Knowing the Score

A non-composing new-music enthusiast writes in with an urgent question:

It is often nearly impossible for an ordinary person to obtain contemporary scores. I’ve written to composers that you mention without success (or often, without even a response). Why do we need to be Kyle Gann or eighth blackbird to get contemporary scores, even (or especially) when recordings are available?

Amen, amen. How can we keep up a civilized discourse about new music today, even when we can get the recordings, when we can’t find the scores on which the recordings are based, and of which they are, after all, only one possible interpretation? I constantly bug composers for scores, and, ironically, it’s the ones whose music is published that are the hardest to come by – I can only get perusal scores for a short time, and they take forever to arrive, and so on. I will point out that a very good collection of recent scores, including mine, is available for low prices at Frog Peak, a wonderful company that supports artists and is not trying to enrich itself. But we need some kind of central score warehouse that people can put their work into. The now-defunct and much-lamented IMSLP looked like it might partly serve that function. I scan a lot of the scores I get into PDFs so I can take them on lecture tours and work on them away from home, but I can’t go handing those out without some arrangement with the composers. Fifty of my own scores are downloadable on my web site, and very good San Francisco composer Erling Wold does the same. Send me notice of others who do this, and we’ll make a list. It’s great that making recordings and mp3s at home has become so easy, but the decline of score culture, in sharp contrast to my youth, has been a bee in my bonnet for a couple decades now. Suggestions welcome.

And further to the point, I’ve now put up a score to my vibraphone solo Olana (PDF download). Several people had asked about it, and I am given to understand that the mallet world is desperate for new repertoire. I often feel I can’t get my music played as mellowly as I want it, so I have even introduced into the score the word mellissimo – for those who would feel so much better if I would only use Italian terms.


  1. says

    Kyle, all of my scores (at least all the ones I’ve digitized to date) are available on my music page and are free for anyone to download, perform, use as hamster litter…whatever.

    After posting nearly all of them on the regrettably defunct IMSLP site, I started posting things on, but haven’t gotten around to posting more than a few scores so far. But everything is on my music page, and I’ve got great bandwidth to spare these days, so download away.

    I’ve also wished that scores were more widely available. I have a few scores by friends like Galen Brown and Samuel Vriezen, who kindly mailed me his 20 Worlds all the way from The Netherlands, but too few people make their scores available for free.
    KG replies: Galen Brown’s are available for free too, aren’t they?

  2. says

    Maestro Kyle
    I once copied a score for Mel Powell. He had a passage, three successive gestures, each with a different Italian qualifier. I looked them up. Thay all meant the same thing – “kind of fast”.
    Lucky Mosko told me about conducting a piece of Mel’s. He had some Italian shit in there, supposedly to tell us EXACTLY how it should go. Lucky asked Cesare Pascarella (a real Italian) what it meant, and Cesare didn’t know.
    We have all read that the Inuit have more than fifty words for snow. A linguist I know told me that it just ain’t so.
    So, how do you you say “that brown snow that got that way with a little motor oil dripping on it, that was hard last night but is now starting to soften slightly with the morning sun” in Italian?
    If I can’t find those words, all my notes are for nought.
    Let’s not EVEN talk about dynamics!
    But John Bergamo (a real Italian) has used the expression “ballsando” in his music. I think it means to play it with some balls. When I was a grad student and first encountered this term, I thought I could do that pretty well. We had a dyke in the department who, it turns out, had bigger balls than me and most of the other guys put together. She had no problem interpreting “ballsando”.
    “Smegmatic” was a different issue altogether.
    I have had to, on occasion, coin a dynamic or expression marking. I eschew the Finnish, though that would be of course the natural place for me to go – if one weren’t going for the Italian, I mean.
    If you use the correct font it almost looks Italian. btsooi.
    It means “beat the shit out of it”

  3. R. Brandt says

    I’ve always wanted to start some sort of score “label” that functions like a independent record label. Kind of like the Wandelweiser people. But I don’t know anything about publishing.
    KG replies: You’re hired. When can you start?

  4. Bill says

    I think software is commonly available that will convert audio to score? I’ve only used primitive freeware versions, but they were a fun tool.
    KG replies: Well, I’ve got an ear and a brain and a pencil that, connected together, can convert audio to score. But sometimes you learn a lot from seeing how the composer notated something, like how much one performance might differ from another.

