December 6, 2011

Things I've learned while writing a book

Have you ever had the experience of writing a book and getting it published?  Well, I have.  As I mentioned some weeks ago in another blog post, my first book is due out from Kendall Hunt Publishing in January, 2012.  The title is The Opera Zoo: Singers, Composers and Other Primates.  And there's one thing I can definitely state about the process of getting a book into print: 

It's educational.

That's actually a good thing.  One thing I truly appreciate about my job (and this book project is related to my position with Virginia Opera) is that it's like a perpetual post-graduate course.  Re-studying familiar operas; learning new operas; continual reading and research; let's face it: there are worse gigs for sure.  And learning about what it takes to get a book published is another aspect of that scenario. 

Here's just one example of the speedbumps I encountered on my publishing highway:  No one really knows who wrote the theme music to the Superman television show. 

For those of you who belong to "Gen X" or later, I refer to the cheesily awful-yet-wonderful vintage show starring George Reeves. I cited the Superman theme song in an essay about Wagner's Die Walkuere, along with the themes from two films: Christopher Reeve's update of Superman, and Indiana Jones.  In the end, I was advised by my editor to abandon the actual musical examples and simply describe the themes instead.  Music published prior to 1923 is in the public domain, but all three of those themes, of course, date from long after that; securing permission to reproduce in a small-scale publication venture like mine is impractical.  But here's the thing:  I held out hope that I might still use the TV music since, it turns out, no one knows who composed it!  From the liner notes to a CD recording of the original soundtrack I gleaned the following information: 

The credited composer of the Superman TV theme is Leon Klatzkin.  Frankly, the credit is troublesome.  Klatzkin's job on Superman was to select Mutel tracks and tell the editors where to place them.  According to David Chudnow, ... "Leon was working as a music cutter for television.  He'd look at a show, pick the cues off my turntable, and write out an order.  Then he'd give me the cue sheet.  That's all he did."  (Note:  I find something wonderfully John Cage-ish about this approach to "composition".  But to continue:) 

This much is known: the "Superman Theme" was orchestrated and recorded in New York by Jack Shaindlin in 1952.  ...If Klatzkin wrote it, he clearly based it on {material previously written by Shaindlin}.  Some feel it may have been prewritten by one of Shaindlin's ghost writers.  The truth, it seems, has been borne away by time and lost in the darkness and distance.

Now, put yourself in my place:  if you wanted to quote the first phrases of said theme (doot-de-DOOO, doodle-ty DOOO, doot-de doo doo doo doodle-ty DOO), knowing that "the truth" of its origin "has been borne away by time and lost in the darkness and distance", would you have felt you were placing yourself in legal jeopardy?  I sure didn't when I displayed a jpeg image of the theme on the version of my essay which appeared in blog form months ago.

I pled my case.  I lost.  No musical examples of superheroes shall grace the pages of The Opera Zoo.  Heaven help me if a worthy publishing company ended up being brought to ruin by vengeful, gold-digging  descendents of the Klatzkin or Shaindlin tribes. 

By the way, if you were planning on ordering your very own copy of my book, don't let this development deter you in any way.  It's still a pretty good book. Even my wife says so.

1 comment:

  1. There are occasion black holes in music credits. I once worked on a project involving "Rapper's Delight". We stumbled on the fact that both Sony and Warner said the other was the publisher in Holland, which is weird. It's a pretty well-known track.

    What is the actual title of the theme? If Klatzin is mentioned, Klatzkin or his estate are getting the dough, no matter what his actual role was.