Saturday, August 10, 2013

European Style In Music Engraving Services

SB Music Engraving Interview
Stephen Begley and Peggy Molloy

MOLLOY: What is "music engraving"?

BEGLEY: I guess you will not have met many music engravers which is ironic given the explosion of music notation software over the last few years. I wouldn't say that we are a dying breed but there is a big difference between those of us who do this for a profession and amateur engravers marking out their personal projects.

MOLLOY: Your company (Http:// SB Music Engraving, features expert music preparation, transfer from manuscript to print, editing and arranging, and a bespoke service. Give me an example of what you have to offer the musician or composer.

BEGLEY: Some people have the software for producing the notation themselves and they're able to put the notes down in order but they have limited understanding of the metrics involved so they send us the files to us. We take the music and transform it into beautiful notation for the music stand. It has the potential to be remembered for centuries, literally. By and large most of the material comes in a handwritten form.

MOLLOY: I am in the category of the Supreme Amateur Composer. I have songs in my head and I can plunk them down on the piano, but I also totally respect serious music makers, composers and musicians, so I never want to offend them with my childish tunes. I guess you could help me with bridging that gap.

BEGLEY: I never pass judgement on the material people send to me. I've worked with Bach, Liszt, and Vivaldi manuscripts but I have also worked with lesser known composers who are not published yet. It is not for me to judge the artistic merits  of your work in any way. You can employ me to make sure it conforms to the modern conventions of music notation or to make sure it communicates your intentions to the world clearly. Whether you are the Supreme Amateur Composer or Strategic Air Command, my role is the make YOU, look good in sheet music. Ambiguity is the enemy for the performer. This can be a delicate task but I've been lucky, in my experience composers are open to new ideas and trust my expert knowledge. Once everyone is satisfied that the music is accurate and clear it enters the final stage of the preparation: the cast off.
This is where the musical script is optimized for sight-reading on the page. The music is studied for turns, places in the score where a player may safely turn a page without losing the thread of the performance. The music is sized, shaped and a thousand little details adjusted so that when a player comes to perform the work, the score allows him to interpret  the vision of the composer without the score standing in the way.

MOLLOY: Where are you located?

BEGLEY: I live and work in Central Bohemia, in a town called Beroun about 30 minutes from Prague. I work from my studio at home. The office space is crammed with books, scores, the computer, my gadgets and me: organized chaos. I work with people from all over the world. It creates some unusual office hours when communicating between vastly different time zones. Occasionally, I will take out my papers and pens to meet with clients and work with them face to face. With Prague so near, it is a great opportunity to get some solid work done in a fabulous city.

MOLLOY: How did you learn your skills?

BEGLEY: I am still learning but to answer your question it began with being a musician. I was educated in the UK but education there and music education in particular, leaves much to be desired so, after serving my time at University, I started my education performing and composing. I am one of those musicians who never reached the top of the pyramid, but the older I got, the more I realized my interests were broader. My principle instrument was always the guitar -  from acoustic to classical. Classical guitar is something of a niche in the classical world so then I started to join orchestras and worked in percussion.

MOLLOY: Where do you get your business?

BEGLEY: In recent years I have served as Editor-in-Chief for a Swiss publisher, Bisel Classics and trained several engravers during my time there. I was a contributor (a minor one for sure) on the latest
version of Sibelius. I am also a contributor to the SMUFL code, a brand new music character set that will revolutionize the way music notation software works in the future. With a background in editing and music notation being created on the computer, I went into business for myself. For marketing purposes, I used to advertise in trade magazines, but the returns never covered the cost of carrying the advertisements so I gave it up. I have a stack of business cards that I carry with me at all times. Social networking, newspaper interviews similar to this one, these are where clients find me.

MOLLOY: Are the arts undergoing a renaissance where you live or work?

BEGLEY: Prague is a culturally rich environment with galleries, exhibitions, art-house cinemas, ballet and dance, theatres and several orchestras. It is perhaps not as ethnically diverse as London for instance, but in the Western European tradition there can be few places like it. I guess everyone has suffered with the recession, however and funding changes from the EU are having an impact on promoters who are struggling for the first time in years. This doesn't stop the influx of sheer talent onto the streets - that seems to grow year on year -  but it does make it more difficult these artists to find open doors.
Artists will always run into tough times, it goes with the turf. The trick - I guess - is not giving up when it happens to you.

Begley can be reached at: