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5 Steps to Choral Public Domain Library Mastery

The Choral Public Domain Library is an enormous resource for programming, research and teaching examples in the choral arts. Even pieces which have wide commercial distribution benefit from CPDL by offering multiple interpretations of text, different historical presentation types and a variety of settings and voicings. Finally, the ability to supplement your programs with no-cost scores can let you stretch your programming budget even further.
It can be a little intimidating to use CPDL for the first time, though, if you don't know how best to use it. With that in mind, I suggest five steps to CPDL mastery which will have you discovering gems for your next program in no time!
1. Remember what "Public Domain" is, and isn't
"Public domain" is a very nuanced term with slightly different meanings in different jurisdictions. In essence, though, public domain refers to documents whose copyrights have expired and are now available for widespread distribution, editing, republishing, etc. As a rule of thumb, anything with a copyright before about 1920 should be in the public domain now (I know that this is a gross oversimplification, but there are many different variations of public domain dating, so it's a place to start).
The key is that works can expire while an edition which was created later might not. Be flexible! You might find scanned copies of a specific edition in CPDL if that edition is in the public domain, or you might find someone's new edition of piece. CPDL separates pieces by "editors," so if there are multiple editors available, compare them to find which you like.
2. Know your Filetypes
Files in CPDL take a view common types. PDF's are easy to distribute and print, but can't be easily editied. MIDI files can be played, and edited if you have a program available, but can't be easily printed. Sibelius, Finale and other notation programs can be edited, played, and distributed, but you have to have the proper program available. When you find a piece that you want to look at, think about what files you have available to work with.
3. Work the Categories
You can search by composer or work, but browsing by category gives you a great way to discover new works by the voicing, era or language you have in mind. On the left-hand side Naviation menu, click "Music Scores" to get to the subcategories option.
4. Browse the Anniversaries
If you're looking for pieces to add to a program, birth/death anniversaries are a good way to include pieces with a historical context. CPDL sorts composers by important anniversaries in each of the next five years, so you can program a season in advance if you wish. On the front page, click "Anniversaries" under the "CPDL composers" tab.
5. Contribute!    
CPDL is all based on user submissions, so the best way to strengthen the resource is to contribute to it directly. You can work on a new edition of an expired score, submit your own new compositions (if you wish to put them in the public domain yourself), or help edit or translate submissions. Go to the "Volunteer at CPDL" section to learn more about how to contribute.
How about you?
How do you use CPDL? What are strategies that you use to get the most out of it?
on September 11, 2013 3:17pm
Hello!  I haven't been too successful with using CPDL, although I love the idea of it.  As a newer teacher, I am unfamiliar with many of the composers here and find it daunting to sift through the options.  One thing that I would love to find is a way to narrow down an already-started search by voicing.  Is that possible and I'm just missing the option?  I like the Anniversaries idea, going to give that a try!
on September 12, 2013 2:16pm
Emily-- Unfortunately, there isn't really a dynamic search option that would let you do what you suggest. It just takes a little navigation time.