As I attempted to think of a way to put this story into words, I realized that it seemed a little convoluted. So I decided to make a schematic diagram to help clarify what I’ll be talking about. See below and please refer back as you read along.
One of the hats that I’m wearing these days is that of new music series curator. And since we have a flexible roster of players one thing we like to do from time to time is create new arrangements of works that allow for such a thing. Obviously, there are rights issues involved and just as obviously, taking care of those things and making sure they’re done properly (read: legally) is part of my job. (We wouldn’t want to be an addendum to Michael Byrne’s recent article.) You would think that getting the rights to make a new arrangement of a piece with variable instrumentation would be kind of an easy thing to do. I mean, especially if the composer states that the work is an “open score which can be performed by any group of instruments and not confined to the arrangement listed,” you would think it would be easy. You would think. I thought. However, I quickly found out that it was not such an easy process. If I had to characterize the journey to acquiring the license to make an arrangement, I’d call it either frustrating or epic. Or maybe frustratingly epic. Or quite possibly epically frustrating.
Lesson One: Though it seems to defy all logic, “open score which can be performed by any group of instruments” â‰ go ahead and order the score and make your own arrangement. Nope. Hold up there, kiddo. You need permission to do that. But why? It’s an “open score which can be performed by any group of instruments.” Don’t ask. Any question that includes ‘why’ is illegal. So after calling the first publisher, who is the only entity authorized to send me a perusal score from which to make my new arrangement, I was informed that I must first get written permission from a different publisher. It turns out that the other publisher—the composer’s own publishing company—first had to approve my suggested instrumentation for my new arrangement of the “open score which can be performed by any group of instruments.” Hmmmm, maybe my addition of turntables and KP3 was a little too risquÃ©? Not so, not so. That’s just the way it’s done. Remember what I said about that ‘W’ question? So now the second publisher draws up a contract specifying my instrumentation and authorizing me to make my arrangement. Can I have the perusal score now, please? No. First I have to sign the contract, return it, and the second publisher has to call the first publisher to let them know that all systems are go.
Now would be a good time to mention that all of this is occurring while I am in the midst of a 35-day tour away from home without access to my mailbox. The concert takes place on May 9th, just a little over a month from when I’d return from tour. Now I know what you might be thinking so I need to put it out there that I wasn’t doing this last minute. No, sir. In fact, I’d initiated this whole dialogue months prior to being dropped into the middle of this legal hedge maze.
Let’s fast forward through my anxiety to when I arrived home to find the contract waiting for my signature. Excellent. But what do I see on the contract? To me, it appears to be stating that I must pay the amount of $1 to the publisher for the rights to make the arrangement. Noting that this is indeed absurd in both the comical and ridiculous senses, I say, “whatever,” and write a check for $1 because I need that perusal score! After putting the check in the mail I promptly called both publishers letting them know that I’d just mailed the contract with the check and that if there was anything at all they could do to expedite sending the score to me that I would love them forever because I’m going away again for a few days and would really, really like to have the score so I could make my arrangement and give the parts to the musicians, who have been waiting patiently. Nope. Need to have that contract in hand. Arghhhh! Finally I am able to broker a deal where the second publisher gives the go-ahead to the first publisher and the score is mailed to me next day air. Phew. So I go away to play in the Peach State with score and MIDI keyboard, ready to make my arrangement.
There I sit in my hotel room, furiously entering notes when I notice that page 14 jumps to page 16. No page 15! The publisher faxes the missing page to a third party who then emails me a PDF of the fax. I finish the arrangement.
But wait, that’s not the end of the story. When I return home I get an email from the second publisher letting me know that I had read the contract wrong and wasn’t supposed to send them a check for $1. They are actually obligated to pay for any new arrangements of their music so they deliberately made the contract for such an absurd amount that it wouldn’t be any sort of issue. Oh. But actually I kind of have a thing for one dollar bills. I save them. It’s like throwing your extra change in a jar when you come home (which I also do, by the way, except in one of those really, really big plastic Coke bottles, not a jar); if I’ve got any singles in my wallet when I get home, I take them out and stash them away. I didn’t ask the publisher for the dollar which I am owed though. That misunderstanding over $1 was the perfect way to end the episode.