Why professional typesetting?

In the beginning: from calligraphy to letterpress

For virtually the entire history of music, only a small fraction of it was actually expressed on paper. Those who prepared publications, from monks illuminating chant books to letterpress printers assembling complicated type sorts to engravers cutting copper plates were trained professionals. The old processes required several years of apprenticeship before one was allowed to work on material unsupervised.

The alternative to laborious and expensive preparation during these times was simply writing on staff paper with a pen. Any reasonably competent musician would easily have all the necessary tools at hand to take a piece of music from conception to performance cheaply. The downside to hand-copying by amateurs or even skilled copyists is legibility. As the deadlines got closer, so did the penmanship get sloppier and rehearsals longer.

The last 40 years: using computers

The advent of sophisticated and easy-to-use computer typesetting software allows the professional engraver to match and even surpass the functional and artistic achievements of any previous process with a fraction of the time and effort. The software also allows any musician to quickly produce legible music for their purposes that generally conforms to tradition.

During more than one thousand years of western music notation, an astonishing array of arcane rules have been developed and passed down, master to apprentice. Modern software automatically follows as many of these rules as it can, but no computer can be a perfect engraver. The end user invariably determines the quality of the final product.

Training matters

It is probably safe to assume that most musicians have not undergone several years of training in engraving music. One would expect that they spent that time becoming proficient on their instruments or with their batons. Consideration of spacing and page design, let alone beam angles or dot alignment is hardly to be expected. It will tend to take a professional musician (but an amateur typesetter) a considerable amount of time, both in terms of learning a program and the actual work itself, to produce pages that will ultimately cost rehearsal time because of note inaccuracies, poorly notated rhythms, poor page turns and a general inattention to detail.

The professional typesetter will be quick, accurate and neat. Not just neat, but artistic. Not only will the crash cymbals be properly cued, but the sinuous s-slur connecting a cross-staff piano passage will gracefully arc around exposed beam shoulders. The end result will be transparent. Everything on the page will unobtrusively assist the flow of the performance.

Why choose a professional?

Rehearsals and recording sessions can cost hundreds of dollars per minute. Confusion about any aspect of the printed page makes performers concentrate on everything but making music. Composers, conductors and performers have better things to do than worry about which side of the time signature the forward-repeat bar goes. When you choose a professional, you choose to make the best music possible in the most efficient way.

For more thoughts on the state of music engraving, please visit matthewmaslanka.blogspot.com.

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