By Esther Criscuola de Laix

Pencils and eraserI’d like to talk a bit about pencils, those intriguing sticks of wood, metal, rubber, and what Wikipedia calls a “pigment core” of graphite or something else. They are probably the first writing utensil many people learn to use. They come in a variety of hardnesses for a variety of purposes, as well as a variety of colors beyond the conventional graphite-gray. They usually (but not always) have an eraser—a feature that makes them nearly unique among writing implements.

In this digital age, not much is done with pencils anymore, because not much is done with paper anymore. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to do just about everything electronically, including what were once paper-intensive tasks like filling out income tax forms, paying bills, writing just about anything from term papers to resumés to fiction, or even—thanks to platforms like Finale, Sibelius, and LilyPond—composing or typesetting music. When I am copyediting the text portion of an A-R Editions Recent Researches volume, I don’t use any paper at all—I work entirely within Microsoft Word, using the Track Changes and Comments features (a blog post topic all on its own).

But when I sit down to copyedit the music portion of an author’s manuscript (yes, the same house editor does both text and music here at A-R—we’re full-service), the first thing I do is pull out my pencil pouch. The colored pencils it contains are among the most essential tools of my editorial trade, and each color is used for a specific purpose. Each editor’s individual markup practices vary, but there are three colors that we on the editorial staff at A-R all use pretty much the same way: red, green, and blue.

Red. Yes, I’m starting with the color everyone dreads—but doesn’t really have to. Any good publishing house is going to have a certain amount of nonnegotiable house-style rules and typesetting conventions, and red is what an A-R house editor will use to implement those things on the music manuscripts we receive. Red is what I’ll use to mark things like barlines (joining instrumental staves but not vocal ones), group brackets and grand-staff braces, part names and abbreviations, measure numbering, note and rest groupings, changes to syllabification of lyrics, and added commas within lyrics to clarify punctuation—all of which we have particular house-style rules for (including different syllabification rules for different languages; that, too, is a topic for another blog post).

Red and green markup

Green. Green markings are usually nonnegotiable too, though that’s because it’s the color we use for purely visual and graphical, rather than substantive, formatting: align this tempo marking here, move that forte dynamic there, put some space between that lyric and that ledger-lined note so they don’t obscure each other (or “crash,” in engraver-speak). We also use green to mark the spec for verbal markings within music: T for title, ST for subtitle, Tempo for tempo (of course), and the ubiquitous and versatile lit-ital and lit-rom (for italic and roman-type literal directives of all kinds—expression markings, scoring labels, etc.). If your score is an opera or other dramatic work, you may see ScDesc (Scene Description), CharName (character name), and StDir (stage direction) as well. The use of the separate color for graphical markings and specs is a bit of a holdover from A-R’s early days, when our production staff made all the graphical edits on a separate pass, but it’s still useful for keeping things distinct.

Red, green, and blue markup

Blue. Authors, blue means you! This is the color we use for markings that are negotiable—possible changes that we wish to run by the author first, or anything we would like to draw the author’s attention to. Is it OK to change this part’s C to B to better match the prevailing G-major harmony of the other parts? (With a critical note, of course.) Do you want to add an editorial forte dynamic to violin 2 to correspond with the one in violin 1? Should such and such a word in the lyrics of piece X be spelled the same way as it is in piece Y later in the same volume? And many more, of course. Usually blue markings will be accompanied either by a verbal query written directly on the music page or by a corresponding query in a separate list (the latter is my own preferred approach, in the interest of cutting down on clutter). Blue is also what I’ll use if I have a question about something on the page that I’m not sure how to change: I may circle a pitch that seems wrong but that could be changed to more than one better-sounding alternative, or a particularly surprising vertical sonority, and then ask about it in more detail on my list of queries. So, authors, keep an eye out for those blue markings! They are the places where you come in to the copyediting process, where dialogue between author and editor happens.

The bottom line of this colorful variety? On school assignments and term papers and the like, we’re used to colored pencil marks meaning something along the lines of U DID IT RONG. But I would like to assure all the authors I work with that this is categorically not the case on your music manuscript pages. There, these colors mean that your house editor is working hard to make your music—the music that you have brought back to the notice of modern performers and scholars, sometimes after multiple centuries—both look and sound as good as possible. One of my favorite parts of my job as a Recent Researches house editor is bringing these recent musical discoveries into a decades-long tradition of high-end scholarly music publishing encompassing ten-plus centuries of Western music history (and some traditions beyond that, too). All that red-blue-green markup you see on your pages is the first step toward that end.

And, of course, authors can always feel free to ask us what any marking on their manuscript means. We may not always remember—but we’ll do our best!


 Esther Criscuola de Laix is a staff editor with A-R Editions.