Life of an Editor: Working on Bonjour, Piano!

Bonjour, Piano!, a five-volume leveled series of French piano literature, represents the most all-encompassing editorial work I’ve done at Hal Leonard. The project provided an outlet for my natural curiosity in seeking out obscure music. During an initial brainstorm about a leveled series of French piano music, Rick Walters and I wrote down names of composers that would likely be included, but then he asked me to search our catalog for all French composers who had written piano music. I soon discovered I was wading into the deep end. A few days later I had stacks of books on my desk, and a week later I had additional books provided by our business partners at Durand/Eschig/Salabert, which came from their one of their warehouses in Europe.

COMPILATION AND LEVELING

Surveying all this literature was quite an adventure. Despite my deep dives into piano music over the years, most of the repertoire was new to me. Some of the books were pedagogical methods for children, with cute full-color cartoons and large notation. Some were substantial collections from composers I now understand to be important and unduly neglected in the United States (Charles Koechlin and Pierre Sancan come to mind). I also perused some early 20th century editions on brittle, browning paper, which gave the process a slight air of archaeology.

In the classical department at Hal Leonard, the compilation process for a given collection or series often emphasizes the difficulty level of the music. A selection, of, say, popular Chopin pieces may not include the Ballades or more dizzying Etudes, because we want the book to be accessible to pianists with modest chops. Since Bonjour, Piano! was specifically a leveled series, with each volume in progressive order, the level was a primary concern. As I worked my through the stacks of books, I was able to dismiss some overly challenging pieces from a brief glance at the music. Others required a careful play-through to judge the difficulty, using many resources for leveling as guides. If they seemed to fit within the constraints of the series, I assigned an estimated level from Elementary to Upper Intermediate, keeping track of all the data in a spreadsheet.

After the initial survey and documentation of what music could likely be featured in the series, we entered a hugely time-consuming selection process. Since there was no existing model for a series using entirely French repertoire, Rick and I faced the difficulty of simultaneously assessing pedagogical value, musical worth, and overall practicality for pieces that we were mostly encountering for the first time. For more obscure pieces, we were essentially pioneering the level verdict for the music. As we would soon find out, our assessments could change.

I don’t remember exactly how many meetings we had about Bonjour, Piano! content, but I do remember many sessions of playing through the music to confirm my level assessments with Rick, and then many sessions of laying out the music pages in rows on large tables to further visualize the progressing level for each book. Over time, certain pieces moved to different books if we changed our minds about level, and some pieces were dropped if they seemed less relevant to the collection.

LANGUAGE

Organizing the content was only big chunk of the production process, leaving us with some big questions of general presentation and editorial work. First, we would need to translate all the French titles to English, regardless of whether they would appear on music pages or just in the prefatory material. I’m moderately fluent in French, but we still sought outside help for some translations. Erik Satie’s odd, unwieldy titles for some of his children’s pieces inspired much discussion. Profiter de ce qu’il a des cors aux pieds pour lui prendre son cerceau translates roughly as “Taking advantage of corns on his feet to steal his hoop.” With no reasonable alternative, that title stayed. Another, potentially alienating Satie title, Etre jaloux de son camarade qui a une grosse tête (Being jealous of a friend who has a big head) was simplified to A Jealous Boy.

Initially we intended to present French titles alongside English on the music pages, but the result looked cluttered. Also, we wanted a result that English-speaking teachers and students could understand. We eventually abandoned it for just English, featuring the original French titles alongside English in our performance notes. For the more sophisticated Upper Intermediate level, however, we returned to the original French.

ENGRAVING

We knew from the beginning that all music for this project would be newly engraved. Some music from older sources definitely benefited from this. I had the opportunity to fix a few errors that had never been amended since first printing, and to direct the engravers to modernize the notation in some cases. During the proofreading process, I also added fingerings to the music. In more meetings with Rick, we applied dynamics, tempos, or articulations to some pieces that lacked them, using brackets to denote which marks were added specifically in this edition. The editorial additions were an attempt to give students and teachers more of a guide through the music, especially for some educational pieces that had been completely devoid of these details.

COMMENTARY

A major factor in the series was our goal of providing commentary on individual pieces, in a section we titled “Points for Practice and Teaching.” Through these notes we were able to draw attention to the useful pedagogical content of the music, and mention and defend some of our editorial choices. It was an interesting psychological game to play through these pieces again while trying to see them from the perspective of a teacher, and also to imagine the factors that would require most engagement from a student. I’m happy with how these notes turned out, and I think they help to make this unfamiliar music feel more practical and easier to digest.

MARKETING

As with any major new series we publish, I participated in several types of marketing. At the 2017 MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) conference, Rick and I gave a stage presentation about Bonjour, Piano! and explained the highlights of the series one-on-one with teachers who visited our booth. We also filmed a short video in which I explained the purpose of the series – to introduce American teachers and student to French repertoire of ascending level – and played some excerpts.

If you want to find out more about the contents of the series, check it out below!

HL50565848 Bonjour, Piano! Elementary Level

HL50565849 Bonjour, Piano! Upper Elementary Level

HL50565850 Bonjour, Piano! Early Intermediate Level

HL50565851 Bonjour, Piano! Intermediate Level

HL50565852 Bonjour, Piano! Upper Intermediate Level

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