When you meet someone for the first time, what do you notice about his/her attire? Does he look comfortable? Professional? Do her clothes fit well, or are they too loose? Do the clothes’ colors stand out in a crowd, or fade into the surroundings? Are you too distracted by his attire that you can’t be completely focused on his personality? We are constantly sizing up people when we first meet them, collecting information on how they wish to present themselves to the world. And others are doing the same to us.
The same is true about music scores. Recently, one of my graduate composition students showed me the score of a student composer from another university. The notation was akin to a poorly dressed man whose clothes are rumpled, oversized, and spotted with coffee stains. Notation errors abounded everywhere – a large number of musical notes and elements were colliding into each other, symbols were used incorrectly, and the document was poorly spaced. Talk about a poor first impression! I mentioned to my graduate student that given the lack of attention to notation, this undergraduate has some work to do on the score before sending it out to people. My student replied that a graduate student had written the piece. (Oops.)
None of us knows whose hands our scores will reach. The student of the poorly notated score might be chagrined to learn that a professor at another university had seen it. If I hadn’t been so distracted by the notation and instead impressed by the music, this piece could have become something I would potentially champion. What if I had been in a position to program this piece at a performance venue? What if I was so struck by the music that I wanted to hand it to professional performers who might share my enthusiasm for it?
Making sure that the scores you create are carefully and cleanly notated should be the standard for all of us, students and professionals alike. Even the first copy you give out to your performers should be clean. The graduate student might have had a beautiful piece buried somewhere in the rubble of that score, but if the composer couldn’t take his music seriously enough to present it clearly, then neither should I.
As legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel once said, “Dress shabbily, they notice the dress. Dress impeccably, they notice the woman.”