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Neil Sands

An interview with Neil Sands, founder of Chichester Music Press

17/02/2021

Why was Chichester Music Press founded by you in 2003?

Chichester Music Press (CMP) was originally a vehicle for me to publish my own music. I’d not had any success trying to interest publishers in my music. Then one day, in the bath actually, it occurred to me that I had the skills to be able to publish myself. I was already working as a freelance music typesetter, having served an 18-month apprenticeship to learn the art. This is different from merely being a musician who owns Sibelius. I also had the skills to build a functional website, which was a different proposition in 2003 from today. I wrote all the HTML by hand and programmed the scripts which handle the shop and the catalogue myself. Once I had a website functioning as a shop window, very soon other composers wanted to come on board. Now there are nearly 40 of us!

What does CMP do?

The CMP publishes new choral music for liturgical use, which usually means small-scale pieces which can be used in C of E or RC services. The first part of the job is to select which music to take on, from the wealth of music offered to me. I can’t take it all – there’s simply too much of it.

Next, I prepare an edition from the score supplied by the composer. Usually these are in PDF format, but I can take Sibelius, Finale, Musescore or my favourite Dorico. I always typeset them again completely from scratch, for two reasons: one, because it allows me to have a consistent set of house styles which are recognisably CMP, and two because with the best will in the world composers are not routinely schooled in music typography, and there are always blemishes to fix!

Once my edition is ready it gets proofread by the composer. Then I prepare an audio version, using Dorico’s own sounds and Voices of Prague, and that ends up on the website alongside the catalogue entry for the piece. For any new score you can sit down at the website and read the score through and hear the audio I’ve made (or in some cases I’m able to use a real live performance), so you can always see and hear exactly what you’re buying. This is a bonus, because ordinarily you wouldn’t expect to be able to peruse an entire score on a publisher’s website, so you are to an extent buying blind.

Once a piece is ready, it’s time to tell the world, through my mailing list and through posts on social media, and hopefully the word begins to spread.

What is special (or unique) about CMP? Why do composers like to work with CMP?

Because I am small, I can move quickly. I’m proud of how fast I can turn a score around sometimes, if a composer approaches me to publish some music in time for a performance that’s already in the diary. I always have a lot of pieces in the queue, but I can bump things to the front if they’re needed in a hurry. Thanks to my background as a trained typesetter I can produce a nice, swish, professional-looking score quickly and efficiently.

What kinds of music does it tend to specialise in?

The CMP publishes new music aimed at church and cathedral choirs. Most of the composers work in church music, as organists or as the directors of cathedral choirs etc. We have a very healthy set of mass settings and canticles for evensong available, and these are the mainstay of church and cathedral choir repertoire. But I like to concentrate on more unusual music, for example settings of lesser-known texts to be sung as introits or anthems. These aren’t always specifically religious, by the way – some of them are secular but useful nevertheless in Christian worship, for example for Remembrance.

Have there been any milestones during the history of CMP – composers “launched, and so on?

I knew I was onto something special when I published an evening service by Francis Jackson, his St Bride’s Service. Francis has been a giant in the world of choral music for many decades, and we published St Bride’s on his 100th birthday in 2017. He’s still going strong at the age of 103. I was absolutely over the moon to bring his St Bride’s Service to the world. He’d written it for the choir of St Bride’s Church in London in the 1970s, but I’ve been able to make it available more widely for the first time.

Which composers would you like our readers to be especially aware of right now?

Some of my recent signings are Charles Paterson, Rosemary Field, Simon Mold, Sarah MacDonald, Graham Keitch and Alastair Borthwick. You can read the list here.

What else do you do in your spare time? 

I play the organ and direct the choir at St Richard’s Church in Chichester. Since a recent illness I bizarrely can no longer sing alto, and the opportunities to do so during the pandemic are few and far between anyway. Outside music, I am a keen astronomer, and at the moment am taking as many photos as I can of features on the moon. The weather has not been favourable for that in recent months, however!

Neil Sands, a professional music typesetter, founded Chichester Music Press in 2003. He studied Composition at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and subsequently at the University of Wales in Bangor.

Neil plays the organ and directs the choir at St Richard’s Church in Chichester. He has sung with Chichester’s Chantry Quire, and sang for a year with Chichester Cathedral choir as a countertenor. More recently, he has sung as a dep with Portsmouth Cathedral choir.

He has also been Musical Director of Bognor Regis Choir, and of Chichester Amateur Operatic Society, mounting Annie Get Your Gun in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre. Previously, he was the conductor of the Portsmouth University Choral Union, the University of Wales’ Aberystwyth Elizabethan Madrigal Singers, and Aberystwyth’s Showtime Singers.

Neil has taught music composition at Chichester’s Prebendal School, as well as teaching music theory, composition and piano to private pupils. He’s done some programming for Sibelius, and several of his plugins ship with the program. He served as Technical Editor for the Sibelius tutor book Sibelius 7 Music Notation Essentials. He has also worked as an English and Welsh teacher, and as a newsreader for Radio Manhattan in Łódź in Poland.

Author: Simon O'Hea with Neil Sands

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