The Life and Times of Sheet Music: What a Shop Closing in NYC Says About the Future

The Classical music community has been buzzing this week about the closure of the last Classical sheet music store in New York City. This undeniably marks a changing of the tide in the musical community, but what does that mean?

Musical notation has existed for millennia, with the earliest evidence dating back to around 2000 BC. So what has been happening for the past four thousand years or so? Well, a lot, actually!

                                                                                                                       Drawing of a Sumerian Hymn Tablet

                                                                                                                       Drawing of a Sumerian Hymn Tablet

The first forms of notation described basic instructions for performing music, found on a tablet in Sumer (known today as Iraq). Evidence of musical notation has also been traced back to Greece, as early as 600 BC. The roots of modern notation became recognizable during the Byzantine Empire, in which note length and pitch were relative to setting and not specified exactly.

                                                                                                                                       13th c. Dominican Missal

                                                                                                                                       13th c. Dominican Missal

Western musical notation has since developed into a fairly specific set of instructions, making it possible for groups and individuals around the world to play exactly what composers intend, off of what we now call “sheet music.”

                                                                                                                            Sheet Music From Chromatik.com

                                                                                                                            Sheet Music From Chromatik.com

So, back to the start of our tale, what does the closing of this NYC Classical music shop say about the music community? Have people stopped reading sheet music? Of course not! Just as many people have begun to send email rather than sending traditional letters through mail, many musicians have switched to online sources to find their music.

Although it is certainly true that the manner in which music is being discovered, played, and even written has changed, that is not necessarily an indicator of the health of the community as a whole. In fact, the evolution and involvement of technology in the Classical music world shows promise that there is interest in a younger community to preserve written music.

It is sad to say goodbye to the things we hold dear— the closure of this (or any) music shop is a somber event. However, it is not an act of dying, simply passing the torch for future generations to cherish the art in their own medium, after all, it has been a while since we chiseled our music on tablets.