  5. says

    I think software is commonly available that will convert audio to score? I’ve only used primitive freeware versions, but they were a fun tool.
    there are programs that do this – convert mp3 to midi, which you then use finale or sibelius to produce a score or even logic – but in my experience they produce absolute gobbeldy-gook = a completely useless barrage of notation = not really a score. i spent two months trying to get this to work (transcribing solo piano improvisations) and i realized that in the end, i was way better than the computer programs. but i’m awesome like that. hee hee.
    anyway, for what it’s worth (not much), many of my scores & parts are available on my website. the ones that aren’t need editing.
    conveniently organized by instruments involved!
    KG replies: Sorry, Andrea, I should have remembered that. And quite a magnificent collection it is.

  6. says

    “KG replies: Galen Brown’s are available for free too, aren’t they?”
    Sho ’nuff! Which reminds me that I need to get around to posting the score for my Relache piece. . .
    I’m not aware of it having resulted in any performances, but maybe someday.
    I suspect that part of what’s going on is that composers who don’t have a publisher are hoping that someday they will, and so they need to hold their scores close so they’ll be worth something to the publisher. Other composers who know they’ll never get published may be worried about unauthorized performances. These concerns strike me as somewhat silly, but maybe I’m wrong about what’s going on. Publishers, of course, are in it for the money (which is appropriate) and so they understandably don’t want to give scores away when they can charge for them instead.
    Do Finale and Sibelius have PDF making functionality natively, or do you have to use external software like Acrobat or GhostScript? I’m using 90s vintage notation software so I don’t know.
    KG replies: I haven’t answered these questions for myself yet. For years, having my scores available online got me no performances at all, but there have been a spate of them recently. I sort of think that performers who really want to find the music would do it some other way, but other composers and fans who simply want to get a better feel for how the music works might click on a PDF who would never pay for a score and wait for it to arrive. Nevertheless, I think that someday Paypal or some other such software will become so easy and inviting that I’ll charge $3 or $5 per downloaded score, which is probably more than I’d get from a publisher. it’s a new world.

  7. Julian Day says

    I remember years ago being fascinated by Michael Gordon’s music and wanting to study the scores. I found it more or less impossible to access any. Noone at his parent publisher Schirmer was able to help, and only performance parts could be rented – at serious cost. I finally got my arse over to New York where I felt sure I’d be able to find some – I mean, seriously, where better to look? – only to be met by blank stares at every music shop. When I related this to Michael personally he seemed puzzled that it was so difficult, especially considering the Schirmer connection. Was I just going about it all the wrong way? And this is a pretty well-known, successful composer.
    Incidentally, a performer friend who’d played a Gordon piece later loaned me a photocopy of one of his pieces, the first time I’d seen anything in the flesh.
    It’s really damn annoying that even music school collections seem to stop around 1975 – although on second thoughts perhaps this doesn’t seem so surprising.

  8. says

    galen, i updated last year from finale 1997 to finale 2007. it was worth it, especially because, as you inquired, converting to pdf is now native, at least on a mac (but i’m pretty sure it is on pc, too — plus sibelius and lilypond do this pdf thing, too), you just pretend to print it and then select ‘save as pdf’ instead, and voila! it rocks. finale 2008 will also automatically convert the file into an mp3, for the best in bad midi sounds! (although there are folks who really know how to cull the best out of midi, i ain’t one of them, yet…). anyway, it’s worth saving up your pennies and joining the 21st century — get a new computer, new software, a recording interface, a decent mic or two, and you are ready to take over the world.
    KG replies: Oops, neglected to answer Galen’s last question, didn’t I? Yeah, making a PDF in Sibelius is simple, and it takes up only a fraction of the kilobytes that a scanned score does.

  9. says

    Andrea — I’m actually using Overture, which was sold by Cakewalk back when I got it (late 90s, I think), and was dirt cheap compared to other packages. But I can get away with it because I do all my composing in Cakewalk Sonar, export the MIDI files, import them into Overture, and just use Overture to make it pretty. I don’t care about being able to compose or get good sound output from my notation software because I’ve always preferred to do my composing in a studio environment rather than a notation environment. One of the main appeals to working that way is that I can take advantage of all of the software synths and effects and mixing and whatnot that I want and have it sound maximally realistic while I’m doing the actual composing. I’m using Garritan Personal Orchestra for my sample library, and I always scale and randomize my velocities, run some compression on the output, pan things semi-realistically, and apply some reverb — I think the result sounds pretty good.
    But I still need to upgrade my notation at some point, becuase every time I get a new computer Overture gets buggier and less reliable, and it doesn’t have very good personalization options for global settings — I have to beam my rests manually, for example, and I suspect you can just click a checkbox somewhere in Finale and it will do it for you.
    Kyle — have you looked into on-demand printing at places like Cafepress and Lulu? They charge a relatively substantial premium , but it still might be a better option than a traditional publisher. They also tend to offer digital downloads. At Lulu, for example, their pricing structure is the manufacturing cost (in the case of a downloads there’s not manufacturing cost) plus the amount you set for your own profit, plus a 20% commission for Lulu. So for digital downloads, your profit would be 80% of whatever price you set; for printed scores it would naturally be less. And of course you’d be able to offer both printed scores and downloadable scores from one storefront, and Lulu manages the sales and the processing for you. I haven’t made any real use of these services, so I can’t vouch for them, but it might be a possibility for you.
    KG replies: Well, my pieces are already at Frog Peak, which is infinitely better than a traditional publisher. I probably shouldn’t be competing with them on my web site. I’m not trying to make money off my sheet music, but I do think people value more what they pay for, and so one needs to find some optimum combination of accessibility and modest pricing. My music is already available, it’s how to get everyone else’s music available that bothers me.

