Jay Cridlin, Tampa Bay Times, 23rd March 2020

The violins are late.

The players can’t hear it, but Michael Francis can. He knew he would. It’s common in this section of Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 7, a complex whirlpool of interlocking tempos and dynamics. And if he can hear it, the audience might, too.

He waves his hands and the symphony peters into silence.

“This happened last time,” says the Florida Orchestra’s music director. “The tempo on 114 will be exactly the same as the bar before. I’m feeling quite a big delay in the back of the section.”

In the back row, substitute violinist Hollis Hammonds grabs a forest green pencil from her stand and scribbles a note on her sheet music, right before the 114th measure:

don’t drag

Two words. That’s it.

But when the orchestra performs Sibelius No. 7 two nights from this early March rehearsal at the Mahaffey Theater, annotations like these will mean everything.

Hidden in the margins of each piece of sheet music are thousands of tiny, penciled-in symbols, reminders and doodles that bring to life the works of Sibelius, Beethoven and Bach. Codes, corrections, insights, memos — it takes weeks to add them by hand, and many are erased within days of a performance. They’re as ephemeral as they are infinitesimal.

Yet in the annotation-obsessed world of classical music, these markings matter almost as much as the notes themselves. They’re tiny details that add up to something massive, making every performance an orchestra’s own.

Without them, says violinist and concertmaster Jeffrey Multer, “it would be a complete disaster.”