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Work as a music editor

Most composers do some kind of other work to supplement their income. In the first of an occasional serires, C:T talks to Ross Lorraine about his role as a freelance editor for Universal Edition.

Q.How did you get involved in editing work?
While I was studying with Birtwistle, I helped him on a few projects, and began to get to know him quite well, so it was a natural progression to helping on some of his pieces (for instance re-writing a part in Gawain to be sung by a tenor instead of a baritone). UE started to bring out computerized editions of his pieces, some of which were in a bit of a mess, with manuscript scores that didn't match the parts etc. So I liaise with Harry over the new versions, gradually working through the back-catalogue. Some of them end up with a few changes to the music, as well as the notation. Harry is a real one-off, and has a unique take on things, so it feels like a privilege to be involved in that process, albeit in a very minor way.

Q.Is it possible in your experience to get work from unsolicited letters to publishers ?
I've never tried, but it's one of those small worlds where people tend to get work by word of mouth.

Q.How many hours a week do you spend editing on average?

It varies enormously depending on the stage of the process.

What are the qualities that make a good music editor?

You need good attention to detail obviously, a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of conventions (or some friendly players and conductors you can ask), and an understanding of what that particular composer probably meant.

Can you give us some examples of pieces you have recently edited?

Earth Dances, Antiphonies, Silbury Air...

Do you work to a deadline or are you given as much time as you like?

What I do is usually very flexible, because they are old pieces (Harry is now with Boosey and Hawkes). New ones would have the pressure of first performances.

Is it important to know and love the music you are editing?

Yes, I do often have to make decisions based on knowing and understanding Harry's music. I think it might annoy me to work on something I hated, but the main thing is how clearly the composer expresses his intentions. And I probably wouldn't enjoy working on a piece if I didn't get on with the composer personally. But the only other music I've edited was Morton Feldman, and he's dead, so that wasn't a problem.

Can you give us an idea of the remuneration involved?

I personally work on an hourly rate, within an agreed budget. Because I'm employed by UE Vienna, I get paid in euros, which seems very exotic to me!

October 2004

SheetMusic by Harrison Birtwistle