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Women Who Wow Us: Week Nine (Emily Grishman)


Emily Grishman is a music copyist who specializes in providing music for the theatre and has been the music preparation supervisor for over 125 Broadway productions. (To see an almost comically long list of her credits, check out her Internet Broadway Database Page.) She has worked on countless not-for-profit and regional shows and also prepares music for film and television recording sessions.

A Conversation with Emily Grishman

Jamie Maletz: So to start, just for those who might not know, what does a music copyist do? What exactly is music preparation?

Emily Grishman: Music preparation covers a lot of things. When there’s a new show, the composer will write a piano/vocal score which has vocals, lyrics, dialogue cues, and a complete piano part. At the point that a show’s getting a production, the producer might say, “This is our budget, and this show’s gonna have 12 instruments.” The composer generally does not write the orchestration; an orchestrator is hired and that person determines, along with the composer, what the instrumentation will be and then the orchestrator notates what each player (instrument) will play. I then receive the full score and I act as an editor to make anything that may not be complete or correct, complete and correct. And then I make individual parts for the orchestra players who will be playing the score. So if you’re a violinist, you just look at your violin line, if you’re a trumpet player you just look at your trumpet line, if you’re a keyboard player you just look at your keyboard part. In addition to that, a lot of our shows these days on Broadway and Off-Broadway have a person who plays and conducts the show and that person plays from a Piano/Conductor part. There’s a certain amount of creative work that has to go into creating that part, which is to say that I take the vocals and the piano part, and then I take another single line on that page and do an orchestral reduction. I take all the things from the orchestration that a conductor would need to see to cue the orchestra and reduce that onto a single line and also annotate with words in the piano line anything that the conductor would need to know. That’s the fundamental job of a music copyist. But, beyond that–

JM: There’s more!

Emily Grishman: There’s an entire world of what happens after that process. So, the first time through getting the music on the page is actually…I hesitate to say, the easiest part of the job. That’s more or less formulaic. But as I work, I’m often fixing things that may not be completely correct in the orchestrator’s score, but I don’t change the actual content. Music has a syntax of its own, like language. Like a copyeditor, I would never want to change the content of what the author wrote, but I can change the punctuation and the spelling and make it more readable, more user-friendly. So I would never look at a chord and say, “Oh, I’d rather see a G#, not a Bb.” But if a note is spelled poorly or is one way in the top of the orchestra and another way in the bottom of the orchestra and there’s no reason for that contextually, I will go and make some editorial changes to make the score read better. Same with dynamics. If orchestrators work very quickly, they might put a dynamic in one place and then forget to put it in all the other staves. So I make educated guesses as to what really should be on the score. And fundamentally, the goal is to have no questions asked at a rehearsal. The invisible copyist is the best copyist. So if I go to a band call and there’s any time wasted with hands being raised saying, “What’s that note?” [or] “Why don’t I have that bar?” [or] “My page turns don’t work” [or] “I’m missing music from bars 32-36,” that is a failure on the copyist’s part. 

JM: What do you mean when you say, “My page turns don’t work?”

Emily Grishman: Page turns are another job of a copyist. So page turns, I take into account where the rests are in the part so that when you’re playing your music, you don’t get to the bottom of the page and find yourself in the middle of a solo. [Laughs] So I try to find the best place to turn the page, which sometimes is difficult when you have smaller bands, as we do today, and everybody’s playing all the time. Sometimes you even have to know how an instrument performs, how a player plays that instrument, to know, can this be done one-handed? Where are the open strings?

JM: Can they turn the page while they’re playing these notes?

Emily Grishman: It’s part of the arsenal of a copyist’s knowledge. So marrying musical skill, graphic skill, knowing how to put the phrases right on the page, that’s all part of the job. Besides having musical knowledge, you have to have a very good sense of graphic design, because really, I’m making something that is pleasing to the eye and is also functional. So if I have a song that has 4-bar phrases and I decide to do the entire song with 5 bars on a line, that would be a complete nightmare for a player to play. So it’s music combined with graphics. What’s going to make the easiest read here? I have to know the music well enough to follow the phrasing and reflect that in my parts.

