Drowning In Scores

Photo by Felicia Ferrara at Florida Museum of Photographic Arts

Photo by Felicia Ferrara at Florida Museum of Photographic Arts

Lately, I have been preoccupied with scores... that all seem to have the same deadline. I think that it is greatly underestimated how much work is required to prepare a legible score for performance.

At present, I am simultaneously composing a solo piano piece, works in a variety of instrumentations for dance, as well as a very detailed flute and electronics score that itself has been in the works for at least three months. The majority of these works are due in some capacity by the end of this week.

So what does the process of preparing a score for performance look like? Well, for starters, there's no perfect program for creating a lot of modern concert scores. My go to for traditional music notation is Finale, but I generally sketch all my works at the piano and then digitize them... this means that every note that I have sketched on paper has to be clicked into the computer one by one. Considering that many works on my present docket range from twelve minutes to over two hours in length, this is an arduous process that takes hours. As one clicks the notes into Finale, it is imperative that one checks for errors, both through listening via digital playback but also, by printing the score out and checking it at the piano and against the original sketch for errors. Because many things in modern composition cannot be expressed via traditional music notation software, extensive performance notes are often necessary to write out in prose using a word processing program such as Pages or Microsoft Word. For graphic scores, another program such as Adobe Illustrator must be employed to execute visual elements of the score. Once all the separate pieces have been constructed, they must then be bound together using a PDF editor... checked and quadruple checked. Finally, test printing and binding of the score before your final draft goes to the performer. The entire process becomes more complicated when there are multiple players in the work, because separate parts must be made for each performer in addition to a full score.

Even digital scores, that are rendered for performance using high level samples must undergo a similar process to the one that a composer uses for live performers. In some ways the process for rendering a digital mix of a piece is more grueling than working with live artists, because the composer has to tell the computer EVERYTHING. A live performer, will feel and interpret rubato (the natural push and pull of music) organically, but a computer only does what you tell it to do, so one must be very specific to avoid a cold robotic rendering of their work.

Many scores today, incorporate interactive electronics or fixed media that the composer must prepare at the computer using a visual or line based programming software, or a digital audio workstation to render a file that is bundled with the physical score. Building electronics from code and tweaking mixes for performance halls are a whole universe full of processes that the modern composer is expected to have handled in the creation and delivery of a professional score package to a performer or ensemble.

Sketch for design of a graphic score element in an evening length solo piano work composed for the pianist Hanbo Ma (A Doctoral Candidate at USC Thornton School of Music in California)

Sketch for design of a graphic score element in an evening length solo piano work composed for the pianist Hanbo Ma (A Doctoral Candidate at USC Thornton School of Music in California)

Sometimes, it is easy to forget that working artists are actually working... On the outside our lives seem carefree, but there is a great deal of hard work and many many hours that go into the creation of work before it ever touches a performer's hands and before that performer ever steps foot on stage to sound the first note. I hope we can all take a moment to reflect on the tremendous amount of effort, hours, and resources that composers/creatives put in to each work; and in our recognition of this level of commitment, which often surpasses the hours that the federal government declares as a fair work week, let us remember to be gentle with working artists, that are often stressed because their work rarely leaves them.

Sometimes a friendly distraction or checking in to see if they have eaten, or a general wellness friend check in can do wonders to boost the artistic spirit... at some point everyone welcomes a lifebuoy when they are drowning in work.

Be kind, remember to let your colleagues and artist friends unwind!