Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Attention to Detail

I just finished, not five minutes ago, two pieces for this week's opening voluntary and offertory. I am not a fast composer, (a trait I seem to share with several of history's proficient improvisers, ironically--we come in two speeds: instant composition, and slow and laborious!) so this is a minor miracle. Seven pages in three days. I could have made both pieces up on the spot but there would be little left afterward to share with anyone. There should be recordings up on in a few days.

You would think that under those conditions--having just been informed by the choir director on Monday that I would be playing both an opening voluntary and an offertory after all (most years on "choir Sunday" the choir fills all the musical slots available and I, in a sense, get a week off from solo selections, just as the pastor gets a week off from giving a sermon), you would think that there wouldn't be enough time to take care of all of the niceties of full-bore composition. Just do enough to get by. And you would be right: there aren't any dynamic marks or tempo indications in the scores I just printed out; since I am playing them myself, this is unnecessary. It had occurred to me that I might have to just sketch parts of the pieces and fill in the missing portions in the moment. My concentration will be entirely on the choir on Sunday so I'm not taking any chances as far as my own role is concerned; therefore I'd like to minimize anything that requires inspiration for this particular week, and yet, there are some things I could have safely left to the moment even under these circumstances. In other situations I could have just left the entire piece un-composed.

And yet somehow I managed to finish; and on Wednesday morning, no less. Now I will about a day to learn what I've written if I want to record them on time. But before the composer handed off to the performer I took care of a couple of details with a touch of a few buttons. Which is the point of all of this: not to brag about speed, but to discuss a few important details with any music publishers that might be listening.

Before I printed the offertory I observed that the piece had very slightly bled over onto a fifth page, which now consisted of only a few measures. I only have room for four pages on my music rack. Since I was using Finale, a popular music writing program, I went to the "page layout" menu and shrunk the staves down to 95%. This barely changed the size of the staves overall, and yet the entire piece now fits on four pages so I won't have to figure out when to put up the fifth page while I am playing. Since I printed all four pages single sided they will all be staring at me when I being to play. There will be no page turns. Walla.

While I was making that change I was reminded of all the church music publishers who make life hard by not paying attention to issues involving page turning. How often do you see an anthem on which, one or two measures after a page turn, there is a repeat sign, wherein you have to turn the page back to the opposing repeat, which in some cases is only a measure or two before the end of its own page! So you or your page turner turn the page forward; two seconds later you have to go back two pages, and a second or so later you have to turn forward again. Ridiculous. And it is not hard to avoid these situations: you simply fit the music, which I can do myself simply with operations like the one I've described above.

It reminded me of all of those Youtube videos where you see the organists spend 45 seconds running to the other end of the church between hitting the record button and starting to play. I'll bet it's not hard to edit those portions out with some free software and a touch of a button. Before I had a blog I thought all of those typos were caused because you couldn't go back and edit what you'd written after you posted it. Not true, it turns out.

Which is handy, because when you are in a hurry you tend to make all sorts of mistakes you might not otherwise. I do it myself. And if I happen across an entry later with a spelling mistake or a typo I fix it. Not hard to do, either. Takes all of a few seconds.

A while ago I came to the realization that publishers of choral music purposely put piano interludes on the page turns because they think that choir members can't handle singing and turning pages at the same time, even though they've got two hands free while the pianist doesn't. Since the pianist is generally the most highly trained musician involved they get the joy of figuring out how to plan such a turn while they are playing with both hands and cannot very well leave out one of them while they are the one making a musical noise at the time of the page turn. There will be a forthcoming blog on this curious art!

But every once in a while, I will find a piece in which the page turns have been planned carefully, put in places where the measure before the turn is easy to play with one hand alone and not in the middle of the most complicated measure of the entire piece! And to those publishers I would like to say a great big thank you. Thank you for paying attention to those details and for making my life easier.

And for the rest of you, you know what is on my Christmas list this year. Peace on earth, of course, and something that is, I'm afraid, equally hard to come by. Paying attention.

You have my gratitude in advance.

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