JM: So you kind of have to do and know everything…and get appreciated for nothing by the world at large.

Emily Grishman: Oh, we’re invisible to the audience and the outside world. But I think the people who work in this field are generally people who are pleased by that. The idea that anybody’s interviewing me right now makes me a little crazy. I’m not a front-and-center type. Anybody who has the kind of personality who needs to be out there out front is probably not going to succeed very well as a copyist. But I think that we are very well-appreciated by the orchestraters and music directors, and by the producers, because when you have good copyists, you don’t waste a lot of time and you don’t have a lot of re-dos, so you save money. But that’s the business end. From the musical end, I think that people who hire…I’ll be bold enough to say people that hire me and my crew, know that what they’re getting is no time wasted, music that looks better than when they gave it to me, and it’s going to play down generally without a hitch. And they appreciate that very much.

JM: And you’ve been doing this for over 30 years. Since 1990?

Emily Grishman: Actually, since before that. 1990 was my first Broadway show. I’ve been doing this since 1984 or 1985. 

JM: You mentioned to me before that you’ve even worked on revivals of some shows for which you worked on the original productions!

Emily Grishman: Yes! [Laughs] That’s how old I am now?! So, Once On This Island, Violet, Falsettos, Side Show…these are shows where we worked on the original and the revival. And the thing that’s the most fun is when I get the parts back from the rental companies to use as reference. It’s always the handwritten music that we did originally, and that’s always fun, because I think the biggest loss…I mean, I love, love, love using the computer to do my job. But in the days of using pen and ink, there was much more ownership of the individual pages of work. There was a sense of real ownership of that. When I look at the music that comes back to me from the rental companies…in my office I have enough people who’ve been around for a while that, you know, we’ll pick up a page out of the box and we’ll say, “Oh, look, that was Bob! Oh, look, there’s Matilda or Kathie!”  

JM: Like, by handwriting?

Emily Grishman: Yes! Because we know their handwriting. And I can see my work, too. So there was a real…I don’t know. There was a sense of intimacy with the music. And also, I think that I had a different sense of actually knowing the music, because when you’re writing a line, you’re writing it, you’re singing it, you’re somehow…involved. You’re looking at the note and you hear it in your head. Whereas when you’re doing this stuff as it flies by on the computer and basically moving stuff around–that’s really what my job is now–I’m much less aware of what the music is than I used to be. Even though, yes, I can play it back, which I couldn’t do back in the day. There’s a different relationship to it. In the old days, when you had ink on paper, people had to consider long and hard whether they were going to put that 2-bar insert in, or whether we really needed that a half-step lower, because it’s going to mean starting blank pages with a pen. In the old days, your day would start with a stack of blank paper on the left side of your desk. And then you’d put in your time, and at the end of your day, you’d have a stack on the right side, all full of beautiful ink-filled pages. You could weigh it. You could measure your day in that work. It was so tactile. It was calligraphy. It was artistic. Your hands were literally on the page.

JM: Yeah. So…I counted, on your profile on the Internet Broadway Database. You’ve worked on 127 Broadway shows. Does that number sound right?

Emily Grishman: That sounds about right, yeah. I haven’t counted lately, but that’s in the ballpark.

JM: That is…staggering.

Emily Grishman: [Laughs] And that’s supervising. Before that, when I worked for other people, I was working on shows where my name was not on the show. So really, my hand has been in even more than that. And then if you take all the off-Broadway and all the regional shows that I’ve supervised over the years, it’s…it’s in the hundreds.

JM: Triple digits. So I won’t ask you what your favorite show is, because I guess that’s kind of like picking a favorite child, but I will ask, having done that many Broadway shows for this long…the magic of Broadway, does it still getcha?

Emily Grishman: Absolutely! Oh, yeah. I’m a complete fangirl. And that’s not to say I don’t have my jaded moments. I mean, there are plenty of times when I think, “Well, there are other things I could be doing with my life.” I don’t know if that’s actually true, because there’s really nothing else I could be doing with my life, but, no, I’m a fan. And I love to go to see everything. If I had the time to sit in the dark in tech rehearsals every night, I really would. I’m that person.

