect the score and parts. Easy. Yes, your heart is joyful, but it wasn't always like that! Recently I've been thinking about a few topics. Firstly, what exactly did it take for engravers to set and print music one hundred years ago, or even before that, and what has developed to lead us to where we are today. Secondly, what exactly is the distinction between music engravers and copyists and why is it so often confused. Thirdly, how are these roles and this information relevant to today? Let's start by looking at the journey engravers have taken over hundreds of years in order to set and print music.

This is the first of a three-part post. See also Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3) and Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3).

In the Middle Ages very little was written, both in music and generally. The only music that was notated was sacred, as the church was such a huge force on society and they felt that having it written in music raised its meaning to a higher level. It was notated by hand on red lines with a calligraphy-type pen.

During the 15th Century, woodblock printing emerged. This is where you would level off a plane of wood and draw the music on in reverse. You would then carve the wood so that the symbols were elevated, ink it and then press it to paper. The consistency of this technique varied greatly, due to the soft and temperamental nature of wood and the often inaccurate process of inking the carved plate.

In the mid 15th Century the printing press was invented and was very quickly adapted to accommodate music and other mediums. Music symbols were now collated on a plate and then prepared for printing. This process was more reliable and allowed for easier reproduction, but the finer details of manuscripts were unable to be copied. These limitations meant that a new method needed to be developed - engraving.

Engraving was more time consuming but allowed for every fine detail to be notated. This method used a gradual process of etching and hammering into either zinc or copper. Again music would be set in reverse and in this method, unlike those previously, errors could be corrected easily by hammering the back of the metal.

In the late 18th Century in a bid to lower the cost of printing, lithography was invented. In this method oily ink was used to draw on the stone (or much later, a metal surface) and then acid was applied to burn the image to the stone. Water was then added, but repelled by the oil and therefore creating an environment for printing.

Music Typewriter

Music typewriters developed over a number of years but became popular in the late 19th Century. They were known for their relative user-friendly nature and so were popular with copyists and everyday musicians - unlike earlier methods suited more to dedicated engravers. They worked similarly to standard typewriters, just with music notes and symbols instead of letters, although some had extra keyboards and similar additions.

Then during the mid 20th Century computers and software started to emerge. There were various programs created and to various degrees of success. One was called "DARMS (Digital Alternate Representation of Musical Scores)", what a brilliant title.

Later in the 20th Century Sibelius, Finale and many other smaller and lightweight pieces of software were created. These programs, now hugely powerful, have not only massively changed how music can be published and produced, but how we write music in the first place. This undoubtedly is the greatest step forward in this journey we have taken.

Of course, perhaps most importantly, is handwritten music. After the Middle Ages and through all of the developments in technology mentioned above, handwritten music has continued to develop. From beginnings only at the highest sacred level, handwritten music gradually became more common throughout the classes, just as society became more literate. Music engravers doing it by hand had extreme skill, accuracy and a mighty attention to detail. Firm opaque paper was always used with black ink. Until music typewriters and later music software was invented, copyists solely performed their craft by hand.

This is the first of a three-part post. See Music copying and confusion (part 2 of 3) and Changing times for music preparers (part 3 of 3).