Life of an Editor: Paging

At a certain stage of the production process of a publication, all the elements of the book – the music, title page, table of contents, and other designed elements – exist as pages without definitive page numbers, and now have to be put together in a way that makes sense for the end user while also keeping in mind certain technical specifications and limitations of how a printing press works.

Traditionally, 9″x12″ published music books in the United States are laid out on giant 72” x 24” sheets of paper that are folded and cut into a 16-page units called signatures. Each signature is then inserted into the spine of the book and attached with glue, metal stitching, cloth thread, or a mixture of these. So the most important consideration in assembling a book is that the total number of pages is a multiple of 16, or half-signatures of 8.

I have a chart above my desk that lists page totals, ascending by 8. Say, for example, I calculated that a book was going to have 93 pages of music, plus a title page and one-page table of contents. According to the chart, I would have to plan for a 96-page book, and there would be one blank page at the end. But what if I had 97 pages of music? Either I’d have to find a way to remove some pages, or go up to the next increment: 104 pages. After the title page and table of contents, I’m left with five pages to fill space. In that case I would have to space out the introductory material a bit, and probably have two or three blanks at the end.

The average person probably has not noticed that in any given book, the left-facing pages are even numbers and right-facing pages are odd numbers. One of the basic principles is that an even-numbered piece or movement, barring rare exceptions, will start on an even-numbered page and fit nicely into a couple of spreads. In this way, a two-page piece can be played through with no page turns, a four-page piece only has one page turn, and so on. But what do you do with the odd-numbered pages? Well, you match them up. A one-pager and a three-pager can match and create a four-page unit. Sometimes the necessity of creating these matches can slightly shuffle the default alphabetical order, if an even-numbered piece is sandwiched between two odds.

There’s another factor at play. What if a three-pager has a two-page repeated section, starting on page two? In that case, every effort should be made to keep the repeat on a single spread to prevent a frantic page turn back to the beginning, so the piece should start on an odd page. In another case, a three-page piece may have a break for one hand or a fermata at the end of a particular page. That makes it a more natural place for a page turn, so it should fall on an odd-numbered page if the rest of the layout works. As I’m working through the page layout, I examine the music and take these kinds of details into account. Sometimes it’s impossible to satisfy every situation, and that usually comes from a constraint of page limits.

In the most dire scenario, I sometimes have to create an insert page with the notice “This page has been intentionally left blank to facilitate page turns” or some benign symbol or placeholder to indicate that the blank page is not a printing mistake. Here’s a real-world example from 55 Piano Preludes by 8 Composers, concerning Scriabin’s 4 Preludes, Op. 22. The page counts for the four preludes were:

Prelude No. 1 in G-sharp minor         2 pages

Prelude No. 2 in C-sharp minor          1 page

Prelude No. 3 in B Major                   2 pages

Prelude No. 4 in B minor                    1 page

I wanted to preserve the sequence of the four preludes, so I added a blank page with a logo (the familiar Schirmer lyre) after Prelude No. 1.

Even after taking all these considerations into account, the paging process can still be a headache due to human error. Sometimes I incorrectly count pages or forget to include a piece in the first round of page numbering. For books that contain introductory material with Roman numerals, like Schirmer Performance Editions or the Bonjour Piano! series, I have to remember what the “real” page numbers are so the whole layout fits together properly. So many mistakes are possible that I go into each paging session expecting to have at least two rounds before I get it right.

That concludes my discussion of paging. I hope this topic was interesting, or at least shed some light on the production process. It’s satisfying when I make it through all the page-layout Sudoku and can finally add page numbers to both the music and the table of contents. Next time you pick up a sheet music collection, maybe you’ll take note of the page total, the celebrated “This page has been left blank to facilitate page turns” page, or a particular paging choice to account for a repeat.

And this is one of the less nerdy aspects of the job.


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