  10. says

    Galen, I thought it was implied that your stuff, and many of Samuel’s works, are available online, but glad it was clarified. I don’t understand either why so many folks don’t put their scores online for free. Sorry, but I’m just not likely to purchase a lot of scores that are priced pretty high, and I suspect neither will most people. It wouldn’t hurt for these composers to take the plunge, but maybe they’re getting bad advice from managers and publishers, whose motives are often driven by money. In terms of PDFs, since on a mac, pdf is a native format, everything can be turned into a pdf with one click in a Print dialogue box, so whether one uses finale or that other notation program ( 8-)) on a mac, pdf’ing a score is trivial. I believe on windows, it can be done through various shareware apps or a more costly app from Adobe.

  11. Ricardo Luzardo says

    Hi Kyle, I found out the other day that japanese composer Yuji Takahashi also posts his scores on iternet, oh by the way, I really enjoyed your piano concerto, thank you very much for sharing it.
    KG replies: Thanks! That’s great about Takahashi – if you can read Japanese. The site’s pretty forbidding.

  12. says

    Back to the concept of an inde label for scores, would there be interest from composers to provide a page or other snippet of a score online, then require a micro-payment to download it in full? And would this be acceptable to performers, as well? I just finished developing a micro-pay site, so maybe my head is still inappropriately stuck there. But it would seem, in the spirit of compensating composers for their efforts, that this would be fair (if priced accordingly).
    Second question: Motor off, right? (Please say off, please say off… :)
    KG replies: Of *course* off. I am post-*classic*, not post-swing era. Didn’t even think to specify. Maybe I should.

  13. says

    Hi Kyle, I think there are probably more scores posted on the net than you think. I’ve got pdf’s of all of my pieces that have scores. I think I”ve managed to put up score excerpts that include the same sections as the sound excerpts that I’ve put up. And, if you go to the category pages (i.e. not the alphabetical or chronological lists), I’ve got complete sound and score files for most of my pieces. I’ve done this so that people can either sample or go into futher depth (excluding pieces that I can’t because of record and/or publisher obligations).
    KG replies: Well, I figured there were a lot, I just asked for a list. But I know there are some important composers whose scores just can’t be got at.

  14. ottodafaye says

    “pretty forbidding”
    Man, I think I dated her!
    Now I’ll have to go write a song, in the style of Dino Desi and Billy.

  15. Dean Rosenthal says

    I think Mary Jane makes an interesting point when she writes that she’s, “done this (posted scores online) so that people can either sample or go into further depth (with them),” although I can’t agree I would do the same.

    I think Cd labels are potential resources for composers. And after doing a quick search for Kyle’s music at a local college music library, I found exactly nothing. No scores available – although there were several books and copious liner notes available – how frustrating!

    I wonder if sampling my scores or going into depth helps. My sense is that the answer is yes, probably, but time will tell.

  16. IM says

    The Scottish Music Centre in Glasgow, UK is a wonderful resource for contemporary Scottish music. Scores, recordings and information are easily accessible either through the web or phoning or visiting the extremely helpful staff. The onus is on the composers to deposit their music there but luckily a lot of composers make use of this.
    One example is when I was trying to find a suitable double bass concerto for a student orchestra and soloist. Someone mentioned a piece by Eddie McGuire to me and by visiting them in their city centre location I was able to listen to a recording, source a copy of the bass part from the composer for the soloist to look at (they would have given me one directly if it hadn’t been missing) and hire the music at a reasonable cost, all very quickly and with minimum of fuss.
    Obviously this functions much better as a local resource but they are currently trying to digitise their archives I believe, which would make it more practical internationally. A possible model for use elsewhere?
    KG replies: Yeah, I know, Dublin and Amsterdam the same thing. I bought loads of Dutch scores in Holland, and it couldn’t have been easier. Although, I will say, some of the younger composers there thought that Donemus was a little stodgy, and some of them were pursuing their own distribution strategies. Can’t say why.