Composer/Inventor  Cecil  Effinger
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Cecil Effinger (b. 1914, Colorado Springs; d. 1990, Boulder, Colorado)

As a young man in Colorado Springs, Cecil Effinger was exposed to such well-known composers as Igor Stravinsky, who came to the small Western town for its natural springs and dry climate. Effinger became an instructor of music at the Colorado College and the first oboist in the Denver Symphony Orchestra in 1935. In 1939, he studied composition with Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, France. During World War II, he served as director of the 506th Army Band, stationed at Fort Logan in Denver. Shortly thereafter he began teaching at the University of Colorado (CU) in Boulder, where he chaired the Theory and Composition Department for 33 years. He retired from CU in 1981 and served as composer-in-residence from 1981 to 1984.

Effinger was a prolific composer. He wrote 31 orchestral works, 7 symphonies, 45 chamber works, 49 choral works, 6 quartets, 3 operas, 3 oratorios, and 3 cantatas. Effinger’s compositions reflect his love for the Western United States, bearing such titles as “The Old Chisholm Trail,” “Variations on a Cowboy Tune,” “Tone Poem on a Square Dance,” and “A Prairie Sunset.” In addition to his contributions to American music, Effinger was also an inventor, producing the musical typewriter in 1954 and the “tempowatch,” to measure tempi, in 1969.

Cecil Effinger is not a name that will be familiar, but his contributions to the music world are significant and diverse.  Not only did he leave is a solid group of compositions, his inventive ideas meant that the presentation and performing of any music was advanced to a much higher degree than was possible before he came along.

The copying and publishing end of the music business is often overlooked, or simply relegated as being a necessary nuisance.  Indeed, in order to communicate the ideas from the creator to the performer, we need a workable solution to the problems of conveyance.  For years, the composer or the copyist labored to make all this happen.  Before the ink was dry on the original page, duplicates were being made and individual
parts were being processed so that the performers could transmit those squiggles to the public by means of vibrations in the air.

The conductor would have everything in front of him, but the players needed only their portions.  So the original score had to be broken into small bits that were useable and efficient.  However, each of these
parts needs the care and concern of the scribe, so that when everything comes back together in performance, the seams do not show and the joins are faultless.

Every composer has toiled with copying his own material (and often that of others!), at least in the early days of a musical career.  Today, we have the computer programs which make all this quick and easy, but in the recent past, the Music Writer helped to give a professional look to the efforts.  And it was Cecil Effinger who invented the Musicwriter! 
During our conversation, we talked a bit about this machine, as well as his ideas about musical composition.  He also invented the Tempowatch, a device for determining speed, but we did not touch on that during our chat.  However, an advertisement for this is included below, and it contains explanatory material.

In the spring of 1988, just a bit more than a year before his 75th birthday, Effinger and his wife made a driving trip to the Midwest.  He visited the place where the latest version of the Music Writer was being unveiled, and took time for a stop at my home in Chicago for a conversation.  We all had a lovely time and he was eager to speak about the topics of inquiry.  And yes, after the discussion we all went out and enjoyed a Chicago Pizza!

No matter what you may have heard, my guest wished his name pronounced SEH-sill EFF-in-jer.  As usual, I specifically asked him during the course of our conversation, and though he said, Either way is fine,” both he and his wife agreed that this was what he preferred.

Here is that wonderful encounter . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:  Let’s start out with a real easy question.

Cecil Effinger:  Okay.

BD:    Where’s music going today?

CE:    [Amused with the idea]  Where’s music going today?  Part of it is going to the dogs.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  Is that the part you’re involved in?

effingerCE:    No.  [Both laugh]  It’s the part that I would like to counteract, if possible, but I’m concerned about the musical appetite in this country.  On the one hand, there are people listening to good music in droves — more than ever before in history, probably, due to radio and recordings and so forth.  But also, I think there’s a massive population that is getting a little tired of some of the less demanding musical utterances.  They are more interested in being challenged, and therefore are interested in the kind of music we’re interested in
the so-called, for want of a better term, classical.  I know some folk tunes that are classical, and I know some cowboy tunes and some pop tunes that are classics, so it’s a wrong word, really.

BD:    Shall we say
Concert Music?

CE:    Concert music?  I don’t know.  Your question asks where do we think it’s going.  I believe, as far as the excellence of the work, there are almost more composers than we need.  But of the good ones, there seems to be a good spread of worthwhile endeavor that should reflect, in future decades, a quality that stays.  The thing that concerns me is the other side of the coin, and that is the people that are bouncing around in their cars with drum beats and noise and yelling and inane lyrics.  Also of concern is the fact that almost every Tom, Dick and Harry that can play three guitar chords thinks he’s a composer!  This is something, maybe not to worry about, but to remark about.  ‘Tain’t so.  It just isn’t so.  Nor can you use electronic computer means to become a composer, either, any more than you can use a thesaurus and a book of rhymes to be a poet.  I think it’s a mixed bag, where music is going.  Music is playing a huge, huge part in the lives of our people!

