Monday, June 1, 2015


It is either very sobering, or slightly hysterical, to realize that a nightmare that has plagued any musician who has had to sight read pop music for a wedding is no new phenomenon, but has been going on apparently since the dawn of time. I'm talking about the joy of the roadmap.

For those of you not already smiling and nodding, this means that a piece of popular sheet music seldom, if ever, is to be played continuously from page one to page nine, but rather, some distance in, requires you to go back and repeat some music and then usually to leap forward and skip some of the music you just played. In other words, you end up playing pages one through 5, going page to page 3, then skipping from the middle of page 4 over to the last measure of page 6, only to go back to page 3 again, play two measures, and skipping over to page 7. Or something like that. It's supposed to be in the name of saving paper, which is a bit hard to imagine because the thing is already 9 pages long for a song that's only 3 minutes long and contains the same 3 chords in the same order about 55 times.

While the music is pretty simple, the thing that causes you to have to stay awake (nights) is the very real chance that you will mess up the "roadmap"--that is, get the pages out of order, or go to the wrong one at the wrong time. Musicians need their own version of Garmin to tell them, "in seven measures, go to the second ending. Then go back to page 3.....recalculating!"

If you've ever had the joy of acquiring somebody's favorite popular tune so that someone's cousin can sing it (slightly flat) for a wedding or funeral, you are aware that generally there are just a few more pages than can fit on a music stand and so arranging the music so that you can play it all continuously is one of the challenges of the job. It is certainly not the music itself.

I usually end up playing parts of measures with one hand while I either toss pages off to the side or grab them from the flat portion of the music rack and place them where I can see them, or, in some cases, just read them off of my lap until I get to the next page. The trick is to make sure you don't discard a page you will need later.

It is a pervasive myth that times used to be simple, and marvelous, that back in the mists of time life was easy, and they certainly wouldn't try to save paper by making you do crazy things like going back two pages just to play one measure and then leaping forward to page 5 unless the moon was full on a Tuesday in which case you'd skip that part and go to page 11. yeesh....

I've recently gotten around to rendering the earliest two pieces of surviving keyboard music, and let me tell you, the concept of the crazy roadmap exists from as early as we can know. These pieces are from the Robertsbridge Codex, thought to date from around 1360, discovered in the mid-19th century in Robertsbridge, England. They are two dances, and pretty tunes they are, too, but, man, what a road map!

The first one basically consists of a "chorus" and five verses. At the conclusion of each of the verses, you return to the same spot in the "chorus" and play what is apparently the "1st ending" each time before jumping to the start of the next verse (these all have numbers). After the last verse is done, you skip the "1st ending" (marked "overt") and go to the "clos." That, at least, is my interpretation. I've listened to three or four videos online and everyone does it differently. But I think the fellow who plays the historic organ and has the reputation does it correctly. There is another video that features a small, portative organ and a harp player doubling which is charming and seems historically authentic, though they only play the fourth verse twice, and skip the others.

The first dance is nice enough, but the second--puts all modern publishers and their crazy roadmap schemes to shame. It is called "Estampie Retrove" which thus far I have not been able to decipher --the title, that is. Retrove has got to have something to do with return, I assume, and indeed, that is the challenge. For, as in the first piece, one gets to the end of the "chorus" and jumps ahead to each of the five verses in turn, but the return is never to the same place in the "chorus"--instead, there are letters to tell you which measure, and indeed which beat of which measure, to return to. The result is that the "chorus" is a different length each time it is played. I would just like to brag that the recording you will hear on pianonoise was done without any editing and I managed to play the entire piece without getting lost once. Whew!

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