Fit To Print: A “Hyperhistory” of the Current State of American Music Publishing

The fact that in addition to the Manhattan-based music-publishing giant G. Schirmer, there was another significant publisher of music in Boston called E. C. Schirmer has led to many a misdirected phone call over the years. In 1993, in an effort to cut down on the confusion and because E. C. Schirmer had purchased Galaxy Music and was now distributing several other imprints, ECS Publishing was formed as a holding company to administer the copyrights of E. C. Schirmer Music Company, Ione Press, Galaxy Music Corporation, and Highgate Press. ECS is also the American distributor for Stainer & Bell, Ltd., Edition Delrieu, Gaudia Music and Arts, Vireo Press, Wayne Leopold Editions, Yorke Edition, and the manufacturer and distributor for the record label, ARSIS Audio.

Ernest Charles Schirmer was a nephew of Gustav Schirmer, who had founded G. Schirmer in 1861. As a young man E.C. Schirmer moved to Boston, where he worked for the Boston Music Company until he left to establish his own publishing firm in 1921. From the beginning, ECS has focused on publishing choral music, developing close ties to many of the deans of American choral music, such as Randall Thompson, Alice Parker, Ron Perera and Daniel Pinkham. Under the leadership of Robert Schuneman, the principal owner and president since 1985, ECS remains one of the few old American publishers still in business today and is one of the world’s leading publishers of choral music.

There is a sense of pride that ECS has carved out a niche in the classical music field without having a popular music division to generate revenues. Sales manager Kay Dunlap points to ECS’s ability to “focus on the music, not on the bottom line.” The back catalogue of Randall Thompson significantly bolsters that bottom line. His most popular work, Alleluia, sells as many as 1,000 copies a day in the months leading up to Easter, giving the company stability and allowing some risk-taking.

ECS’ editor, Stanley Hoffman, plows through a large number of submission each year in search of high quality music and perhaps the the next Thompson. What does it take to sift through the backlog and make a wonderful discovery? “Being persistent,” says Dunlap. One of the

happiest discoveries of recent years is the work of Frank Ferko of Chicago. ECS recently published Ferko’s Stabat Mater for SATB chorus and soprano solo which was premiered by His Majestie’s Clerkes and has been recorded on Cedille Records. In this work based on the ancient Latin sequence hymn, Ferko has interpolated five English texts that deal with the loss of a young person. “Publishing works of this quality make it worth getting up in the morning,” says Dunlap, who is clearly taken by the emotional power of the work.

Over 70% of ECS’ business is in the realm of choral music, and many of the end-user are church organists and choir directors. Interest in works from the ECS catalog is generated through reading sessions at conventions of organizations such as the American Choral Director’s Association, the American Guild of Organists and direct mail. ECS sells most of its scores through dealers, who have long discouraged publishers from selling directly to the public.

ECS is not unique because of its size, its clout or its age. Its uniqueness lies in its commitment to supporting its composers and in the fast and knowledgeable service it offers to its customers. While most publishers consider a New York City presence a sine qua non in the music-publishing world, ECS sees an advantage in being in Boston – and it goes beyond the vibrant choral music scene of Beantown. “It sets us apart,” says Dunlap, “and that’s fine with us.” And think of how much more confusing it would be if the two Schirmers were both in New York!

From Fit To Print: A “Hyperhistory” of the Current State of American Music Publishing
by John Robinson
© 2000 NewMusicBox

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