BD:    Let’s pursue that just a little bit.  What do you feel is the purpose of music in society?

CE:    Well, much of it certainly is functional, in terms of pure entertainment.  Certainly it has brought a lot of people to a point of expression, or response to emotional and aesthetic things.  The wide presence of music in our society — you can hardly escape it — has its good side and its bad side.  There are a lot of people that are feeling things that music can touch on, that haven’t been reached before.  But these things have a trade-off, and I think the trade-off is basically good.  We’re finding people who wouldn’t pay any attention to a note of music, or a chord or a beautiful phrase or anything like that, who are, and whether they know it or not, responding.  And whether the particular music that they’re responding to is the same that stirs some of the rest of us doesn’t matter; it’s just that the people are touched somehow.

BD:    So you’re optimistic about the whole future of it?

I’m optimusic!  [Both laugh heartily]  Yes, I’m basically optimistic, and I’m optimistic about the twentieth century, as far as serious music is concerned.  I think we’re getting back to music that comes from within, rather than from the head.  Sure, we have to use our heads; we have to know what we’re doing when we write music.  We can’t just do it just all intuitively, but I think there’s a return from the early part of this century to more consonance, more recognition of the C major triad as something that’s powerful when used properly!  I had an interesting request just recently; it’s a request that’s curious, and it’s the first time I’ve seen it or heard of it.  I had a letter from a church who wanted to commission a work from me for a thousand bucks.  But there was another paragraph in the letter.  It said, “The committee would like to have at least sixty percent triads.”  [Both laugh]  I found that amusing, but it’s kind of significant because the triad is coming back.  People are realizing that dissonance becomes useful and interesting when it is coupled or tossed against non-dissonance.  So more and more composers are becoming comfortable writing some things that they feel and hear, rather than what they calculate should be next.

BD:    I assume you get a lot of commissions.

CE:    I do almost nothing but.

BD:    Then how do you decide if you will accept it or if you’ll turn it aside?

CE:    It depends on my own schedule, for one thing, whether we’re crowded or not.  Last fall, things came together all at once.  I don’t like to have this happen, but there were three premieres within about six weeks, and my deadlines overlapped on each other.  So partly it’s the schedule.  Also, it’s a question of who would be playing it or singing it.  I want to know whether I can fit with what they’re going to be challenged most by.  Whether the project would interest me comes into the picture.  I know that if it wouldn’t interest me for some reason or another — if I don’t like the timing, or I don’t like the caliber of the group or something like that — I can’t do a good job.  I can’t really turn up the burners to do a real good job if I don’t feel that the other side of the fence is not right, for one reason for another.  Sometimes, as was the case in this that I just told you about, they ask things that I could see I couldn’t fit into and be happy about it.  So it isn’t the money.  The money, as far as I’m concerned, is not the main issue at all.

BD:    It’s the interest on your part?

CE:    That’s right.  I’ve done works for a hundred dollars.  One time a state organization gathered a hundred dollars worth of pennies to commission me to do a work, and I was so pleased with that interest that I did it.  It was a big symphonic piece, Tone Poem on the Square Dance, for a hundred dollars worth of pennies!  But others are for good fees, and that’s fine.  It’s more whether I feel I can say something strong that I want to say, and how appropriate I can fulfill their need.  For instance, a church has an anniversary, a hundred and fiftieth anniversary perhaps, and they want a work for that particular anniversary service.  That’s the kind of thing I like to do, and how much money they send in is immaterial.  A lot of times it’s just the expenses of going there and hearing it and so forth.

BD:    If they cover your costs, you’re all set?

CE:    Yeah, sure.  It isn’t always that way.  I’ve written some pieces for the money, and they came out well, too.  But the other factors were also there.

BD:    Where is the balance between the inspiration and the simple technique of writing it down?

CE:    The balance is within the individual.  He has to first have the intelligence and the perseverance and the technical know-how to write.  But he also has to have a basis within his own philosophical approach to writing music.  Why do you write music at all?  It’s such work, you know, it’s real hard work.

BD:    Is it fun?

CE:    It’s rewarding, especially if you feel good about what you did.  The philosophical approach, with the intelligence and the know-how and the will to do it and the energy to do it, comes with the desire to say something in your own way.  It’s probably been said a thousand times before, but you feel within yourself that you can feel something, and give it a slightly different perspective than other people have done.  In other words, make a creative contribution to that scoreboard in the sky that chalks up good things and bad things, and we try to get the balance to go to the good way.  I cannot tell students that are studying composition, “When you get through with your studies, you will have a livelihood.”  I can’t tell them that; it’s not true.  So I say to Mr. Student, “Why do you want to write?  Make sure that you want to do it for reasons which you yourself can account for, and write for those reasons.”  I think the balance exists just about equally between the need to express and the ability to do so.  It’s a good balance, and the best example is Bach.  The Saint Matthew Passion is mathematically beautiful, but it’s unbelievably beautiful in terms of expression!

