Editing Process

The process of editing Mohapeloa’s involves two stages that overlap: the first is transcribing a tonic solfa score into staff notation, which means typesetting the basics; the second is editing the transcribed score, which involves some degree of interpretation by the editor.


The following extract from Mohapeloa’s Tsohang in tonic solfa and a staff notation transcription of it are shown below it. Both types of score, solfa and staff, are ‘open scores’, which means that each voice part is written on a separate line.

Transcription has several stages. First, the whole tonic solfa song has to be studied from beginning to end in order to assess the structure and set up a score in staff notation, in Sibelius (music notation software). The overall number of bars has to take into account repeats, which in solfa are usually shown as ‘D.S.’ or ‘D.C.’ In modern staff notation repeat bars are normal for repeats, and a D.S. is kept for places where more than one repeated section is involved. Clefs, key signature, time signature are set up, before notes can be inputted. A knowledge of tonic solfa is essential here and requires a short explanation.

Tonic solfa is a notation system that uses the seven letters d r m f s l t, to denote pitch: these stand for the words doh, ray, me, fah, soh, lah, te. A choir has a total range of about four octaves, and different octave registers are shown by means of superscript or subscript strokes or numbers above or below the solfa letters. In African choral music practice, numbers are more common than strokes. Here, then, is what a range of just over four octaves in tonic solfa pitch theoretically looks like:

A range of just over four octaves in tonic solfa pitch

In C major this could be transcribed in the following way:

A range of just over four octaves in staff notation

In practice, normal doh (d) is middle C for Sop/Alto but an octave lower for Ten/Bass, because in solfa notation one tries to avoid too many sub- or super-scripts, just as in staff notation one tries to avoid too many leger lines. The following two short examples, extracts from Baba Wethu Ophezulu by Alfred Assegai Khumalo illustrate how this works.

First 2 bars of A.A. Khumalo’s Baba Wethu Ophezulu in choral tonic solfa notation showing ‘normal doh’ position in all four voices
First 2 bars of A.A. Khumalo’s Baba Wethu Ophezulu in staff notation with solfa added above

Four voice parts implies Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bass, although Mohapeloa does not always give these names. Somewhere in the middle of a piece there may suddenly be five parts, too, and sometimes only the context can help decide what the extra voice part is. Mohapeloa states the key of a song at the top of the score. Major keys are the norm, and if a song is in a minor key or modal it is still usually given a major key or doh.

The next stage in the process is determining meter (time signature), which is not stated by composers of solfa scores. It has to be deduced from the way units (bars) are divided by short barlines, colons, dashes, full-stops, commas, or spaces (rests). The most common metrical division in Mohapeloa is quadruple time, (4/4), although two- three- and six-note divisions (6/8) also occur. Mohapeloa sometimes divides the bar is into six units, best shown by 6/8.

Having inputted clefs, key signature, time signature, and notes voice by voice, the transcriber then has to add the text (lyrics). In Mohapeloa’s music, texts are printed or written between voices that share the same text, sometimes only once, the text following the pitch letters closely. See the example from Tsohang above, where the text “Letsatsi ke leo le chaba Tlhorong tsa li-“ is inserted between Alto and Tenor parts. It is easy to see, here, which word or syllable fits which note, and how words are hyphenated. It is often far from easy, especially in Mohapeloa’s more complex scores.

Mohapeloa’s solfa scores show slurs in the music as melismas in the text and solfa notes, through underlining. The transcription into staff notation in this edition shows these as slurs between notes and under-linings in the solfa. Melismas are indicated in the text either by underscored words or by hyphenations (although not all hyphens indicate melismas).


Some editorial interventions are questions of formatting, adjusting what the composer wants to a new format of score; others are interventions made by the Editor to help with interpretation of the music. The latter are shown on the score in square brackets, or written as text before or after the score.

Each score is formatted, and although a template was worked out for the basic structure, in practice this often has to be adapted to allow for notes that lie high or low on a staff, or to allow for extra verses of text, for example. Where possible there are two systems per page, which is easier for choirs to sing from even if it necessitates a slight reduction in note or staff size on some scores. Where there are six voices or multiple verses of text, we have reverted to one system per page, sometimes for just a particular section of a song.

Piano reduction of Tsohang bars 1-4

Once basic typesetting and formatting is completed, other things are added and various interventions are made. A piano reduction is put on two extra staves below each system, for choirs used to rehearsing with a piano. See the reduction for the first 4 bars of Tsoang above, which shows Sop/Alto sharing the upper staff and Ten/Bass the lower. If there are more than four voice parts the piano reduction is edited so that notes and stems are logically arranged. Slurs and pauses are included in the piano reduction but no other expression marks.

Dynamics and tempo changes are added into each voice part, which sometimes involves interpretation of the exact point at which they are intended. Mohapeloa only writes dynamics and expression once, above the Soprano part. If lower voices have rests at that point or rests immediately before or after that point, expression needs to be written in a slightly different place. He used the words ‘crescendo’ (or cresc.) and ‘diminuendo’ (or dim.) rather than using hairpins, which are often used in this edition instead because they are less visually confusing. He sometimes wrote crescendos or decrescendos without giving an ultimate dynamic goal, too, so these are added in square brackets unless they are obvious from the context. He might give no expression marks or tempo anywhere, in which case an ‘overall’ metronome mark and dynamic are suggested at the beginning. Other editorial interventions are minimal, and always shown in square brackets.

The final touches of score editing are the addition of headers (title, composer, scoring), page numbers, and copyright information at the foot of each page. The latter is different for each song because it includes ACE catalogue number, JPM catalogue number (a catalogue of his works rather than the publisher’s catalogue), and International Standard Music Number (ISMN). ISMNs differ for each version of every song. The final edited score looks like the following Freeview of Tsohang. (Page shortened to show copyright info.)

Freeview Tsohang ACE029