Crafting Theatre, Part 6: Sheet Music
The next part of preparing the music was actually tracking down sheet music to all the songs, and then preparing lead sheets to take into the recording studio.
My pianist/recording engineer is pretty great, and I knew that if I couldn’t track down a song, I could just play him a recording of the music and he’d be able to write it out. But it’s always more interesting to see the chords written in the original sheet music, and having it would make the limited time I had for recording the songs go a lot faster (and cost less…)
Most of the music I was searching for was out of print, and only available from one of three sources: 1- The Song Database of the New York Performing Arts Library, The Restricted Reading Room in the New York Performing Arts Library, and eBay.
There were three songs available in the regular part of the library – Always, Over the Rainbow, and Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart. Getting those were easy: Sign them out on temporary loan, photocopy the songs, and return them. Easy. Done. EBay was also a convenient source, as nobody seems to want a lot of the old sheet music posted there. For about $30.00, I was able to order copies of all the songs except three, which were dumped in the lobby of my sketchy temporary apartment (and weren’t stolen – hurrah!) just a few days later.
That left three songs to find, and at first I thought it would be an impossible task. With sheet music unavailable both online and in the stacks of one of the best music libraries in the world, I didn’t think it could be found. But once again, Reference Librarians are heros. Apparently there was a secret collection of sheet music, nestled in the cavern below the Restricted Reading Room. And ALL THREE SONGS were there.
Getting the songs involved checking everything but my phone into a special cloak room, singing up to use the special room, filling out a request, waiting for the music to be retrieved from the stacks, and then – under close scrutiny of a specially-trained librarian – photographing the music in a way that the notes were not obscured by shadows. The songs were stamped: 1936, 1942, and honestly looked as if they had not been opened since they were originally released and tucked away in the library.
But now I had them! Or a photograph of them, anyway, which I printed out at a nearby Fed-Ex Office. And after I left the library, elbowing through the teeming masses of holiday tourists who seemed intent on ‘experiencing’ New York through Instagram-worthy photos at the few main landmarks, I have to admit, I felt a bit smug at having experienced an afternoon of ‘real’ New York.
The next two days were spent – apart from performing – making charts of the songs. Basically, I put each song – note by note – into Finale, a music transcribing program. And since I’m too poor to afford actual Finale, the barebones free version does not add guitar chords, I ended up sending each song to my mum, to add lyrics and chords (thanks, Mum!)
Finally, the songs were ready. I printed copies of each one just in time for the first of two days in the recording studio…