Every niche has common problems that specialist editors know to look for. Music editing is about fixing the sour notes. We spoke to three music specialist editors for this series; in this part, they tell us about common errors in works about music.
“I’m not sure even where to begin,” said Michele Satanove, a classical-musician-turned-editor in British Columbia, Canada.
“I ran into questions about style when writing musical patterns (e.g., ABABABC vs. A-B-A-B-A-B-C), scale degrees (e.g., doh-re-mi vs. do-re-mi), intervals, chords, and more. There’s the question of consistency in naming pieces (e.g., Quartet for Strings vs. String Quartet or Sonata in A Minor vs. A-Minor Sonata). There is transliteration of the names of composers from countries such as Russia (Serge Prokofief vs. Sergey Prokofiev vs. Sergei Prokofiev), and capitalization of foreign languages. In short, while some of these issues are covered in the usual style guides, there are many details that are unique to music.”
“Much of the reference material is in foreign languages,” said Katherine Noftz Nagel, a freelance technical writer, editor, web designer, personal tech coach, and mezzo-soprano in New York state. “Western European languages are relatively easy to manage, but Czech, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Hungarian and Scandanavian languages present spelling problems for me, with names and specialized terminology that can be totally unfamiliar if you are accustomed to only seeing them transliterated into English. I’ve had to order special language fonts for a few projects. There are also discrepancies between the music history I learned in school, and the results of more recent scholarship, and some of the recent work is controversial. Examples in theses are quite often in unusual musical notation, and the notation needs to be checked for accuracy and consistency.”
“For classical music writing and scores: lots of specific technical terms, many of which are in Italian, German or other languages,” Pam Smith, weighs in from Belfast, Northern Ireland where she specializes in editing in music, the arts and humanities, management, and corporate work. “[There are] grey areas over which of these [terms] have been assimilated into ‘everyday’ English. Several different cataloguing conventions relating to specific composers’ works.”
When it comes to scores, Smith says, there are “many highly specific notation issues, and practical considerations which may be critical in terms of musical performance (e.g., where to place a page turn!).”