JM: What are some of the magical moments you get to do in the Broadway world as part of your job? Other than sitting in the tech rehearsals, which sounds amazing.

Emily Grishman: Well, I mean, going to the first band rehearsal and sitting through the sitzprobe and hearing everything coming together for the first time is always exciting.

JM: For people who don’t know, what is sitzprobe?

Emily Grishman: The sitzprobe is when the cast comes together with the orchestra for the first time, and the cast and the orchestra will sing and play together. And it’s really the only time that the cast will get to see the orchestra, will get to stand in front of the orchestra and really see them playing and hear them acoustically straight on, right in front. And that’s a really different thing. It’s great. Usually the cast gets very emotional.

JM: Do they cry?

Emily Grishman: Oh, there’s a lot of crying. [Laughs] Definitely. So that’s always fun.

JM: Do you go to the opening night parties?

Emily Grishman: Oh, definitely. I always go to opening nights. I always go to the parties, ’cause I like to see everybody.  

JM: And how closely do you get to work with the composers? I know from the article the Washington Post wrote about you that you sit in the rehearsals so that you can adjust the sheet music as things are tweaked and changed. But for example, when you worked on Kinky Boots, how closely did you get to work with Cyndi Lauper?

Emily Grishman: To be honest, I don’t work with the composer very much. I really work more with the music director, and mostly with the orchestrator. Not that the composer’s work is done, but the composer’s work is largely done by the time it gets to the orchestrator. So by the time we have a production to put on, the score has been written. And it may be changed and tweaked, and the composer’s in the room making the fixes, but those get filtered through the music assistant, who fixes the piano/vocal, and that version of the piece will go to the orchestrator, and then I’m the one that deals with the orchestrator.

JM: So, one thing that I wanted to bring up, and this is because of something you told me earlier…we chose to interview you because we think that what you do is amazing. And you seemed a little hesitant to let us interview you, and you were saying, “Oh, I don’t think it’ll be that interesting.” And I wanted to ask why you felt that way, because I’m sitting here fascinated and thinking that what you’ve done is so incredible.

Emily Grishman: Well, I think because the nature of my work is that it’s behind-the-scenes. Even having done this for 35 years, and having…I mean, I have to admit that…again, I can’t even say it out loud, but I suppose I am at the top of my field.

JM: Yes! You are!

Emily Grishman: And the catalogue that you mentioned before, if you open IBDB and there are a hundred and twenty plus titles there, that’s formidable. I get that. But it’s still very hard to think of myself as anybody who’s done anything that spectacular. This is my job. I think I’m good at it. I don’t hesitate for one second owning the quality of what I do, or my involvement with my clients and my ability to deal with producers and managers. But does that amount to being…I guess the word you used was “wow-worthy?”

JM: “Women Who Wow Us.” Yes. It’s why we asked you!

Emily Grishman: That’s the part that I think is…it’s not my personality. Although I will own my skill and talent and my ability to do a great job and run a great office and all that.

JM: But I think what’s wow-worthy is exactly what you’re talking about. For this series, we’re looking at women in this industry who are formidable, and strong, and talented at what they do. Women who aren’t questioning the fact that they know how to do what they do, they’re kicking ass in their field, they know their stuff and they’re good at it. And people know that if they go to these women, they’re going to get the best possible work. 

Emily Grishman: Okay. I’ll own those things.

JM: Heck yeah! Exactly. Okay, so, next question: What is a day in the life like for you?

