Music Preservation: Documenting and Enhancing the Legacy

By Jeannie Pool

As some readers may know, since 1995 I have been doing archival preservation work at Paramount Pictures in the Motion Picture Music Department. As a musicologist and composer, I have organized, boxed, and cataloged all of the feature film scores, beginning with the earliest sound film scores from 1929 to the present. The treasures I have found there could be the subject of a future column. However, now I have several observations to make regarding scores and parts that may be useful to composers, arrangers, orchestrators, and copyists working today.


First, you should know that the scores and parts from the 1930s—printed on high-quality velum papers with superior ink —will survive hundreds of years into the future, but the laser-printed scores and parts—created since the 1980s—will not. The paper and ink are generally of such poor quality that the images from the mid-1980s are already deteriorating, even when stored in acid-free boxes. Drying laser printer ink means that, when I hold up a full orchestra main title from 20 years ago, the notes literally fall off the page. As a safety copy, the studio microfilmed these scores in the 1980s and it is a good thing they did. What does this mean for composers? I am suggesting that you investigate several ways to preserve your most important scores for the future:
• digitally scan them;
• use the highest quality paper you can afford for your final print out;
• send copies to friends and family members or libraries in places that do not have devastating fires and earthquakes.


Do not assume that saving a computer files means that you have saved your score. Computer formats have changed so fast and furiously over the last two decades that I laugh out loud when I open up a box of score and parts from the 1980s or ’90s and find that a composer, orchestrator, or copyist had carefully labeled and wrapped in plastic a floppy disc of the computerized notated score and parts for the film. Who among you has kept a computer that will read an early “Finale” or “Score” disc? In your wildest dream, did you think a Hollywood studio would be archiving computers so they could read your disc? So, what about archiving computers? Let’s hope someone in town is doing just that—and not just the computers, but the old notational software programs needed to read those old discs . . . that is, if you did take careful precaution to save your score in multiple formats.


One of my biggest concerns has to do with copyists in town who do not label each page of a film score or part with the name of the film and the composer. I’d like to see the names of the orchestrator and arranger on each cue, as well. Instead of providing this information, some copyists instead print their website address (URL), which is often In fifty or one hundred years, will some idiot at the studio think that the copyist was in fact the composer of the music? Believe me; stupider things have occurred in studio music departments. If you use the services of one of these copyists, make sure your agreement specifies that your name as composer (arranger, orchestrator, etc.) goes on the first page of every cue and every part. You might insist that they remove their URL from your music.


OK, so, I’m still at it . . . if you don’t mind. I often get hired by families of film and television composers and orchestrators to make inventories of their music collections, in preparation of an appraisal and the donation of that collection to a university library (in exchange for a tax deduction). Did you know that your pencil sketch in your own hand is worth even more if you have signed and dated it? Well, yes, that is the story . . . composers who do not sign and date their pencil sketches deprive their families of the additional tax deduction. So, I recommend that you sit down and autograph and date all of your pencil sketches, while you are still able to do so.

This brings up the issue of pencil sketches and writing music at a computer using “Finale” or “Sibelius” or whatever notational program you prefer. If you write at a computer, you probably are not sketching in pencil by hand. At the very least, you need to clearly label, autograph, and date your computerized print-outs. Better yet, consider writing out some of your score by pencil and signing and dating it; maybe even just the themes. Am I making any sense here? The more complete picture of your composing process you can leave for future study (autographed and dated), the more your estate will be worth and the more likely that musicologists will study your work and write about it.


I have looked at some collections that are such a mess—taken out of a composer’s studio after their sudden death—that the family’s investment in organizing it and making an inventory may not be recoverable later, because the documentation is so lacking. Why not presume that people now and in the future care about you and your music and do the basic things needed to preserve the legacy? At least, put everything related to one title together in a folder or box, clearly labeled, autographed, and dated. I’m a composer, too, and I know exactly how it is when you finally have met the deadline and your studio is bedlam. But— you love your family and want to leave them the largest possible legacy a composer can leave—it is important that you do this “housekeeping.” If you hate doing such tasks, then get an assistant or a family member to do it for you.


Are you still listening? Let’s talk about tapes. Recently I witnessed someone’s recorded music collection being tossed by the family into dumpsters, because Daddy left hundreds of unlabeled cassette and reel-to-reel tapes in his studio. No one had the desire, time or money to sit down, play them and try to identify them. Even if they had listened to them, they may not have been able to identify the contents. Please, if you have tapes [that you care about], please label them; even just put a label on the outside of the box and identify the tape. The more detail, the better. You would be surprised at the excellent transfers that audio engineers can get from some of those old cassettes; good-quality reel-to-reel recordings are often better and more reliable than digital formats. But if you do not label the tape, who exactly will sit down and do that for you and your legacy, once you are gone?

Recently, I did some work on the archive of an elderly composer who is terribly ill. His family is trying to organize and identify his music collection, so that it can be donated to a university. Although he is still with us, he cannot help with the identification of the hundreds of pages that are not titled, dated or signed. It’s the same thing with family photographs: he appears with many famous musicians and composers, but the younger family members do not recognize any of the people from the 1950s and ’60s and do not appreciate the significance of these photographs.

Thanks for indulging me here with my list of concerns. There are still some of us who truly care about the art form and the blood, sweat and tears of creative musicians, and want to see the legacy passed on for future generations. If you want to discuss any of this with me, feel free to email me at


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