From the Orchestra Library


Marking or Correcting: What’s the Dif?

Posted in Preparing Parts by kschnack on October 9, 2009

It came to my attention this week that some players are very confused about the difference between an orchestral part being merely marked or comprehensively corrected.  I certainly understand why that might not be clear.  Why are some things entered in pencil and some in ink?  (Didn’t our teachers tell us we were never supposed to use ink on music?  And don’t we tell our players and conductors not to mark our parts and scores with anything but pencil?) Why do some entries look like they are permanent but “hand written” in an engraved part?  Why are there places with correcting tape or inserts?  Why would there be an added slur in ink when the penciled bowing contradicts it?

When is a marking a Marking, and when is it a Correction?

First, anyone who has ever played in an orchestra — school, community or professional — knows the drill when the conductor gives an instruction in rehearsal that is not printed in the part.  You pick up a pencil and mark it, right?  Well, not everyone marks it, I suppose.  Maybe they will remember to play as the conductor requested without extra marking (and we could spend a day on that subject alone) but you get my point.  Those are Markings.

But, sometimes those might be more than markings.  If an error is discovered during rehearsals the player will mark it in pencil.  Even thought it’s a Correction.  We try to catch those afterwards and fix them permanently.

Then there are the bowings.  Which are nearly always Markings.  Sometimes composers include bowings in their works (especially 20th and 21st century music), so a case could be made that if something was left out in the publishing, it could become a Correction when added later, either in pencil or ink.

[Going rogue here for a sec.]  But let me just save all the composers out there a whole bunch of time.  I would personally suggest, unless you really understand proper bowing technique from the inside out, and know exactly the effect you want and will get with a specific bowing, it’s best to just leave the bowings out of the composition.  Because, as much as you love that bowing, and have dreamed of that bowing, and imagined the moment when the strings have gotten to that bowing of yours and played it with all gusto they can muster, that bowing is going to be changed.  Yep.  No getting around it, no matter what you do.  You can put it in your will if you want, and players and conductors are still going to change that bowing when you are not around.  You might say, “But if it should obviously be an up or down bow in a passage, I want them to know that.”  They already do.   Anything that so clearly “should” be played with an up or down bow will be played that way automatically.   Anything that is not obvious is open to interpretation.  So, save yourself the time and trouble, and leave the darn things out!  [Off soap box now.]

Back to Markings.  You are probably aware that when we librarians prepare a work we go through a process with the string principals to put in consistent bowings as well as other indications such as notating when something is to be played on a particular string, adjusted articulations to match the bowings, special indications for where to play in the bow, whether the passage is off (spiccato) or on the string, and other related instructions that may come from the concertmaster or other section leaders.  All of these things are considered usual Markings.

The music director or conductor may have instructions for us as well, such as special bowings, articulations, style, dynamic additions or changes, cuts, instrument doublings not in the score, assignment by stand or player of string divisi passages, inserts, or any other change or addition they may wish to make.  Markings all.

Except.  (There’s always an “except” isn’t there?)  If the conductor has discovered some errors that he or she would like fixed in the parts, those become permanent.  And are, therefore, Corrections.  This might include wrong notes or rhythms, articulations, or dynamics, for example.

Of course, a librarian needs to be vigilant about any “corrections” given to them by others, including conductors who can be quite adamant that their finding is definitive.  Most of the time, these will be obvious things that, once checked in the score, can be permanently corrected.  But if it isn’t a clear error, and I don’t have source material to research that correction, I use pencil.

That leads us to the issue of inking corrections, not only in our own sets but in rental materials.  Some of my colleagues and predecessors have been doing this for 25 or 30 years — it started with librarians correcting their own orchestra’s sets in pen, because anything in pencil is too easily removed and why have to keep correcting that G to a Gb over the years?  This also goes for rehearsal systems.  If one is going to go to the trouble to fix the set of parts to match the score, then ink it is.

Such practical approaches led librarians to begin to correct rental sets in ink and now it is common practice among the MOLA orchestra librarians.  We have an understanding with the publishers (we meet with them regularly) and when we create errata lists of their publications, we share the information with them.  Why not?  It helps everyone — every orchestra that gets the set — so it helps the publishers too.  Players will often see a notation on their part at the top or bottom saying “corrected” and a date, or, even, “MOLA corrected.”  This means that a good deal of scholarly research and note-by-note checking went into the part preparation.  We don’t always catch everything, obviously, but if there are 500 mistakes in a set of parts and we get 489 of them fixed, more’s the better.

So, through this process, the professional librarians have become quite skilled in fixing such errors either by hand or software, to fit nicely into the part and match the look as much as possible.  The goal, of course, is to make the part look uniform and blend all corrections into the print.

But if you are not the librarian, please, PLEASE, don’t try this at home, folks.  Players and conductors, use pencil.  I’ll leave the stick technique and triple tonguing to you.  Leave the corrections to us!

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One Response to 'Marking or Correcting: What’s the Dif?'

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  1. kschnack said,

    Thanks so much, Alison — welcome to the fray!


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