Emily Grishman: There is not one day that is the same as the next. And that is, I think, the key to why I’m still doing this. I could not be a bank teller, or do any kind of job that’s predictable and repetitive. And I know people might think, “Wow, isn’t music copying pretty repetitive and predictable? I mean, after all, you’re looking at a certain number of lines and a certain number of dots, and that’s what you’ve got.” But the job is different every day because of the nature of where I am in the business in that I have this huge catalogue, and any given day…and this happens every day…I get emails and phone calls out of the blue for things that aren’t current. And people need something, and they need it now, or they need it tomorrow, or they need it yesterday. And because I’m the one that holds the keys to all this material…people can search things elsewhere, but they come to me. So my days are often broken up terribly by things that are not expected. For example, I’ve been trying to do one thing all day today, and I still have not completed it. So I live in a state of constant terror of not being able to deliver the things that I have to deliver every given day. I have an amazing crew of five other people who are here pretty much every day. And I have a great proofreader, and everything happens in this office very, very smoothly. The things I have to do myself that nobody else can do here is to get on the phone and talk to the general managers and talk to the producer, or deal with projects or deal with contracts, or deal with projections of, “What will this be if we do a recording of this?” Or, “How much is it going to cost if we do a film and show it in theaters?” I’m the one that really has all that knowledge of how to do estimates. So another key to success is remembering that I’m not only serving the music people on this job, but I’m hired by the money people. And as a kind of, I hate to say it, middle manager, because I’m the music copyist supervisor, I fall in between, because I actually am the manager of this department. But remember, we’re union members, and that’s a huge and important part of this discussion.

JM: Members of which union?

Emily Grishman: Local 802. And I have been very active, though not so much lately. I’ve been on Broadway negotiating committees, and I’ve been very involved. So when I have to do a budget, I have a framework that I work within. But there’s a lot of leeway, and there a lot of ways that you can make errors. And a real key to the success of Emily Grishman Music Prep as a business is that when a general manager calls me, they know that they’re not going to be surprised by anything. I’m going to tell them everything they need to know; I will answer all their questions. But more importantly, when I give them a budget, they can trust that budget. I’m not someone that’s going to come to them at the end of the job and tell them it’s twice as much because I messed up. 

JM: And now you have a reputation as a business owner for being not just good at what you do, but also honest and upfront. 

Emily Grishman: I think the thing that’s tricky about building a business like this is that I did not have a business plan. I did not raise money and open or start a business. It grew around me. I made it grow. I am not a business person from the get-go. I’m a trained musician. I was a music theory and music history major. That’s where I started. But in order to do what I’m doing now, you have to have a really good sense of numbers, you have to be really good with a spreadsheet, you have to be really good at talking to your clients…and that’s all running a business. And that’s the part I’m trying, actually, to teach a couple of people in my office now, who are the heir apparents, because I won’t be doing this forever. And I’m happy to say that I have a crew here who will be doing this a lot longer than I will be. But the business aspect of this is very big, and so on any given day, I spend way more time than I’d like doing that part of the business, and not enough time doing the work I love. And this is actually an issue. I often look across the room and think, “If only I could be a side man. If only I could be that person who gets an assignment, and goes home at 6:00pm and has a life, that would be great.” And then I look across the room, and I think, “…No. Not so much.” [Laughs] It would be a lot simpler, but at this point in my life, I couldn’t be that person.

JM: A grass is greener moment, but it passes.

Emily Grishman: Yeah. But the thing that I love to do most is, I still am at my calmest and my most focused when I’m just working at the computer on a score and doing the work that I set out to do. And I try to assign myself a certain amount of work during my days. I don’t succeed enough, but I do always make sure that my hands get into the actual work, because otherwise it’s not my work.

JM: Speaking of work, here’s an interesting question. We’re heading into Maestra mission territory. Of all the shows that you’ve worked on, what percentage would you estimate were written by female composers?

Emily Grishman: I was ready for this question. I did a little research. 

JM: Is that a map on your notes? Did you draw a map for this?

Emily Grishman: [Laughs] I looked just at the Broadway list. And out of the…what number did you say?

JM: A hundred and twenty-seven.

