In Random Neural Firings, Thoughts on Writing

(Note: Thanks to a mysterious computer glitch, the original version of this post was largely lost in the ether of cyber-space. I’ve reconstructed it, as best I can. But no doubt, the original was MUCH more clever. RS)

Long ago, in the Dark Ages of the Mystic 1970s, one of the several jobs I did as a free-lancer was Music Copywork. Now, for you kids, this was real “copywork.” As in – by hand, on paper, with pen and ink. No computers. No Finale or Sibelius. Lots of “Wite-Out.” (I won’t explain. Google it.)

I was a pretty good copyist. And there were plenty of months when copywork paid the bills when nothing else did. More to the point, a music copyist is the last person to pour over the composer/arranger’s score. So, for a budding composer/arranger like me, copywork was a terrific learning tool – to literally write out the notes of other composer/arrangers.

But my life goal was not to be a copyist. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) And the day I stopped taking outside copywork from other  writers was a Red Letter Day for me, indeed. It was only surpassed a few years later by the Day of Infinite Importance, when I could hire someone else to do my copywork.

And that’s the way I worked for years. I wrote music (by hand, on paper), and somebody else copied it for the musicians. Once Finale became a Wieldy Beast (rather than an Unwieldy Beast), copyists dumped their pens and nibs and straight-edges in favor of the latest Mac with Finale (or Sibelius). Then, one by one, a lot of composer/arrangers made the switch to Finale/Sibelius. And, as you know (if you’ve read my earlier blog posts), I jumped on the Sibelius bandwagon last year, becoming the unofficial Last Composer in America to Use a Computer. (I’m still waiting for the plaque to arrive.)

All that to say, yesterday I was finishing up some music cues for a radio show when it occurred to me: I have come Full Circle. I am once again my own copyist.

I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Finishing in Sibelius makes my scores look better (though my hand-written scores were always pretty neat). It saves the cost of a copyist. (Though publishers still have to pay a typesetter to make everything fit their own unique templates.) And it saves me a lot of file storage space. (No small thing.)

But here’s a question: Is the current generation of burgeoning composer/arrangers missing out on a vital learning experience, never having copied the work of more established writers. Is this one of the costs of computerization?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Showing 2 comments
  • Monte Garrett

    I think the answer to your question is yes. Take J. S. Bach, for example. He never had “formal,” conservatory training as we know it today. Much of his education was done by copying the scores of other composers. And even studying scores of other composers is not exactly the same (IMO). But then, I’m not a composer, either.

    • rsterling

      Monte –

      There’s a pretty cool movie, called “Copying Beethoven,” (I think). It’s an interesting glimpse into the very old worl of music copying.

      Anywho – I never studied comp, either. So in that one tiny regard, I share something Bach. (Probably the only common ground we two have.)

      But I’m pretty sure that copying Charlie Brown’s scores, and Kurt Kaiser’s scores, and Tom Merriman’s scores, etc. taught me a little something.

      Thx for the comment. Hope you have a great finish to the semester at HPU.

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