From the Annals of The Practical Musician

Kizmit checks out my new compositional aid

Back in graduate school, I used to admire the impeccably finished manuscripts of a composer friend, whose orchestral scores were marvels of precision, each notehead and tiny stem aligned like miniature Japanese calligraphy.

“How do you make your scores look so perfect?” I asked. My own music notation more resembled Beethoven’s scrawl. I like to erase musical thoughts and re-do them, constantly.

“I have a secret,” Ruzh said.

He showed me how his penned manuscripts were actually written with a fine-point mechanical pencil on archival paper. Once it was mistake-free, he spritzed the paper with hairspray to fix the final version.

Nowadays, of course, anyone who arranges or composes must learn to use notation software. I have been learning to use Finale, which, I must say, is a tedious process. In order to produce a complex piano score, there are a lot of un-intuitive hoops a musician must jump through; in my opinion, the elegant efficiency of the human brain and hand has not been so easily translated into computer language. Until one masters the quirks of the program, one must spend countless hours in front of a computer with multiple keyboards and mouse attached.

The muskulo-skeletal system protests.

“You need an ergonomic task chair,” my friend in the corporate world insisted. She mentioned a few brands, whose price tags also had me wincing.

After some searching, I came across a brilliant idea: someone in our area had decided to start a business recycling task chairs and other office furniture. They refurbish the pieces and re-sell them at one-fifth the original price. Even more brilliant — they had recently opened a “showroom” not far from my house.

I found the small showroom near an industrial park complex off a busy road. I was shown a number of different chairs. “And if you don’t like any of these,” the office manager said, “you can choose anything in the warehouse.” She opened the door to an un-air-conditioned, dimly lit space several acres huge, and jam-packed with desks, cubicles, and conference tables around which ergonomic task chairs sat, as if ready for a meeting. Besides a man unloading a pallet of office furniture in the distance, it was just me alone with thousands of chairs.

In the end, I settled for the Criterion made by Steelcase. It is sturdy, padded, compact, and adjustable in nearly every conceivable way. The manager helped me muscle it into my car, as the chair is heavy. (It takes the “steel” in its name seriously.) After getting it home, I noticed, because the chair was upside down, that I had some cleaning to do, which involved tweezers, disinfectant, and lots of paper towels. I also noticed that the “ship date” said “2000.”

But the chair works great. I can sit tethered to my computer for long periods, and stand up again as if I’d just gone for a nice walk. There’s no excuse for me not to produce a decent quantity of work.

Just think, J.S. Bach produced over a thousand compositions with a quill pen, flickering candles to illuminate his desk, no central heating. I’ll bet you anything he did not have an ergonomic chair.

But I’ll bet he would have loved one.

 For more information about recycled task chairs, check out Ethosource.

 

 

There are 4 responses to “From the Annals of The Practical Musician”

  1. I agree with you that we humans don’t give enough credit to the beauty of using our brains and hands in tandem. I once took a writing workshop where the instructor (Lynda Barry) said that there is something magical that happens when a person puts pen to paper, that just by virtue of moving the hand to write engages a part of the brain that would otherwise lay dormant. Furthermore, I think we lose something of the quirks and personality of the musician when we can’t see what their handwriting looked like, how hard they pressed the pencil to the paper, how many times they erased a note, whether they were neat or sloppy. A computer masks all of this information. Aren’t you happy to know that your composer friend made notes that looked like Japanese calligraphy? Thanks for another thought provoking post!

    I suppose it makes sense that composers and musicians now have software to help them make notes on their “scores,” but I feel sad that fewer of them are

  2. Oops! I forgot to delete the second paragraph before I clicked submit. See how much trouble computers can get you into?

  3. It’s true that the individuality of a hand-written score is lost with computer notation. This is probably the way the monks felt when Gutenberg came along with his printing press and illuminated manuscripts became relics of the past. Something gained, something always lost. Thanks for pointing this out!

  4. Congratulations on your new ergonomic chair, Deb. I’m now wondering if they have ergonomic piano benches as they’ve never looked terribly comfortable to me!