BD:    When you’re writing a piece of music, do you try to make sure that the mathematical and the aesthetic beauties are both put in?

CE:    Yes.  Oh, yes, you bet you!  For instance, it
’s tremendous fun to use imitation and other things that you do within the texture of the music.  The more of that kind of stuff that can be analyzed and enjoyed by the future musicologists, the better!  That’s like engineering; it’s like solving calculus problems.  There’s excitement there, but that’s not where you stop.

BD:    That’s where you begin, really?

CE:    Absolutely right, that’s where you begin.  So it’s got to be a real balance.

BD:    You mentioned that you felt that music should be entertainment.  Where does the artistic value balance with the entertainment?

CE:    Entertainment, in a narrow sense, is only part of what music can do, but I mention it because it’s very strong in our society, as such.  It’s entertainment that serves to pass time away.  During my time in the Army, I was in charge of getting the troops to sing as they went from chow or to the classes or to whatever.  It was quite a problem to get them to sing, so I set up a contest, and the next thing you know, they were doing fantastic things!  A whole troop of men, almost a mile apart, singing in unison — not by hearing, but by eye.  The whole column from up on the hill went from one place
like from chow to a classin one-tenth the time that it used to take when they didn’t sing.  So music can have all kinds of functions including entertainment and passing time away.  Some students can’t study anymore without music in the background.

BD:    Is it the music they need, or is it just some kind of sound?

CE:    There’s a physiological element; something in the vibrations.

BD:    Would they do just as well with a muffled jackhammer?

CE:    No, because it isn’t as well organized as music; no, it wouldn’t be the same.  Even the ticking of a good clock wouldn’t do it because there’s not enough variety there.  Pretty soon the consciousness puts it aside.  It’s like a pedal tone in music.  A pedal tone works very well because you hear it and then you kind of let it go, and it does its own thing without you knowing it; you concentrate on the harmonies above because the ear doesn’t hear it after a certain length of time.

BD:    But you know it’s there.

CE:    You know it’s there.

BD:    And you know when it quits.

CE:    You notice it when it quits; that’s exactly right, yeah.  But coming back to your question about art and entertainment, the appreciation of art is much more than entertainment.  It’s entertainment in a broad sense, but not in the narrow sense that we think of as being something that makes us laugh or takes us out of whatever we are in.  Art entertains, but it entertains deep, so
entertain is the wrong word.  It reveals; art reveals.  Art is probably the biggest thing that mankind can offer that nobody else can do.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You have written quite a bit of religious music.  Is there a spiritual quality to all the music that you write, both sacred and secular?

CE:    I don’t know how spiritual.  Take my Fanfare on Chow Call that I wrote for the Army while I was in Washington at the beginning of the war.  Those are nonsense syllables that I wrote, and I used the Army Chow Call.  I would say that there’s not much spiritual there; it was more a gastronomic reaction.  [Both laugh]  Then think of a piece that I wrote for clarinet and piano at the time that Kennedy was assassinated.  I wrote a piece that was angry; the clarinet screams and the piano bangs.  I guess you could say that has spiritual quality.  It’s not very calm spiritual quality; it’s agitation, but it has a quality having to do with that thing about the human being, and that is his spirit.  I would say mostly the pieces I write want to comment on something.  Landscape One, Two, and Three are tone poems, and are a reaction to a kind of outdoor scene.  Each tone poem has that kind of spiritual reaction on the part of one person, and hopefully is transmitted to listeners.  One might call it spiritual; not religious, but the broadest sense of the spirit, of the soul, of the human race.  Yeah, I think it all might be spiritual in one way or another.  Take that Tone Poem on the Square Dance, which I mentioned earlier.  During that time, I thought not only of the tunes that I used, but also the kind of wonderful intrigue between the men and the women who are getting dressed and primped, and are going to enjoy a romantic time in the square dance; people looking in front of the mirrors and getting fixed up and powdered up.  Is that spirit?  Yes, I think so.

effingerBD:    You’ve written a great deal of choral and solo vocal music.  Tell me the joys and sorrows of writing for the human voice.

CE:    Joys and sorrows?  Oh, it’s all joy! 

BD:    Really???

CE:    Oh, yeah!  What an instrument!  What an instrument.  Most of my vocal stuff is choral; I think it’s the broadest segment.  It’s all joys.  I don’t see any sorrows at all in it.

BD:    [Smiling broadly]  I started out as a choral singer, so that is good to hear!

