For centuries, music was printed from a metal sheet that was carved in reverse (mirror image). The process of constructing this negative was known as music engraving, and it was done by hand. This takes an unimaginable amount of skill, as the layout is of utmost importance. Here is a video that shows the process. If you are an old-tool geek like me, you'll love this one.
Up until the 1990s, there were still some big music publishers still producing sheet music this way. It just looks better than anything that can be done on a computer.
I think it just became too expensive to do it the old-fashioned way. If music composer Joe Schmoe could print out his composition from his computer instead of paying a skilled craftsman who-knows-what the going rate is for hand engraving some parts for an orchestra to play, he can get his music out there and played.
But that's not really it, is it. Joe Schmoe always would have written out his parts with pen and ink to save money this way.
I think the publishing companies could save a buttload of money with a few technicians doing this digitally, as opposed to paying an army of highly skilled craftsmen to do it the old fashioned way.
|A music engraver at work. Photo courtesy LilyPond.org|
- Professional-ish looking parts could be printed at home by any amateur.
- Editing a piece of music and getting it back to the performers quickly as opposed to leaving the typos in the printed music for decades, printing after printing.
- Giving composers another tool to use to listen, compose, and print their music. This is way, WAY easier to do now than ever it was by hand.
- Proper looking sheet music.
- Essentially, the final proofing of a piece of sheet music is left to the performer. (Imagine if a novel was published this way!)
Don't get me wrong, I am an expert with a couple of these music programs such as Finale, but most musicians are not that interested in getting good at music engraving. Usually people just want to get good enough at it that they can print something out, no matter what it looks like.
Growing up in the '80s, I could expect to look at a sheet of music and only have to figure out how to get what I saw on the page to sound like what it was supposed to. Today, my community orchestra can not expect anything like the quality of music engraving of a decade or two ago. Even professionally published music has gone down incredibly in quality.
As a performer, I should be able to expect to put a piece of music on the stand, and be able to play it without making photocopies, drawing lines, or interpreting what the composer "really wants." I should be able to expect the printed page to not get in the way of what I am trying to play.
What does all of this mean to hand tool woodworking?
I think this is an example of how fast technology can change an industry, for better or for worse. Not all progress is positive. Larry Williams says he thinks the art of making moulding planes was at its highest quality in the late 18th century, and every design tweak after that point was intended to make it easier to manufacture moulding planes.
I think that music engraving was practiced enough by hand that there still are plenty of experts such as the man in the video still around, but once they are gone, this craft will be lost. If we as woodworkers do not want to teach our children to think IKEA furniture is the only furniture that technology can create, we need to keep making furniture the way we do. Our alternative is superior, and it still makes sense to craft one at a time the way we do.
I do not think hand-tool woodworking is in immediate danger as music engraving is. But what will it be like in a generation or two? It could very easily disappear.