For most of the thirty-five years I’ve been involved in composition lessons, both taking and giving, the majority of the interaction went thusly:  student brings in scribbled drafts, teacher decodes scribbles and gives helpful feedback.

Naturally, starting about twenty years ago, those scribbled sheets were gradually replaced by computer printouts.  To this day, some students still bring in handwritten materials, but they are the exception.

In the last few years, paper of any kind has been largely supplanted by on-screen work: the student emails files, brings in a thumb drive, or pulls out a laptop and we look at their budding compositions on a monitor.  At this point in my brief history, these files are in Finale, Sibelius or the occasional pdf.

I’ve adapted to these changes with very few issues.  I now have a gigantic swivel monitor in my studio that can rotate from portrait to landscape depending on the type of score we are studying.  And I can envision the next steps – wall-sized smart-screens – pretty readily.

But there’s been a funny byproduct of this shift that I’m at a loss to explain.  Now when students bring in paper music – either printed or penciled – I’m having an allergic reaction.  About ten minutes into the lesson, I start sneezing and my nose begins to run profusely.  I used to have a box of tissues available in my office for the occasional tearful student (I’m such a stern taskmaster!), but now the tissues come to teacher’s rescue in these awkward moments.  Thankfully, the reaction usually passes within a couple of minutes.

I count myself lucky.  If I were a performing musician, an allergy to notes on paper would be the equivalent of a career-ending injury.

In my case, it’s just a minor enhancement to the vast wealth of the Kleenex corporation.

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