The Question:

Dear Larry,

How do you feel about all the changes that have happened in our lives regarding computers changing the way you write, etc.? I have seen a few of your old hand-written charts and I love the personality of them. Now everyone uses music-writing programs like Finale and they all look the same. Who knows who writes what?

“Corky” La Vallee
San Francisco, CA


The Answer:

Dear Corky,

There’s no doubt that computers have changed our lives in a myriad of ways – more than we can say and probably more than we’ll ever know. For example, I’m writing this response on my MacBook Air, as opposed to the iMac in my office or the iPhone sitting on the table next to me. Or my wife’s home PC, or her work PC, or her Samsung smart phone. That doesn’t count the antiquated (6 year-old) MacBook Air that seems like I just got, or the old iPhones and flip phones that I can’t bear to throw away . . . just in case!

Much has been said about the way people are addicted to their cell phones, so I won’t restate the obvious, but if there’s one thing that seems more regressive than progressive is how we use email or texting in lieu of picking up the phone to talk to someone. “Picking up the phone” still means to either pick up the handpiece of an actual telephone or a rechargeable “land line” phone (with or without an antenna) that sits in its cradle. For those too young to remember either of those latter-day incarnations of Alexander Graham Bell’s invention, I often wonder if they’re puzzled by the notion of “picking up” their phones or even more puzzling is what they think of the word “TELEphone.” It kinda rhymes with “cell phone,” but other than that the prefix “tele” (tella) is probably meaningless.

The thing that I find perplexing is preferring to email, text, instant message, et al, instead of talking, when talking is a faster, more expressive, and more accurate means of conveying information (especially for someone like me, who won’t push “send” without proofing for correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and syntax). LOL!!! . . . which is one of the many acronyms I don’t use. E.g., Instead of telling the person to whom I’m talking that I’m laughing out loud, he or she can actually hear me laugh! Out loud!

It reminds me of my childhood, when I figured out an ingeniously clever means of surreptitious, after-dark communication between my cousin, Michael, and me. We lived across the narrow neighborhood street from one another and our bedrooms were in the front of our houses, so our parents would be none the wiser as we, instead of sleeping, traded top secret information by using penlights (small keychain flashlights that only lit up when you depressed the button). Being a year older and therefore immensely wiser than my cousin, I devised a secret code of flashes that only he and I would understand. Because the imminent threat to our old neighborhood seems to have now cooled down, I’ll divulge the code: One flash = A / Two flashes = B / Three flashes = C / Four flashes = D / Five flashes = E . . . Are you starting to see a pattern emerge? I know. Ingenious. Thank you. But to finish the story:

It was the first night we were going to unveil our diabolical scheme – a virtual masterpiece of stealth. 2200 hours (10:00 p.m. for you civilians) was H-hour, when each of us would raise our shade and quietly open our window to a height of exactly 1 ft. – enough to execute our plan, but not enough to be easily seen. It was eerily dark on the street between our “outposts” (except for the bright street light on the old wooden cell phone pole, I mean, telephone pole) when I started the silent communique: “flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash,” followed by “flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash.” I waited for Michael to de-code my encrypted message then respond. I waited some more, figuring it was the first time and that things would pick up as we got used to the system. I waited . . . and waited. Then I heard Michael break the silence and ask me, “What does ‘H-J’ mean?” I replied, in a loud emphatic whisper, “Not H-J! . . . H-I!” To which he replied, “It was ten flashes!” Me: “No it wasn’t! It was nine!” Michael: “Uh UH! It was ten!” Me: “I did eight, then nine – H, then I!” Michael: “No you didn’t!” Me: “You just can’t count!” Michael: “Oh yeah?” Me: “Yeah!” As Michael perpetuated the disagreement, I slammed my window shut and pulled down the shade. I was angry, but mostly disappointed that my cousin didn’t come through and cracked under the pressure. All that work and planning and he screwed it up! I didn’t even get to my second message, which was, “What are you doing?” (“flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash,” followed by . . .)

Okay, what was the question? Oh yeah, computer programs like Finale vs. score pad and pencil. I use Finale for scores and parts. I hate it. I miss the feel of writing music on my old ledger paper quality score pad. It’s organic, it’s personal, and with all the professional arranger’s shortcuts, it’s faster! Mid-note, I could stick my IBM Electrographic pencil into the heavy-duty electric pencil sharpener and just by the sound, remove it at precisely the right millisecond and be writing again before the whir of the sharpener subsided. And with the perfect bevel on the lead of my pencil.

That’s job satisfaction.

Larry Kerchner

Larry Kerchner photo