CE:    Really.  And furthermore, talk about satisfaction!  You go somewhere where you’re written something for an orchestra, and a couple of the players will come up and talk to you.  I had a viola player come up and talk to me once, down in Nashville.  He said, “There’s a wonderful place, two or three measures, that you wrote for viola, and we appreciate it so.”  The viola always gets the last crumbs out of the bottom of the barrel!  You do the soprano and the bass first, one or the other, then the second violin comes in there with the first violins, and then the last note that gets assigned is the viola.  Well, I wrote a passage there, and I remembered it.  It was a great spot for viola, about three bars out of a big work, and this guy had picked out those three bars and said thank you for writing those!  But getting back to choral, first of all, when you write for orchestra, a few of the players will say hello to you.  If it’s a real professional group, they go on their way.  You don’t have any rapport with them, unless you start it out.  It’s there, but they don’t really care.  The rapport that you get with a choir, a church choir, for instance, or any choir, is so rewarding!  They get into it.  Why?  Because they’re the instrument, and there’s no instrument like it.  [Pauses for a moment]  Next comes the cello.

BD:    Because the person is sort of wrapped around the cello?

CE:    Yeah, I don’t know.  Well, no, it isn’t so much that as it is the musical capability of the cello.  It can play bass, tenor, alto, soprano, super-soprano.  It can play chords; it can play rough; it can play smooth; it can play heavenly; it can play earthy; it can do everything.  A cello is it, but the voice has it beat.  It is all this complicated, wonderful thing with the sounds.  Speech is marvelous; speech is great music.  Then you put music to it also, and you’ve got a double-barreled whammy!

BD:    Now combining orchestral with the vocal music, you’ve written a couple of operas?

CE:    Actually, three; one big one on Cyrano de Bergerac.  At first it was a three-hour job, and then I cut it down for the second performance.  It was performed eleven or so times, and sold out, but I haven’t been able to move it at all!  It takes as long to promote these things as it does to write a new work.  It isn’t all that easy.

BD:    Should it be the responsibility of the composing musician to go around and promote his works?

CE:    It shouldn’t, but how are you going to get somebody to do it, unless you have a friend?  The publishers used to do it, but they’re not doing it as well anymore.

BD:    I wonder why...

CE:    Economics, and also old-fashioned marketing and old-fashioned production.  With the means of producing pages of music now
with copiers and what notthere’s no sense in printing up two thousand of something, hoping that it’ll sell, and having a warehouse full of things.  They should have one copy, and when they get an order, they should run them off and send it out.  Two things are happening in that field.  One is the production and marketing, which methods, in my opinion, are fifty or maybe a hundred years old.

BD:    So they’re behind the times?

CE:    They’re behind the times, sure!  And the other thing is the lack of true editors
like Mr. Heinsheimer of Schirmerwho know when a piece was good.  He knew, and he could say, like he did with me several times, “Come in here and make a contract.”  Just like that.  Some of the second and third generation people, I’m sorry to say, don’t know anything about music.  They just are in there, and they’re going to take the profits from the Brahms and the Beethoven and the Bach and the Schubert; they will print a few new things, but not really go after them and market them.

BD:    Doesn’t this mean that it’ll work very well in the short run, but all of a sudden it’ll collapse?

CE:    Yes, yes it does.  And now, the takeovers are something else.

BD:    [Facetiously]  You don’t want your piece owned by General Foods???

CE:    [Laughs]  No, thank you.  I’ve got quite a few of them, including The Invisible Fire, which was originally with H.W. Gray, who sold out to Belwin, and who still did a good job on it.  But Belwin sold to Columbia Pictures, and Columbia Pictures sold to Coca-Cola.

BD:    So now it’s owned by a soft drink company?

CE:    Yeah, and what do they know about it, and what do they care?  They don’t care.  So it’s a strange situation there.

BD:    Well, they put out the New Coke.  Maybe they’ll put out the New Effinger!

CE:    [Laughs]  I wish they’d put the same effort for Effinger as they do for Coca-Cola.  Did that lead us off of the topic?

BD:    A little bit...  We were talking about your operas.

CE:    Oh yes.  Cyrano was very successful, and I think it eventually might be.  Jose Ferrer wanted to do it.  He came and listened, and he was in tears when he finished.  He got an Oscar for the movie, but unfortunately he didn’t have a good voice, and my version required a terrific voice.  I did another opera for the hundredth anniversary of the University of Colorado, called A Gentleman Desperado.  It is about a very educated man who ended up as a desperado in the mountains in Colorado, and his acquaintance with a lady from England who was touring at that time, a hundred years ago.  They became great friends — she, a cultured lady, and he a desperado — and then the inevitable impossibility of that arrangement.  And I also did a small opera for school kids on Pandora’s Box.  So those are the three operas.

BD:    [Trying to remember]  Isn’t something listed as a musical play or incidental music, rather than an opera?

CE:    I did some instrumental music for Shakespeare, but I don’t think it’s listed as that.  The large sacred choral works are, I think, a strong point in my catalog.  Invisible Fire is an hour long, and it receives many performances, and very expensive ones with full orchestra, soloists, and so forth.

BD:    Have you basically been pleased with the performances you’ve heard of your music over the years?

CE:    Over the years, yes, absolutely!  Absolutely!  I’ve had a few poor ones...  I had one, I remember, that was so bad that I punched my wife in the arm and said, “I’m going to have a coughing spell.”  I left the hall, it was so bad!  And once a high school orchestra tried the Fifth Symphony, and it was not prepared.  Generally speaking, though, I have had good to excellent performances, and every now and then superior performances.  But overall, in this regard, I have no complaints at all.

