Notation rules and conventions are a funny thing. If there was just one way to present the material, we would not have a new notation guide produced every decade or so. Notation, though it has set conventions and rules to follow, is constantly evolving. I have been making my way through Elaine Gould's tour de force Behind Bars. It's a spectacular new guide for today's engraving practices, and a must-have on your reference shelf, but certainly not the final word on notation. When engraving is approached as art, rules can become a burden. A good engraver will adhere to as many conventions as practical. However, music is not all created equally. Learn the rules, and learn when it's acceptable—even preferred—to break them in a thoughtful and meaningful way. Consider yourself like a writer, maybe even a poet—form the symbols in the most meaningful and beautiful way you can. Never let your notation get in the way of the performance. Definitely never let a rule in a book obscure the music. If there is a clearer way to notate, think about it, and artfully incorporate your experience and context into your work.
Notation grows out of the page; the creator’s tools: lines and ellipses. Five horizontal lines are paved and the tiny ovals of paramount importance are married to their precise x/y. Dynamics sound off; articulations forcefully pair up; text diplomatically translating the meaning of the geometry; hairpins blend the color. Harsh, beautiful geometry presents itself. And then, ascending above it all, a curve so beautiful, and seemingly oblivious to the laboring that has proceeded her, a slur traces a path through the page. I believe the true beauty of printed music lies in the slurs; their shape, their nuance, their weight. A slur must have power and intent. When I create a slur, I am humbled—she knows where she is to be and the engraver's task is to help her home. Some passages are especially difficult to work in a way pleasing to the slur: extreme ranges, or beams, or accidentals, or tight spacing. Approach all situations the same, she already has exactly one perfect flight and you need to land it. A slur cannot be lifeless; thin or flat, but rather deserving of meaning and weight; midpoints should have definite worth, and the curves, moxie. She carries a special power: the true intent of the music’s creator. Let your slurs soar.