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Are Octavos a thing of the past?

As I sit here re-formatting all my choral music to be "octavo", I find myself wondering of octavos are a thing of the past - created by old hand set, then photo off-set printers using what is now considered odd sized paper. I wonder if all my work is really worth it?
I like the size of octavos, although, as I get older, I don't like trying to read them. However, they are massively inconvenient for the choral director who is buying a digital copy to re-print on a regular printer - what  an incredible waste of space and paper!! I have considered doing two up on legal paper, but that leaves very small print, and since publishers are still printing in octavo, that is the way I am going.
However - what are others' feelings on this? Do we need to say to publishers, we don't want this anymore? Or are we totally set up for it and don't want to change? There are pros and cons, definitely - but what should be the future? Do I need to make two different files - one for standard A4 (or ltr) paper and one for 8vo?
Please chime in with your opinions - maybe it's time for us to change the world ;)
on July 11, 2013 6:33pm
Good question and excellent points!
Concurrent with the 2012 Chorus America conference in Minneapolis, the American Composers Forum sponsored a wonderful event called Choral Connections. One of the sessions was on Music Engraving and Copying and was led by one of the top music engravers in the world: Bill Holab. One of the things he mentioned is that, although octavo-size scores (6.75" x 10.5") used to be the default size for choral scores, the standard has now evolved to 8.5" x 11" with a 0.5" margin around all the edges, which is the format he uses for choral scores. There are certainly many traditional music publishers that still print octavos, but I and most of the growing number of self-publishers I know publish in the 8.5" x 11" format.
Unless you're re-formatting your choral scores to comply with your publisher's format—which might certainly be necessary—I would recommend sticking with the 8.5" x 11" format and not waste  time reformatting to octavo.
All the best!
John Muehleisen
Composer, Publisher
Muehleisen Music (
Northwest Choral Publishers (
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 11, 2013 8:41pm
Hello Dianna,
Nothing much to add to yours and John's comments, other than to endorse the growing move to a standard size paper. I have been using 8.5 x 11 for my music that is self published (A Tempo) for a few decades now, and have not had one word of complaint. It makes such sense – and less paper waste – so I am wondering why publishers on the whole are stuck on the traditional octavo size which, by the way, in practice is not really standardized: Boosey & Hawkes, Oxford, Alliance (6.75 x 10.5), Gordon V. Thompson/Warner Bros, Oxford (7 x 10), Hope (6 7/8 x 10.25), ECS Pub (6 7/8 x 10.75), Carl Fischer (6.75 x 10.25) Oxford (6 7/8 x 10.5), earthsongs (8 1/8 x 10 5/8 (getting there!)), and Cypress (dedicated to Canadian composers) recently moved to 8.5 x 11. (Bravo on two accounts!). Ultra-traditional Oxford seems to have paved the way years ago to non-'standard' octavos with it's apparently random sized octavos, so why not use what is the most convenient and paper-saving 8.5 x 11? (A neat 21.5 x 28 cm.)
Let the desk publishers lead the way and re-standardize octavos once and for all!
Donald Patriquin
Composer, Conductor
on July 12, 2013 1:20am
Thank you!!!
I have just made a bunch of octavos, but I will return to standard paper!! Yay!
Are there opinions on font size? I know those who are younger don't care, but anyone else?
Thanks, and yes, I do have a printer that does A3 (or is it A5) paper - that is, 11x17. Guess I have to dust it off... ;)
on July 12, 2013 1:24am
PS - one thing we should remember when setting up 81/2 x 11 (216x179) is that in Europe, the size is A4, which is 210x217mm - slightly longer and narrower than letter sized (can't do the conversion this morning.) 
You might want to make sure your margins reflect that difference. :)
on July 12, 2013 4:28am
Further question - when making my octavos, I do a cover sheet,  inside the front cover the entire text (which I personally LOVE to see in a piece) nand bios of the text writer and myself. On the back cover, I list all my music.  Is that still the format in letter sized publications. (In octavos, I keep it to multiples of 4, which I will also do in letter sized, so it can be printed two up on two pages.)
As I mentioned, I love to see the text by itself - it makes it easier to read/understand and interpret as singer and conductor. And I also love to know more about the composers/lyricists, and having it included helps.
on July 12, 2013 6:38am
The only problem not mentioned thus far is that of music storage. Most choral music libraries have been using the filing boxes that fit octavo-sized pieces, and to maximize space the shelves are very close together. The full-page pieces become a problem here, and at my college I have put these in a separate filing cabinet, which goofs things up. Notwithstanding, I have been printing out my own compositions on 8 1/2 x 11 for a few years to avoid the extra chopping process, and to be able to fit more music on fewer pages.
on July 12, 2013 2:24pm
This month, the largest sheet music store in Ohio sent me an order for one of my works.  Immediately, I reviewed and revised the piece involved.
There were 16 single pages.  When I went to Fedex and requested an estimate for printing the music, I was shocked by what they wanted!  Since I'm required to pay the store 40% of whatever I make on a composition that they sell, I did the math and learned that I would be $15.00 in the hole for fees from the store and fees from Fedex! 
For the next three days, I reduced the number of pages from 16 to 12, and raised the price from $2.20 to $2:50, per copy.  Because of the store's usual practice of accepting only octavo-size music, I was shocked again to learn that cutting my 8.5x11" score down to octavo-size STILL put me
$15.00 in the hole!  Fedex made an octavo sample of my score; I could hardly read the notes.
I called the store and was pleasantly surprised to learn that they would accept my 8.5x11" score, but "quietly."  Things, they are achanging!  I HOPE
octavo-size scores fade out of existence.
on July 14, 2013 2:14pm
As a European, I can recommend the A4 shape. The aspect ratio is root 2 : 1, so each time you fold or cut it in two, it stays the same shape. If you are feeling radical, it is worth switching from Letter to A4, just as the UK moved away from Foolscap. In between the A sizes is a range of B sizes with the same aspect ratio. Photocopiers understand the relation, making it possible to have one layout that prints as A5 (study score), B5 (octavo equivalent) or A4 (large print). I still prefer the middle size, because it fits in the box, doesn't fall off the shelf in church and makes less noise turning pages. Sadly, B4 paper is very hard to obtain. Only drawing pads for Manga comics regard it as a standard size and shipping from Japan feels too expensive. I feel it is something that music-stationers could sell profitably.
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