BD:    What about the recordings, since they get a little more widespread circulation.

CE:    Yeah, those are more difficult to come by.  They get good circulation when they do happen, but to come by good recordings I’ve found rather difficult.  It may be that I just haven’t put the right amount of effort into contacts; I don’t know.  The Naumburg Award was a nice one on Columbia.

BD:    That’s the Little Symphony?

CE:    Little Symphony Number One, yeah.  My wife and I have been instrumental in preserving the start of a record collection in Boulder, and have come up with a pretty good catalog of things, although we don’t want to push them too far; there are too many people to be included.  But the business of radio which you’re in, this is fantastic, wonderful!  You reach more people in one evening than Bach reached in his lifetime.  It’s true.

BD:    Sure, exactly.

CE:    So the work you’re doing is highly important.  A composer needs to have a few successful pieces.  You can’t expect all of them to go the whole way.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  Why not???

CE:    Most of us can’t, anyway.  I guess Aaron Copland has, but very few composers have.  Think of Rachmaninoff and the C Sharp Minor Prelude, which is played millions of times.  What a wonderful piece!  I’ve got the Four Pastorales for Oboe and Chorus which has gone hog-wild all over the place!  It is done time and time again, you know, and others that I think are just as good, somehow don’t find their way!

BD:    Maybe they will, eventually.

CE:    Maybe they will eventually, that’s right.  A lot of times, that’s what happens.

BD:    Are you ever surprised when you get a letter from someplace that a piece of yours is being done?

CE:    Not surprised, no, because this happens a lot; but pleased, always.  I just heard two days ago about a big performance of The Invisible Fire in Houston.  I didn’t know about it!  So this is nice to have happen; things are going and you don’t know it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    I want to be sure and ask about your other major involvement, and that is with — can I say
musical contraption?

CE:    Well, you can say that.  I like to call it a typewriter for music, because if you say
musical typewriter, they think it makes pretty sounds, and it doesn’t; it sounds just like any typewriter.  It’s a typewriter that types music instead of words.  The original one is the Musicwriter One, which was introduced over thirty years ago.  It sold all over the world, and thousands and thousands of publications have been done on the machine; the original copy of each was done on the machine.  It’s been very successful.  It’s been revolutionary, as a matter of fact, in the whole printing industry.


BD:    Why did you decide to get involved in that, rather than spend the time writing more music?

CE:    [Laughs]  It’s quite a compelling thing.  I was in Paris in 1945, and saw a gadget in a window that set my mind to going on something that had been thought of before, which was some means of typing music.  I began to investigate, and found that some hundred and seventy patents had been run through, foreign and domestic.  None of them worked!  What I noticed was that when musicians tried to build one, it was a Rube Goldberg contraption, and there you can use the word
contraption.  But when the scientists tried to do it, it didn’t do the music right; it didn’t look right... like Harvey Firestone’s patent.  He’s the one that invented the x-ray of steel girders to find flaws before it’s too late.  He did one where the music came out sideways, and it looked terrible anyhow.  So finally, one thing led to another.

BD:    You decide to put it right?

CE:    I decide to pursue it.  The first thing I did was the size of a ping pong table.  There was a procedure or an analysis of the problem, which I was trying to mechanize.  The next one was the size of a card table, and I did the parts of my Third String Quartet on that machine.  It was very crude.  The next one was with the help of some research money from the University of Colorado.  I did it on a Smith-Corona portable typewriter, with some cooperation from Smith Corona, who had tried it already and decided maybe they better let me try it!  [Both laugh]  After that, I showed it to IBM, and became a consultant to them on a research development for a really good set up.  That failed to meet the interest of the marketing people, however, so then I went out on my own.  We produced the Musicwriter One in 1955.  It hit Time Magazine, and boom, off you go! 

Music:  Notes by Typewriter
Time Magazine, Monday, July 11, 1955

After four reels of struggle and starvation, the Young Composer manages to play snatches from his symphony for the Great Conductor, who is entranced. "We will perform it at Edinburgh next month," he promises, and the average moviegoer can go home happily confident that the Young Composer is over the last hurdle on the highroad to success—and perhaps even to Hollywood Bowl. But composers in the audience will have one more worry about the hero: Where will he get the $1,000 or so to pay for having his symphony copied so that it can be played by an orchestra?

Cecil Effinger. 40, a music professor at the University of Colorado, whose own compositions, including three symphonies, are well known in the Mountain. States, has been thinking about the $1,000 question since 1945. One day in Paris, he saw an unusual typewriter in a store window, and it got him speculating about a typewriter for music. After investigating and discarding other designs, Effinger came forth last week with a typewriter of 79 characters and a carriage that can be moved freely to produce the most complicated kind of notation. With a little practice, Effinger claims, typists will average about 60 characters a minute (manual copyists average 45). But the advantage, he believes, lies not so much in speed as in an amateur's ability to produce an accurate, legible score suitable for reproduction or for instant use on a music stand. Estimated cost of Effinger's machine: $300.