Emily Grishman: There were seven shows written by women, three of which were written by one woman, Jeanine Tesori. And the shows that were written by women…three of the seven shows that I mentioned, kind of have a little twist. Which is that they’re not written by women composers who set out to be musical theater composers. For example, one of the shows I was referring to was Head Over Heels, which was The Go-Gos musical. So, Jukebox, Go-Gos…really, a Tom Kitt musical. Doesn’t really count, but counts because the women get the credit as writers. 9 to 5: The Musical. Dolly Parton. She did write these songs as a musical, for the musical, so she is the composer. And I will tell you, you asked about people that I loved working with…that, for me, was the most fun I’ve ever had, just to be out of town with Dolly Parton working on 9 to 5. She is awesome. But, again, Dolly Parton as filtered through Stephen Oremus arranging. And then Kinky Boots was Cyndi Lauper, who also wrote the songs for the musical, so not a jukebox, but again, filtered through Stephen Oremus as arranger and music supervisor. So those composers are not in the same category as Jeanine Tesori, who is a composer for the theater, who is a hands-on person who writes her music and crafts her musical. These other shows were by famous musicians who were asked to write a musical and sort of turned it over to the people that know how to write musicals.

JM: Right, they were women who were already famous for being great songwriters in the pop world, and then they worked with…

Emily Grishman: Theater men to make musicals. So I would say that’s a very different category than women who compose for the theater. 

JM: So…is the number…is it one woman? If you took out the women who were pop musicians, are we down to just Jeanine Tesori? 

Emily Grishman: Yes.

JM: Out of a hundred and twenty-seven shows? One woman?

Emily Grishman: Yes. And Off-Broadway recently, I worked with Carmel Dean and Erin McKeown.

JM: You did Miss You Like Hell?

Emily Grishman: Miss You Like Hell, and Carmel’s Renascence. Those were great experiences, and I did work closely with both of them. 

JM: Do you notice a difference when working with female composers versus male composers?

Emily Grishman: I have to say, no. From a working standpoint, I don’t think so. The process is the same. 

JM: So now, to go back to the beginning, what was it like for you starting out in this industry and what has your career path been like?

Emily Grishman: Well, I was a classical musician. And I imagined that my life would probably be graduate school, and then I would probably be some kind of musicologist discovering Monteverdi manuscripts that had never been seen before or something like that. And somewhere in the middle of my college years, I had a friend who was a composer for the theater. She got a summer job, summer stock up in Lenox, MA, and said, “Do you want to come and be my music assistant?” And I said, “What’s a music assistant?” And she said, “I have no idea, but I know I get one. Do you want to come up?” So I did. And of course the summer was total fun, and I realized that what I was doing most of the time was writing down music. So after that summer, I came back to town, and I still didn’t know that this was a profession, but she recommended me to another friend of hers who was a composer, and then that person recommended me to somebody else, and before I knew it, I was doing more music copying than anything else. And I didn’t realize that it was a profession until I ran into somebody who was actually a professional copyist, who said, “No, this is a job.” He also said, “This is a union job. Local 802. You can join as a copyist.” So I investigated all of that, hooked up with a company called Associated Music. It was Bob and Judy Haring, and Bob became somewhat of a mentor, and I learned about professional copying there. He put me on some jobs–in the day, they did a lot of jingles and some recording sessions–and I did a lot of that work for them. Even as I went out on my own, I continued to do work for them. But I started to get some of my own small jobs, and I’d work on my own kitchen table. And one time, I had a job that was too big for me to do by myself, so I called somebody else, and that person sat across the kitchen table from me and we did that job. And the next job came along, and it was too big for the two of us, so then there were three people. And my business just sort of grew in that fashion. It was never by design. It was never, “I’m going to build a business.” I never thought about the future. I was very much the hand-to-mouth musician. I worked only as much as I had to. I finally got a little office near my house in the village. I lived on West 11th Street, and my office was on West 4th Street, and it was a basement room. And a couple people who I still work with will remind me that there was no buzzer, there was no bell, you had to kick on the window (which was on street level) to get my attention, then I could come up and open the door and let you in. That’s how it was for many years. And then in ’96, I left the village, and I really made a bold move, and I took a space in Times Square at 1600 Broadway. Which has since been knocked down and is now the M&M store. [Laughs] I worked at 1600 Broadway with many of the same people who are here now in this office, and that was when I started to get much more Broadway work. It was as if I never existed before. I worked in the Village, I had lots of clients, but as soon as I set up shop in Times Square…I realized today, when I was looking back at dates, what a bold move that was. My rent in that one room in the basement was really low. I think it was $400 a month. And when I moved to Times Square, I was probably paying five times that. And it was just a feeling that I got that it was time to do something different. And so suddenly, I had this new office, and I started getting calls, and I started to get all this Broadway work, and that was really the beginning of what I have today. 

