The Writings on the Score

The Writings on the Score

As a writer, the marks I make on paper, or via the word-processing programme on my laptop, are the outward signifiers of my creativity. When I publish an article or essay those marks are made public, put out there and held up for scrutiny.

I am also a musician, a pianist in fact, a role, which, like writing, is largely undertaken in isolation. The outward signifier of my musical creativity comes when I perform for others; like my writing, the work, the graft, the practising is done alone.

The tools of the musician’s craft, in addition to their instrument and intent, are the “text”, the “literature” contained within  musical scores, and these documents provide the map for our musical journeys. On a most basic level, the markings we make on the score relate to fingering schemes, dynamics and marks of expression, pedalling and so forth. Learning music is a complex mental and physical process, and anything that assists in that process is useful. Often it is simply not possible to remember all the details in the music, and annotations provide a useful aide memoir and an immediate mnemonic for the practice of practising. These marks are our individual “hieroglyphs”, and our own secret code, through which our scores become precious, often highly personal documents.

Our writings on the score reveal our individual working processes and practice patterns, our attempts to dig away at the surface of the music, to look beyond the notes to find a deeper meaning. The permanence of a pencil mark is such that, until we choose to erase that mark, it remains there on the page in front of our eyes.

The markings and annotations we make on our scores may also be deeply associated with memories – of significant teachers or mentors, special concerts and venues, colleagues and friends, and may even correspond to certain periods in our lives. Returning to the piano after a 20-year absence, I came upon an earlier teacher’s markings in my dog-eared edition of Bach’s ‘48’. In a curiously potent Proustian rush, I was a gauche teenager again, back in Mrs Murdoch’s living room, her big Steinway stretched out before me, the book of Preludes and Fugues open on the music desk. Returning to a score after a break from it, one reacquaints oneself not only with the dots upon the staves; in the interim, the annotations have become a snapshot of another time and place.

Looking at another musician’s annotated score is an act of voyeurism: a score liberally marked with someone else’s fingering and comments might reveal someone’s deepest insecurities and frustrations, their unspoken hopes and most secret desires…..

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