Composer-inventor Effinger expects his biggest market to be the field of education. "Copies are being made in schools every day," he says, "making up examinations, making theses, and so on.'' He warns enthusiastic musical illiterates not to "expect a rush of composers suddenly to sit down behind desks with cigarettes dangling out of their mouths and begin pouring out a ream of symphonies on these machines. The Music Writer will simply be used instead of a pen when it comes to making finished copies."

With the great development of electronics in typewriters, with memory and automation and so forth, I waited for the right machine, which turned out to be the IBM Wheelwriter.  We just introduced it nationally this week, to great success.

[Note: At this point, Effinger eagerly showed me several pages which had been produced to demonstrate the quality of the latest machine.]

BD:    Looking at these pages, it looks like engraved work.  It’s absolutely wonderful.  It’s readable, it’s clear, it’s lined up...

effingerCE:    It’s sharp, too.

BD:    It’s sharp, absolutely.

CE:    And black.

BD:    It doesn’t look like a Xerox; it doesn’t look like printout.  It looks, as I say, engraved.

CE:    Right, right.  That’s what we’re after.  We’re after the top level.  We want to do a Cadillac, and that’s what we’ve got.  Also, the price to schools is under three thousand dollars. 

BD:    Going back to the original one, why did yours work when everybody else’s didn’t?

CE:    At the risk of being immodest, I have to say that what I had in my cranial make-up was a kind of a balance.  I knew the music language
how it should work, how it should lookalso the principle involved, which meant you had characters like a quarter note or a rest that were shaped a certain way, but they were able to be put anywhere.  When he first saw this, Nicholas Slonimsky said, “Oh, it’s point and plunk.”  Which is typical of Nick, you know!

BD:    [Knowingly, having read much by Slonimsky, and having interviewed him]  Sure!

CE:    But that’s true.  You move to a point where you want a certain character, and then you put the character there.  So we had to provide a mechanism which would do that.  It’s that simple, but it wasn’t that simple to effect.  I just had the right combination.  I majored in mathematics, and I like things like this.  I like paper; I’ve always liked paper.  I remember figuring out fluid drive way before it ever happened.  So I think I have that kind of whatever brain it is, plus, I knew the music field.  That combination did not exist in the previous attempts.

BD:    So you were just the right person for the job.

CE:    And of course, believe me, Bruce, I thought, “Oh well, somebody else must have done this.  There must be something wrong with my idea, otherwise somebody would have thought of it.”  It took me quite a while to realize that I had an answer, and nobody had come up with it.  Certainly that has been the case.  Only recently have the new computer ideas related to printed music come up.  Until just a few years ago, we were the only ones.  As a matter of fact, we introduced the machine at the Music Educators National Conference about thirty-three years ago, and then we re-introduced, after a third of a century, the new model which takes advantage of the electronics and word processing.

BD:    So essentially, rather than making a new machine, you’ve come up with some software?

CE:    With software and hardware, and even
firmware.  That’s a phrase I just learned; it’s in-between software and hardware, and has to do with electronics.  Putting them together, it’s taken about the last three years.  We had to get a daisy wheel made, and that was done with IBM.  They did a beautiful job.  I designed it, and then they put it together.  They told me, “You have to change this; you have to change this; you have to change this location; you have to put this here,” and so forth and so forth and so forth!  We worked together.  I was down there this past week.  I’ve been down there, I think, five times, to get the wheel made.  I’ve been thinking about it for five years, waiting ‘til the right commercial machine came out, so that we’d have the least possible problems that couldn’t be serviced all over the country.  Now we’ve got it at a good point.

BD:    So you were waiting for the technology to catch up with you?

CE:    Well, yes, this is right.  This is right!  This is absolutely right.

BD:    And now it has?

CE:    It has.

BD:    And it works?

CE:    It works, oh, yes!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You have spent a lot of time thinking about and designing a machine.  Do you get enough time to compose?

CE:    The way this has worked out, it’s like a game of golf after you’ve worked hard at the office.  A game of golf takes maybe as much time as you spent at the office that day, but it’s a different kind of activity; it refreshes you for the office the next day.  To work on these mechanisms is great fun!  To work out these problems is great fun.  To work out a passage of music, I’ve spent sometimes ten or twelve hours on three or four bars!  Other times, forty-five minutes is enough for a whole movement.  It depends.  But in any case, I’ve found people have criticized me.  “Why are you spending your time on that mechanism business stuff?”  I say, “Well, I enjoy it.”  It’s like a hobby to the other, and then the other is a relief from the mechanisms, so they balance off very nicely.  I have never worked only on music except when deadlines approach.  Sometimes I won’t do a thing for two or three months, and then there’ll be periods of intense activity.  I recently went a whole year without doing anything, but I’m still up to Opus One Hundred and Twenty-something, right now.

