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In my final year of high school, I took pleasure in working with my fellow students in perfecting The Wizard of Oz, one of my favorite works of all time. I’ve wanted to understand the composition and structure of all the songs, especially the incidental and background music; I made a lot of effort into finding out which companies provided these scores over the past six years, though not all the time.

Unfortunately, there’s just one problem. I am completely blind, and I cannot read print music. I can, however, read braille music whenever I can afford to get it transcribed. I have also tried to use sheet music recognition programs to see if I could extract the material that way, but that, too, proved to be a tedious undertaking.

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    Theatre companies pay for the scores. It’s part of their cost of putting on the show. If you want to audition to be a musician in such an orchestra, you may be able to request a Braille score or possibly a demo recording if you can play by ear, but it’s at least as likely you would have to pay for your own Braille transcription. – Todd Wilcox Sep 17 '18 at 4:01
  • I’m not actually auditioning for anything. I think we would like to add that to my collection so that I can learn how to play all of these pieces using Marie, musical instrument digital interface. – HeavenlyHarmony Sep 17 '18 at 12:32
  • Ouch! Your voice-to-text tool is not working well :-( . But the answer remains: you'll have to purchase the score because it's almost certainly under copyright. – Carl Witthoft Sep 17 '18 at 12:56
  • I would love to have individual parts for scores to musicals but they just aren't available. Some of them have high quality vocal and piano books available anywhere you can buy sheet music and others have lower quality vocal and piano books available, and that's about it. I haven't quite figured out why you can't just buy full sets of scores, but I think it's because the owners of the musicals want to control how and when their works are performed, and they want to make sure they get paid for every performance. – Todd Wilcox Sep 17 '18 at 13:22
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    As far as I've been able to find, whatever you can get on amazon.com for musical theatre sheet music is what is available. So any web site that sells sheet music will probably have musical theatre sheet music (including Amazon), and that's all there is unless you actually pay for a performance license. – Todd Wilcox Sep 17 '18 at 15:17
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I'll answer the question in the title:

"Amateur" theatre groups are commonly called community theatre groups. Anyone who wants to put on a musical, whether it's on-Broadway, off-Broadway, touring, out-of-town, community, school, etc., they all have to pay to license the musical. One of the protections granted by copyright law is the exclusive rights to perform the work, so for anyone who is not the copyright holder, they have to pay for a license.

Licensing is pretty tightly controlled for musical theatre, which I think is because of both the need for the authors of the musical to recoup as much as they can of the investment of time they spent writing it, as well as to make sure there aren't low budget productions competing with more lucrative productions in the same area. For example, right now Hamilton is earning so much money with the Broadway and high-budget touring shows that the licensing fees are certainly very large - to prevent community theatre groups from performing it all over the place for a fraction of the professional ticket prices and saturating the market. If you want to see Hamilton right now, you pay through the nose, and that's largely due to the licensing strategy. After interest in the show starts to wane and the Broadway run closes, licensing costs will come down to make it more accessible to smaller and smaller groups to be able to keep at least a bit of money coming in for the copyright owners.

Buying a license to perform a musical includes both the rights to perform it and the materials necessary to do so, which isn't always limited to just the score and book and parts. For instance, a license for Avenue Q can optionally include copies of the puppets used on Broadway.

After the run, all materials must be returned in their original condition. There's often an "erasing party" for the orchestra at the end of a run where the players go through and erase all the pencil notes they have made in their scores. It's illegal to copy the materials although some musicians memorize their parts and might jot down notes to remember how to play it.

If you want to start playing musical theatre works, the best thing is to get in with a community theatre group. As I mentioned in my comment, you'll probably have to offer to have your own braille transcriptions made, or take care of any other accommodations you might need. I'm sure another orchestra member or cast or crew member will be happy to help with other needs, such as getting to your place for rehearsals and shows, etc. I have generally found musical theatre people to be lovely and kind (a few stressed out producers and directors notwithstanding). In many areas, community theatre groups have a hard time finding capable musicians, especially for certain instruments, so you might not even have to audition.

Your only other option is to get a piano/vocal book from a music shop and try to work out the part for your instrument or what is different from the actual score if you are a pianist.

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  • I might ask this on the law SE part regarding 17 U.S.C. 121, which permits certain copying of material for use by blind people in an alternative format, and whether that applies to theatre musical conductor scores, piano vocal scores, etc. – HeavenlyHarmony May 1 '19 at 8:43
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Full scores - with every instrument notated as in an orchestral score - are rare in the Musical Theatre world (excluding opera). You're more likely to get a Vocal Score, in which all the voice parts are fully notated but the orchestra is reduced to a 'piano-conductor' part.

For some shows, this Vocal Score is published. You can buy it independently of any production of the show. For others, you'll only be able to get it along with the rights to perform the show, which may or not be available to amateur productions (the American term is Community productions) depending on whether there are professional productions in your area. (I suppose it should be mentioned that the vocal scores of most shows have unofficially 'escaped' and may be found in the deep recesses of the Internet.)

Note that the Vocal Scores mentioned are NOT the 'songbook' collections that are published for most shows. These are just the individual songs, often considerably simplified from how they were performed in the show.

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    I’ve done several community theatre productions and score for each separate part has always been part of the production. A group only licensing conductor/piano and vocals is most likely trying to save money. That doesn’t mean the full scores aren’t available, they just cost more. – Todd Wilcox Sep 19 '18 at 15:43
  • Confusion over the word 'score' I think. Yes, the rental will include a set of instrumental books. But not very often a 'full score' for the conductor. I think this was clear in my answer? – Laurence Payne Sep 20 '18 at 10:28
  • Well, through some hard work and a lot of hours spent on-line, I found some stuff on Scribd, and someone had uploaded a piano vocal or rehearsal score on MuseScore, which I was able to translate into MIDI using Music XML programmes. – HeavenlyHarmony May 1 '19 at 8:41

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