After some digging around … [Tobias] found what he was looking for: a spiral-bound pad of manuscript paper. Its pages were yellowed and curled at the corners from years of being shoved into backpacks and messenger bags. The metal spine hung loose from nights of raking a pencil up and down its coiled edge in creative contemplation.

Emmett had asked Tobias, “Are you still writing?”

And Tobias had fudged, “I tinker.” …

Tobias sat at his keyboard and propped open the notebook. The pages were covered with faded, penciled staves and jotted musical thought. He found a section of solid score, squinted, and as if sightreading a complicated Rachmaninoff piano concerto, he slowly began, testing it until muscle memory kicked in.

“Ah, yes. Quick. Snappy. Here we go.”

When I was in college, notation programs like Finale and Sibelius didn’t exist. Homework assignments that required writing notes on a staff were done by hand. Composition assignments required hours of hand notation. I was the weirdo that loved it. My script was legible and pretty. My clefs were proper, my flats weren’t tortured lower case ‘b’s,’ but had the proper pointed bottom. My sharps weren’t simply number signs–or today’s hashtags–but slanted appropriately and landing exactly on the line or space to which it had been assigned.

I am not sharing this with you to tell you that with computer software, “kids today” have it easier. (But they do, I mean, come ON–play the piece with the proper equipment and voila, it’s staring at you. Psh. Lightweights.) I am sharing this with you because of a video that surfaced on facebook earlier this week that simply fascinated me. (forgive the link; I am having difficulty getting it to consistently embed, but do check it out. It’s only a minute in length.)

keaton-03I immediately thought of my sweet composer Toby and how tedious a job he would have had in writing even simple melodies, or in arranging vocal parts for a regional theater that simply could not summon enough tenors to make the big finale sound… big.

I went on a short google search and found a very informative series of articles at Music Printing History that explained how this sucker worked. I particularly loved this quote: It is very difficult to judge the commercial success of the Keaton machine. Even if it sold well, the nature of such a product gives it a very limited market. You don’t say. Can you imagine the time and patience? You have to line up the note not only horizontally, but vertically. One note alone could take as many as three or four keystrokes. And knowing me, quite a few swear words.

What was even more interesting than this crazy machine was the timing of it. This past Saturday, my husband and I visited a local antique and consignment furniture store. Sitting on a 1970’s sideboard was this beauty:

You know full well I bought it. Given the cost, I would have been a fool not to. Isn’t it almost a requirement in any writer’s home–a nostalgic piece? I learned to type on a manual. I, like every other user, probably permanently damaged my left pinky slamming down the damned ‘a’ key to get it to show up on the page. My text lines wobbled from weak keystrokes, my kitchen table shook once I got speedier. I raced classmates down the hall in high school to get one of the four electric typewriters in typing class so I wouldn’t be burdened with a manual.

But, we learned how to deal with their shortcomings. And, I’d assume, the users of that music typewriter did the same. I would love to see someone use it with skill, fingers flyingkeaton-16 over the keys and cranking out music almost as quickly as a new user sitting down to Finale.

And even with a computer, I still handwrite. If my brain stalls out with tough dialogue, I splay myself across my bed with a favorite pen and notepad and go the really old school route. If I were still in music, I know I would be handwriting parts, musical thought, still making sure to point the bottom of my flats and flip the curlicue of the treble clef properly around the ‘G.’

Music and writing aren’t just crafts for the creative word and melody. Putting them down, getting them from the creator’s heart and mind, can also be an art. An art that changes with the times, but yet always, stays true to its roots. After all, every printed word and note we have was mimicked from the handwritten form.

What’s your tool of choice? If you’re a writer, do you like to handwrite now and then, or even on a steady diet? As a reader, do you like e-books or a printed book? Cooks–do you like to hand chop or is your food processor always at the ready? Musicians amongst us–are you tied to the ease of digital, or does a pencil and a spiral bound book of lined staves make you sing?

If you want to hear more about Toby and his writing and how it works around his love for Emmett, you can now pre-order Black Dust from Interlude Press. In March only, with a purchase of Black Dust you will receive a copy of my first novel, Chef’s Table for 50% off. You can also enter for a chance to win a copy at goodreads.

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