BD:    Even though you’ve got this marvelous typewriter and the electronic gadgets, do you still sketch out the music with a pencil?

effingerCE:    Oh, yes!  Oh, yes.  I have a wonderful story...  There’s all this talk about computers right now.  I heard this story just this week about an electronics convention, where there were computers and more computers and robots and all of this stuff at this trade show.  A manufacturer took a booth, and his sign said, “The world’s most powerful word processor.”  He had half a million pencils in his display!  [Both laugh heartily]  Nothing more powerful than the pencil and the eraser!  Oh of course, you don’t sit at the typewriter; the typewriter does final copy.

BD:    When you’re sitting with pencil and paper writing a piece of music, do you control that pencil, or are there times when that pencil is controlling you?

CE:    [Laughs] There are times when I suddenly look, and here it all is.  In other words, the pencil responds right away to the mind.

BD:    To the subconscious mind?

CE:    To the subconscious mind, yeah.  You almost are in a subconscious state.  I look up from the paper, and it’s three-quarters of an hour later!  Now this is mostly very sketchy, partly melody, partly harmonies, partly squiggles, partly lines or words that say, “High filigree, with strong punctuation underneath.”  You tell yourself this and go on.  You can sketch a movement inside of an hour, and sometimes it’s very close to being subconscious.  It’s not unconscious, but it’s kind of subconscious.  Or, you’re going along and your mind is going along, and it’s hearing things.  You remind yourself of what you’re hearing just as quickly as you possibly can; no eraser, even.  If something doesn’t look right, you scratch it out, but leave it there, because it may be right; you need to look at it again.  Then you go to work on it.

BD:    When you get to the end and have come back, and you have filled in all the details and tinkered with everything, how do you know when to put the pencil down and say, “This work is ready to be launched upon the world”?

CE:    You’re not always right, but usually you reach a point where you’ve added up all the decisions that have to be made.  It’s like our itinerary for this trip.  It goes one way and another and another, and you and I decided we would meet Sunday instead of Monday, and so forth and so forth.  Finally, it’s time to go!  You have to have reached a point of decision on everything.  Even then, very frequently you will finish a work, and more often than not, at the performance, you will hear something you’d like to change — a little bit here, a little bit there.  For example, we did an anthem at our church for the hundredth anniversary, and the first words are “Joshua called his people.”  I thought it ought to be fairly strong, but the choir sat on
that opening word “Joshua like it was an opportunity they’d never get again.  It came out JAW-shu-uh!  [Both laugh]  I knew right away I was going to have to change that to mezzo piano and not let the first syllable have two beats; let it be just one beat so they couldn’t pounce on poor Joshua like that.  You will hear things that you want to change.  Rarely is there a piece that comes out right the first time.  Another time I did a big work for Thor Johnson, and they wanted to publish it before the first performance.  I said, “Okay, I’ll try this,” which meant that I had to outguess all these decisions and questionable places, because it’s going to be in cold print before the performance.

BD:    Did you luck out?

CE:    Absolutely.  I haven’t changed a note.  I even signed a bunch of copies in the lobby ahead of time! 

BD:    What other advice do you have for young composers coming along?

CE:    I would urge them to decide why they want to write, and push them to see very clearly what the benefits and joys are, and what the problems are... one of the problems being, of course, not to expect to make a living out of it!  I’ve got some students who are making a living.  Dave Grusin is one, who did the music for On Golden Pond, The Graduate, and some others.  He’s a millionaire, I’m sure, and I’ve got a couple other students that are doing very well in this regard.  Some of them are editors for publishers and so forth, but basically I tell them they’re going to have to make a living somehow, and this may not be it.  Also, I let them realize that while everybody that’s in music should know how to compose or at least do some of it, that doesn’t mean that everybody is naturally a composer.  If they find out that they aren’t naturally a composer, not to worry about it; chalk it up to good experience.  I try to be very honest with the students, and say, “Look, don’t get stars in your eyes here.  You’re going to have to learn a tough craft.  It’s going to be rewarding if you succeed, but don’t worry about it if it doesn’t work out.”  I think you have to very honest with these people.  In terms of their using new means of notation and copying and so forth, they’ve got their choice.  They can do it by pencil, they can do it by pen, they can do it by typewriter, they can do it by paste-up.  They can do it any way, whatever suits them.

BD:    Next year you’re going to be seventy-five.  What’s the most surprising thing you’ve noticed in that long life, in terms of music?

