Igor Levit and Copy Editors

A couple of things tipped by the NYTimes:

First, pianist Igor Levit’s encore from the first night of the BBC Proms a few days ago:

This is the Ode to Joy, aka the Official Anthem of the European Union, in an arrangement by Franz Liszt. A Russian-German pianist, playing an iconic piece of music by greatest composer in the classical canon, as arranged by perhaps the most cosmopolitan pan-European of composers. Not only a beautiful performance (capping a dazzling take on  Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in C minor) but in London, in July 2017, for a worldwide audience: making an eloquent vote for unity rather than division during fractious times.


On a different note, the Times also has a poignant take on the layoff (and restructuring) of copy editing at “The Grey Lady.”  (This may be behind a paywall–sorry.)



If you don’t work in the scribbling trade or hang with people who do, you may not be aware of copyediting, its storied past, and uncertain future. As the Times piece points out, it is the immune system of any serious publication. Copy readers correct spelling, grammar, and usage errors, and vastly improve writing, often one tiny fix at a time: changes that tighten, clarify, and smooth out prose. They also impose ‘house style’ on a publication, which though derided and often annoying to writers (the diaereses in “reëlect” and “coöperate” that The New Yorker insists on must vex to all concerned), still matters. Style guides save time, e.g,, no ad hoc decision on the serial comma necessary. And they regularize content, be it in print or online and this helps readers, humans or algorithms, parse sentences.

Copyediting is an odd skill (and I certainly can’t do it). You have to read both for content understanding, which provides the context for the piece of writing, but also attend assiduously to the surface level in order to catch those mechanical issues. For a general interest newspaper, you also have to have a sixth sense about working with up wildly varying content. (When my mother was in journalism school in the 1940s, the professors handed out the copy-editing test then in use at the Times. It was a complicated story about auto-racing, and nobody, including my mother who had a sharp pencil, did very well.)

Copyreaders also write headlines and captions for photos (cutlines), an art in itself, and a task that is complicated now that print, web, and social media headlines have to be created. It would seem an odd moment to reduce this workforce, but the challenges papers are up against are mighty.

One unremarked benefit of copy editing, at least in my case, is the education in writing that a really good line editor/copy editor can provide. Although I have had lots of experience in writing and editing in most of my jobs, it was when I worked on book-length manuscripts for websites (ironically for a TV station) and had professional editors from the publishing world scrub my own and other writers’ copy–in those far off days with red ink on manuscript–that I really figured out how to clean up prose. (I was in my late 30s!)  An editorial assistant and I worked through this mark up, discussing each change as we finished the website. These editors fixed the mechanical errors, but more importantly pressed hard on the writing itself, flagging and fixing anything fusty, flabby, or unfocused, and pointing out where the rhythm, sense, or precision was lacking. Their reworks of things were eye-opening, even when I took issue with them.

There is nothing like this for improving your own prose (and your ability to edit others’ work). It wasn’t part of my writing education, now some years back, and I wonder if it is any more frequent today.  (The revered writing teacher Don Murray, a former Boston Globe writer and UHN prof, recommended something very similar in his writing workshops and it’s possible that it is more common.)  As Murray points out, writing is a process, editing and revising being key. And also is much more of a team sport than would seem apparent from high school and college assignments. The grim private penance of slogging through a 500 word theme or term paper, is, for me at least, completely different from writing for a sharp-eyed editor who is out to improve your writing; things go so much better when you are engaged in a process together, and working towards an effective draft.

I’m sure the Times of all places is not turning its back on editing, but still, there is something less than reassuring about the prestige press going public about not needing so many of those squirrelly, superb, and effective people who read copy.

Beautiful Sights and Sounds: The Proms Wrap Up

Now this is how you do a music festival!

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 9.10.40 AM
The 2013 BBC Proms in under 4 minutes. Great festival and great trailer!

The BBC Proms have just finished, but you can still watch some video clips and hear a few of the last concerts over on the BBC site. The famous “last night” (this year with Marin Alsop, Joyce DiDonato, and bad-boy violinist Nigel Kennedy, among others) will be available for another day, and was a good show.

Beautiful Music: Two Symphony Broadcasts

The BBC Proms are wrapping up: “Last Night at the Proms,” usually a rowdy blast of a concert, is tonight in London at 7:30 pm, that is, now, and available live and for 7 days on the BBC site. Joyce DiDonato is the star, with everything from Handel to “Over the Rainbow,” which she added for political reasons.

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 2.14.46 PM

Promises to be a great show.

The All-Star Orchestra is kind of an all-state for grown ups, and bows on PBS tomorrow. It’s the brain child of conductor Gerald Schwarz and seems, atScreen Shot 2013-09-07 at 2.17.44 PM first glance a least, to be less of a sure bet. Although any effort to get classical music on television in good in theory,  neither Tony Tomassini’s take in the Times, “Schwarz…. no one’s idea of a probing maestro,” and the premise itself–that bringing a bunch of first chair stars together is a recipe for something special–does much for me.  Still, I’ll give it a try, and report back.

Arts and Technology: Reasonable Words?

Various inbox bits of late have two interests of mine overlapping. In no particular order and with only scant kibbitzing from me (more to come, no doubt):

1. Ludwig von MOOC

Coursera has teamed up with pianist Jonathan Biss to give a MOOC course  on the big 32!

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 12.30.37 PM

Interesting to see if these kinds of “monuments of music” courses will work online. (Some music profs I know don’t like teaching them, as they create a kind of audience problem around prerequisites, the most obvious being can you read music or not and are you a pianist?) But the blurb invites everybody, and the musicians among the crowd can read Charles Rosen’s books and have their own section. Whether anybody could shed more light than Rosen is a question, but that’s a question that would dog an in-person class. I wonder if Biss will perform live as part of the MOOC? Could be quite thrilling if so. He’s a wonderful pianist.

2. Britten the iPad App

Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” (fetchingly featured in a recent Wes Anderson movie) has its own iPad app. Free, and nice design. Haven’t played with it yet.

Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

3. BBC Tweets the Proms

Unless you’re in London, you can’t attend PROMS concerts in person (and you can’t watch them here in the U.S, at least not officially). But in addition to taking in the feast that is the world’s largest classical music festival via the BBC Radio 3 Web site, you can join the 25K twitter followers for the feed.  A nice path through the riches, wherein you can find things like the “Doctor Who Prom.” (5 days to listen left.) Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 12.51.14 PM