The photos to the right show where I make all of my music; the top is from the early 1990s, the bottom from 2007. The equipment has changed drastically but one thing remains a constant, in every workspace I’ve had going back to the mid-’70s… See the single sheet of paper tacked on the wall with an image of a piano keyboard, a long row of notes from low to high, and lots of lines above that? It’s a photocopy of a chart from a book I once owned, on the ranges of all the orchestral instruments. It also includes the frequency in hertz, as well as the naming convention of each note. Michael Urich in La Porte, TX has even been kind enough to offer an exact copy of it online.

Recently I spotted another by Charles Houghton-Webb over at BWMusic, that I think will become the new candidate for my wall; in addition to all the original has, this one extends the range, color-codes some stuff, and adds the standard MIDI note numbers for each pitch. It’s also a PDF file, so the print quality’s a bit better (the PDF is password-protected, but Charles offers the password right there on the page). Plenty of this information has long been internalized, but it’s still something I glance at almost automatically a few times during the composition of any piece.

So how about it? Do any of you have some little, almost-totemic item that stays at your own workspaces, no matter when or where?

8 Responses to “These are a Few of Our Favorite Things”
  1. That’s a very handy looking chart, thanks! Adding transposition info to it would make it even better. I may do that.

  2. Chris Becker says:

    “Do any of you have some little, almost-totemic item that stays at your own workspaces, no matter when or where? ”

    Several. A small photo of Howlin’ Wolf, a Tibetan bell, a Caribbean carnival mask, paintings and digital images by friends from New Orleans…Jeez, there’s stuff everywhere…

    You need a decorator Steve! :)

  3. Paul H. Muller says:

    I write music for church services so I always have a lectionary and Bible handy. (These are on line now so it is much easier.) Also a copy of our hymnal.

    I want one of those cliche plaster busts of J.S. Bach, but have not found one as of yet…

  4. jamescombs says:

    A bag of tea in hot water. Its always different bags and different water, but the effect is always the same. As far as access to knowledge materials, I do frequent the internet for advice usually during the middle of a work. Sometimes I’ll type in google, “morton feldman chords” and viola, a couple lines down is an article studying the way feldman used chords. But after playing one or two I realized they were just too similar to my own of choice to gain much knowledge there. It is, after all, the chords we put together which make the work, not the chords themselves.

  5. Aside from little piles of technological tools:
    1 gargoyle
    1 Finale character chart
    1 card that says “breathe, breathe, breathe”

  6. andrea says:

    wow. that chart makes my eyes tired. i’m a big fan of andrew stiller’s book:

    i often will jot down instrument ranges from that book into whatever staff paper book i’m using to sketch out a piece. i’m too squirmy to have a fixed workspace (which is making working on ye olde Dissertatione a real trial), so stiller’s book stays by the desk, whereas i do not.

  7. Alex Shapiro says:

    Love the charts! The worn pages of a thin yellow-covered range and transposition booklet by Louise Rood has followed me to every desk and workstation since 1979. There are more thorough ones since this 1948 gem, but it’s an old friend. I’m also glared at by several miniature plastic toy action figures. They’re avatars for my beleaguered psyche, and appear somewhat sympathetic to my plight when doing battle with All the Wrong Notes.

  8. Small moleskine music notebook, Lamy pen, scented candle (fig – no I’m not a hippy), coffee, huge stack of penguin orangeback paperbacks.

    Thanks for the charts – that’s going on my wall too…