After countless hours of work over the course of nearly three years, and a few extra hours of fiddling with the layout at the beginning of last week, I finally sent off the score of the symphony for printing, and, on Saturday morning, the postman, breathless with, well, perhaps just the weight of all the parcels rather than excitement as such delivered the hard copy of the piece to my door. I had hesitated over whether to have it printed in A4 or A3 format but eventually went for the larger version, and very impressive it looked too, resplendent in its 92-page glory.
For some reason it looks much more impressive on paper than it ever did on the computer screen, and it also looks like significantly more work went into it. There seems to be more material, for a start, and what is there looks like a proper score, looks as though it should work as a piece of music.
That second quality – the look of the thing – is a curious element to define, but any serious musician can cast their eyes over a score and tell you more or less straight away whether it is any good, or at least whether it is bad. It is largely to do with the music that is there, years of experience telling you even from a quick flick through the pages whether it is a coherent piece of expression, but it is also to do with the care and attention that has gone into setting the thing onto the page.
Things have changed over the years, and never more in my lifetime than in the change from hand-written to computer-set scores, but that lesson that I learned very early on still remains one of the most important ones, that if the printed music itself raises questions of intention – What does this mean? Is this a mistake? Why is this here? Is that a B or a C?- then it immediately presents obstacles as far as the performer is concerned, as well as eliciting questions, conscious or otherwise, about whether the composer actually knows what they are doing, and if the answer to that is in the negative then the writer is usually sunk.
This is one of the many reasons that I intend to go through at least another two printed drafts before I even consider letting people have a proper look at this piece. It needs to be good to go once it reaches the hands of any potential conductor or orchestra, and it also needs to say, loud and proud, that this is serious stuff, that time and care have been taken in laying it out and, therefore, also in the composition of the thing. Having spent a good few hours last week scouring the internet for interesting new choral repertoire I know what it is to be excited and then to have those hopes dashed by finding scores that are so badly laid out as to be virtually unreadable, rendering them near useless when working with singers on tight rehearsal times. If the composer makes the journey right to the performer’s door there is a far better chance of the music being taken into that performer’s house.