JM: Now for the big question: why did you join Maestra?

Emily Grishman: Before I was involved with Maestra at all, Georgia [Stitt] asked me to come talk to the group about what I do, about music copying. She said, “These are all composers, and I think it would be educational. Would you come and do an evening?” I think I might have been one of the first presenters at a Maestra meeting. And the scene was so great, and I thought, “Well, this is an interesting group.” I asked Georgia, “I know this is a group for composers, and I’m really not a composer, but can I come to the next meeting?” And she said, “Of course.” And suddenly, I kind of embedded myself in the group. I basically intruded on the composer’s group. [Laughs] Then when Georgia wanted to move further and become a not-for-profit, I was in the right place at the right time. She needed an officer to be the secretary, and it caught my interest, and now of course I’m committed to being very involved.

JM: And why do you think Maestra is important?

Emily Grishman: Well, I think that any time you have a community that forms to network with one another, or to focus on a particular topic, issue, profession…I think it brings visibility to the group in a way that a single person doesn’t. A group has a power to create change, in a way that an individual might not. And I think Maestra fits that profile of having more power in the world, by showing the community at large actually how large and well-prepared our community of women musicians is. 

JM: How has Maestra helped you or people you know so far?

Emily Grishman: The most obvious thing is the directory. I have used it many times and I think it’s very valuable, because if people ask me for a recommendation…I think most of us will think of the last person we met, or who was on the last job I just did. And that’s pretty much where you go, and then you stop. I think right now, because of Maestra, I’m much more ready to look to the community of women in our field. I have many amazing people that I’ve worked with, that I’ve mentored, and I’m looking forward to being able to do that with some of the women who I’m meeting in this group. 

JM: And why should people care about the services that we offer and the goals that we’re working towards?

Emily Grishman: I think that our working environment should reflect the world at large. And I think that to look at the Broadway scene and to see the predominance of men in pits does not reflect the reality of what’s out there in the world and all the quality people that we have available. I think we’re making headway already. Especially, in our group, we talked about contractors, the people that hire other musicians. There’s a dearth of female contractors in this profession. And, so far, we’ve had a few women already getting jobs as contractors strictly through Maestra. People lobbying for it, composers asking for it…there’s really been an opening, and that’s happened very quickly. So there are certain benefits that we’re seeing right away. I think that it is important to give half the people who exist on this planet an equal chance to do the work they love, and Maestra’s representing that.

Special thanks to Emily for sharing her story, and for letting me photograph her EPIC chalkboard and the fun Broadway memorabilia in her office (courtesy of shows she has worked on)!

Read more of our Women Who Wow Us series, including interviews with Nancy Ford, Anessa Marie, Elise Frawley, Erin McKeown, Meg Zervoulis, Masi Asare, Britt Bonney, and Jennifer Isaacson.

Women Who Wow Us: Week 9
Author/Photographer: Jamie Maletz
Editor: Sara Cooper

5 thoughts on “Women Who Wow Us: Week Nine (Emily Grishman)

  1. Bravo, Emily!
    You are a Broadway eminence.
    I thank my lucky stars to have you in my life.
    Always yours,

  2. What an amazing interview! This should be shared widely as it is such a clear and insightful description of what copying and music preparation actually is, explained by someone who is indeed at the very top of her profession. Brava!

  3. Thank you for sharing this incredible interview. Music Preparation is such important work and it’s a rarity to get such a candid insight from someone at the top of the game!

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