40 years ago, in my callow youth, I wanted to be a composer. Now, in my dotage, I’m writing some more. Why not?
As in so many areas of my life, I got really good at some aspects of this, while totally neglecting most of it. Thus, my ear wouldn’t get me out of a sophomore level ear training class, my sight-reading chops are pathetic, my knowledge of music theory is very spotty – but my music script is very nice. Observe:
I wrote this out, so the date on the cover page says, in August, 1983 – 38 years ago. The Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble was willing to perform this at an actual people-pay-to-get-in concert, so I thought it my duty to write it up nicely for them.
This was all before music transcription software, of course, so the only way to get it this nice was to do it all by by hand. Music paper didn’t come (as far as I could find) in systems of four staves, but just in pages of 10, 12, 16, 20 or whatever staves, and you just had to work around it. This would not do – spacing was all wrong, the space left for text and dynamic marking too small.
I hunted around and found these:
These – they came in sets of, I think, 5 nibs – are for inking staves. With these, and a nice cork-backed metal ruler, one can make one’s own music paper with whatever groupings and spacing one desires! For example:
What I did: made a single page laid out exactly as I liked, then took it down to the copy shop and had them print up a bunch. I even had them create tablets out of them, to keep the sheets together. Then, wrote the piece up, took the finished good copy back to the copy shop and had them print out copies on nicer paper, enough for the singers and director (and a few extras for me).
Time-consuming as all heck, but strangely satisfying.
For the lettering and dynamic markings, one needs another set of special pens. I used architectural pens (CAD was not a thing yet, in 1983, so architects had to learn how to letter, and so there were pens for that). They still sell them:
Mine – I have 2 – have been drying out for over 30 years in the cigar boxes I kept them in. In a departure from my normal practice, discovered that I’d saved the folded piece of paper that came with the pens describing how to disassemble and clean them. Their state went beyond anything mere cleaning was going to fix, so I took them completely apart, and soaked them and scrubbed them with a toothbrush, then soaked them some more over night in vinegar water.
Somehow, I had not lost the cigar boxes I kept all my inking supplies in. Various nibs and pens, nice pencils and erasers, little rulers, and two bottles of ink, one of which was still good! The other, nicer bottle with the dropper cap, was dried solid. Nonetheless, I was able, after a bit of cleaning up, to use at least the stave nibs. They were – not so good. Only after cleaning and fiddling with them for some time was I able to get them more-or-less working. As you can see in the example from 1983, it is possible to ink very nice staves with these things, and from the examples from yesterday, not so much now. But, with continued use, the results kept getting better. So – I will keep trying until I get good enough results or frustrated enough to throw them away.
Might look into getting some new stave nibs, if they still make them. They were cheap, back then. Hope I can salvage at least one of the architectural pens. Don’t even want to go there with the other fountain pens, which have also been drying out for almost 40 years. I have fancier calligraphy nibs and pens as well, but find them not so useful for music.
How things stand: as I near completion of the Gloria I felt compelled to write, I also felt compelled to drag out my tools for making fair copies. Before anybody tells me: yes, I know they make software for all this now, I even have some and have even used it a little. But: the software is very frustrating! Sure, once I master it, it will be much faster than writing it out by hand, and I can go right from the screen to fair copies. I get it. Maybe I’ll even do it, some day.
I learned how to write out music competently just in time for that skill set to become obsolete. Perhaps buggy whip making will be my next hobby.