NAME: Emily Grishman, 58
POSITION: Copyist and owner of Emily Grishman Music Preparation
Grishman makes sure musicals are musical, by preparing the sheet music for each instrument involved. She is currently working on “Freaky Friday,” a world premiere musical running at Signature Theatre through Nov. 20.
“With a new show, the composer writes the piano-vocal score,” Grishman says. “Then a producer comes along and says, ‘We have a budget for so many instruments,’ so the orchestrator works with the composer to figure out who’s going to play what.” After that, the orchestrator writes the full score, which spells out what all the instruments are doing — that’s what the conductor will use. “From that score, I prepare the individual parts that the players in the pit play every night.” So when the keyboardist sits down, it’s Grishman’s handiwork resting on the music stand.
With any new musical, the work doesn’t stop there. “I sit in rehearsal and, as the composer and orchestrator hear that music for the first time, they say, ‘Oh, we need to take that trumpet up an octave, we need to take that piano part out altogether, we need two bars here,’ ” Grishman says. “We have a nine-piece band for ‘Freaky Friday,’ so every time they make a change, that has to happen in nine different places.”
Changes are such a big part of the job, in fact, that the number of revisions a music copyist has to make partially determines his or her payment. Other variables include things like the number of musicians requiring music, and even how many bars of music the score has. Grishman has used computers to transcribe music since 1997, but before that the work was all done by hand. “We used pen and ink, rulers, all that,” she says. “I had to be part calligrapher, too.”
As part of the process, Grishman looks out for mistakes the composer might make. “I don’t change the content of what anybody has written. I would never say to Sondheim, ‘Oh, you don’t need that F sharp,’ ” she says. “But music, like English, has a syntax, and I am free to edit those elements to make things be correct. If there’s a C major chord and there’s a G flat in it, I change it.”
How she got the job
After earning a degree in music theory and music history from Hunter College in Manhattan, Grishman intended to pursue a career as a musicologist. Then she got a shot at a working summer vacation.
“A friend of mine who was a composer had a job writing a show for summer stock and she said, ‘They’ve said I could have a music assistant; do you want to be my music assistant?’ And I said, ‘Well, what does thatperson do?’ and she said, ‘I have no idea, but it’ll be fun. Let’s go to the Berkshires for the summer.’ So I went to the Berkshires,” Grishman says. “And I realized that theater was a lot more fun than being in the stacks of my library for the rest of my life.”
Grishman began working with other copyists, eventually branching out on her own. “It was word-of-mouth — composer after composer saying, ‘Can you do this?’ ” she says. “The next thing I knew, I was sitting at my kitchen table and realized I had a business on my hands.” Since then, the New York City-based Grishman has done copying for Broadway shows such as “Hamilton,” “Something Rotten!” and “Waitress.”
Who would want this job
Not who you might think. Grishman is very clear that this is a technical job, not a creative one.
“The less desire you have to be on the creative side, the better you are at this job,” she says. “I love the theater and I love the people I work with, but they’re not interested in my opinion. And I’m not interested in giving my opinion on what I’m working on.”
Even being an accomplished musician isn’t in itself a qualification. The job is about manipulating music on a page, rather than performing it on an instrument. “My work is all about the minutiae of music,” Grishman says. “A person who is not attentive to detail would not be suitable for this job.”
She also says copyists must have exceptional patience and organizational skills — and, due to the fast pace, the ability to function on very little sleep.
“You never sleep when you’re a copyist” when a show is in rehearsals, she says. “Never, never, never.”
How you can get the job
“There is no school,” Grishman says — no formal certification process or a specific degree to earn. Even a degree in music isn’t enough. “A lot of kids coming out of school, they are not taught good notation skills,” she says.
The best way to learn those skills, she says, is by doing. “My first job was with experienced copyists, and I learned as an apprentice. The people who come through my office, they learn from me.”
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