CE:    Well, I feel fifty.  I think the most interesting thing in that length of time is the shift of gears that took place from the first part of this century
the Schoenberg, Viennese thingand the way that changed into the thirties.  I think one of the big influences counteracting the Viennese approach was, as far as I’m concerned, the Harris Third Symphony.  This was at another end of the pole; and then the electronics.  All the great developments that have taken place in this century are fantastic, though disturbing and upsetting, and sometimes yielding negative results.  Electronic music and serialism; these are big movements.  Then finally, at the end of the century, I think we’re coming back to almost an impressionistic or romantic sphere of activity.  So I think the thing that’s happened.  I played chess with the Kolisch Quartet people; they were close to Schoenberg, as you know, and anything romantic was out of the question!  Incidentally, my chess with them didn’t last very long; they were good!  [Both laugh]  But I experienced that.  Living in the west, with the mountains and the openness, it wasn’t non-sophistication, it was the openness of the whole area.  I didn’t take to the Viennese type of thinking at all!  I welcomed influences other than that.  William Schuman and I have talked about how Harris really opened up a door for us.  Gee, these open, wonderful sounds!  Sonority!  Paying attention to the physics of sound, after all!  The triad is solid, like two, three, four, things that exist in nature.  And then going through the electronics; I don’t know if I’ll ever get really interested in it.  This is just personal opinions, but you asked me about the whole thing for all these years.  The first time I really was tossed overboard by music was when my Dad took me downtown in Colorado Springs to the Burns Theater, where the Minneapolis Symphony was playing.  Henri Verbrugghen conducted and they played Strauss with eight horns up in the air like that; that was enough for me!

BD:    That was it; you were hooked!

CE:    Oh, I was hooked!  But I also had talent, apparently, because they told me I sang solos in the Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning; I don’t even remember it, so I must have been pretty young.  In that length of time, there have been really massive periods closely packed together.  We have such communication now; the Polish influence over here came fast, Lutosławski, etcetera.  They would have been isolated for quite a while; it might have been decades before we got onto it, but the way things are now, with radio and what not....

BD:    Do you think it moved too fast?

CE:    Sometimes I think almost it does.  Sometimes I think it does!  Yeah, I would have to feel that to be true.  But we have to adjust quickly, and I think we’re doing that.  Very interesting point!

BD:    Thank you for being a composer and an inventor!

CE:    Well, thank you for saying so!  [Laughs]  I appreciate that.

BD:    I’ve admired what little music of yours I had for a long time, and now I have more music to listen to and broadcast.  I’m also glad to see things are working out with your printing machine.

CE:    Thank you.  The response to it is very, very fine... very fine.  You know, there are essential differences in the word language and in the music language.  The word language is a left to right sequence, so this is relatively simple.  The music language has more information in a square inch than any other language, if you stop to think about it.  Take a square inch out of a Debussy piano work or Rachmaninoff, and the information in there is just unbelievable!  Furthermore, it’s a pattern language, and we see these things in patterns.  We see words in patterns, but to put them down is not a pattern situation.  In music, it’s a pattern situation.

BD:    And yet the ironic thing is that when the words are on the page, that’s it.  Someone will read them, and there they are.  But for the music to be on the page, someone has to play it or sing it!

CE:    That’s right, and it’s a language that tells more than just those marks on the page.  This is a very interesting point.  Properly printed music tells more than just the characters.  I’ve got to remember that idea, because that it so true!  If you have something too close or too far, or if you turn it upside down with the stems going up, it won’t read as well.  Look at his inner voice in here.  [Points out a sequence in the middle of a complicated passage.]  See how that inner voice comes up there?  It is hidden within the patterns of the piano music.  A good pianist will see that, and the left thumb will highlight it in addition to all these notes above.

BD:    Just hitting the right notes is not enough.

CE:    You give me a very, very important point there, that I must add to what I’ve considered!

BD:    I’m glad I can do that for you, and I’m so glad that it’s all working out.

CE:    Yes, it’s working out, I think.  The preponderance of people that came by to see the machine this week just looked at the results and said, “Well, that looks right.  That looks right.”  I am concerned with what goes through the mind of the person who is just copying a trumpet part, as to how that will best affect the trumpet player, to get the best results, because you accumulate those results in the performance.  If all the players feel good about not only the notes they’re playing, but also how they see them, this makes a difference in the performance!  That is a fact that’s not always appreciated by everybody.

BD:    Many people of your generation have told me that the technical ability of musicians is getting better, but is the musicianship getting better?

CE:    I think so.  The trumpet playing, the brass quintet work that you hear nowadays is unbelievable!  Unbelievably fine!  Brass playing, particularly, has come up; oboe playing as well... all of them.  We’ve had great clarinetists and great flutists, though we haven’t had as many really fine on some of the instruments.  I think Tommy Dorsey did something for brass playing.  He had such intonation, such beauty of never missing notes, it was wonderful!  Just wonderful!  Yeah, I think the playing now is incredible.  In fact, so is the playing in high schools!  I have a recording of a bunch of high school kids playing, and it is beautiful, absolutely beautiful!

BD:    I hope it all continues.  Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule.  I appreciate your stopping by.

CE:    Oh, pleasure.


© 1988 Bruce Duffie

This interview was held in Chicago on April 4, 1988.  Portions were used (along with recordings) on WNIB in 1989, 1994, and 1999.  The transcription was made in 2010, and posted on this website in 2011.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.