Wednesday, 23 December 2009

St Meinrad shows the way forward for music publishing

Photo by Chris Light

Jeffrey Tucker, Sacred Music correspondent for the New Liturgical Movement, is understandably thrilled to see that the Archabbey of St Meinrad in Indiana is making its music available in pdf form free of charge on the internet with an explicit Creative Commons licence.

If you wish to buy a printed copy of one of the books, you can do so. St Meinrad have chosen to publish their books via Lulu. There you can see that some works are still only available as e-books (with a small charge) but the monks are committed to making them all available for free download in due course as and when they are able to prepare them.

The music that St Meinrad is offering is properly liturgical music - Gregorian chant - adapted for the English texts. I know that some musicians would argue that Gregorian chant is not suited for the English language and that other styles of sacred music might be better - or some other way of adapting Gregorian chant, or something. I'm not qualified to comment on this but I do think that it is important that a change is made in the way that music is available for sacred worship, and therefore I share Jeffery's enthusiasm for this development at St Meinrad.

If the music is available under a creative commons licence, no choir master needs to worry about the morality of printing of and photocopying music for their choir or for the congregation. (The problem is exacerbated by the practice of some publishers who inclusivise old hymns and then slap a copyright notice on the new and inferior version.) In terms of a "business model" my strong suspicion is that this freedom will also lead to higher sales for the printed books. If you are running a choir and have to get printed books for each choir member, you can soon run into the end of your budget and so will be reluctant to use newly composed music. If you are free to print and copy the music, you might well buy a couple of copies for the choir master and organist.

The use of Lulu publishing is an interesting move, too. Lulu is essentially a "print on demand" service and is well suited to books that are not going to need a very large print run. You can simply publish a book without being tied in to a contract with a publisher or a limited run of copies. If the book would benefit from being more widely available, Lulu offers various services such as marketing via Amazon if you want.

For traditional chant in Latin, the Church Music Association of America (Musica Sacra) been a pioneer in the field. Scroll down the sidebar for "Chant Resources" and you will find many pdfs that have been painstakingly prepared and cleaned up from old books. Again, you can purchase printed copies from the Lulu store of CMAA and they have an Amazon shop as well.

I have heard of other projects in preparation using this same combination of Creative Commons downloads and Lulu printed books. Doubtless, the technology will develop and I should imagine that particularly the price of books printed on demand will remain competitive as other firms come into the field.

A new Year's resolution of my own is to get a few things available on Lulu ...
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