Search this site
Sempre Music; Andy and Melanie Thorne
John Robert Brown
I'm lunching with Andy Thorne and his composer wife Melanie. Andy is expressing strong views. The issue arousing his exasperation is the illegal photocopying of printed music. Is the replication of copyright publications a significant problem?
"We don't know," says Andy. How could anyone know? To measure the extent of the practice is impossible. Thieves - the correct name for those who make illegal Xerox copies - will hardly be open about stealing. Andy and Melanie, the proprietors of Sempre Music, are not indulging in meaningless petulant vituperation. Certain that photocopying occurs, they feel the harm caused.
"In my teaching career I see a lot of photocopying being done," says Melanie. "Not merely the odd page. Whole albums of music will be copied by teachers, and even ring-bound! Bulk copying is the sort of thing we are up against." Melanie thinks that publishers need to speak to teachers, because composers have their own living to make. "We should try to steer teachers towards less expensive publications," she says. "Some of the ABRSM books are reasonable. A book for £4:50 will keep a student going for a term. In Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the equivalent of the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR), doesn't mind students using photocopies in the examination room! If the board could be encouraged to require students to have their own copy of the music, that would be the place to start."
Making copies yourself is a tedious task. Teachers who make illegal copies create unnecessary work for themselves. "I assume what I see goes on elsewhere, all the time," says Melanie. Andy states what many teachers don't realise: the school is legally liable. He says: "In the past, some cathedrals have been fined thousands for photocopying choral music." As music publishers, the Thornes are directly affected.
Sempre Music specialises in pieces for woodwind, trumpet and mixed ensembles. Their catalogue states their aim: "To give instrumentalists and teachers the opportunity to play music which has been arranged and composed as a result of many years experience of teaching in schools and performing professionally." The Sempre service is unique. "The ensemble arrangements are flexible. They can be re-arranged to suit your own particular ensemble," they say.
In conversation, Andy Thorne describes the Sempre service as 'bespoke'. The personal attention the Thornes can give the customer has other advantages. "We can send out sample sheets," says Andy. "We'll send the first page and the last page of each movement. Customers can see what it's all about. Sale-or-return is a bit dodgy, given that photocopying is so easy. If customers want to hear what we are offering, we'll send them a midi version."
"We could email music. But look at the Sibelius site: www.sibeliusmusic.com Some of the music there sells for as little as a dollar. Frankly, for all the effort going into the pieces in our catalogue, we can't afford to sell pieces for a dollar."
Sempre Music is a relatively new organisation. "I started off as a peripatetic music teacher, teaching woodwind in a private school," says Melanie, speaking of her years in Surrey. "I was a classroom teacher. The involvement snowballed. I ended up being director of music at the school, which I did for six years. I was composing and arranging on a smaller scale, and felt I wanted to do more - but didn't have the time. The school was part-boarding, where I did weekends and evenings. We had always wanted to move to the north. We started looking around, then took the plunge, even though I hadn't got a job in Scotland. We got rid of the mortgage, left Guildford, and headed up north."
Now, seven years later, Andy and Melanie live in Moniaive in Dumfriesshire, 75 kilometres west of Gretna Green. Melanie continues to teach woodwind, both privately and for Dumfries and Galloway Council. She is team leader and moderator for composition with OCR, and examiner for A level performing OCR.
Formerly, Andy had no connection with wind instruments, though he's been a church organist for the past forty-six years. He conducts choirs. Currently he's an organist in Scotland. "We were both heavily interested in producing or directing Broadway Theatre-type shows, with theatre groups," he says. "That's how we met."
At present, the catalogue of Sempre Music contains 290 titles, only wind pieces at the moment, mainly woodwind, but some brass - duets, trios and ensembles. Building the catalogue takes time. "We're still learning," says Andy. "To be able to talk to people at trade shows, teachers and musicians, is helpful. We find out what's lacking, what they're looking for. Woodwind is our main interest. We do only a little at the moment for solo instruments, but we are flexible." "We do few pieces by other composers," says Melanie. "Ninety-eight per cent are mine. That's not necessarily a policy for the future."
And what of the future? Currently the Thornes are negotiating to place Sempre Music publications in the USA. To have some titles in the ABRSM lists is also an aim. "Obviously, if we can get pieces onto the Board's examination list, it would help," says Melanie. "Something we'd like to do in the future is produce more solo pieces. But our goal is to get the Sempre name established. The ABRSM is understandably wary of someone they've never heard of."
Having seen the focus and energy invested into Sempre Music by the Thornes, I have no doubt: we'll be hearing more of them.