Composer’s Haven

by

11/15/2002

333. W. 52nd St ny 10019

Neighborhood: Midtown

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My first job in Midtown Manhattan was as a clerical assistant in a large law firm on Fifth Avenue. It’s the building of the beast with the illuminated neon red 666 emblazoned across the top of the structure. It wasn’t glamorous work, but I made the best of my surroundings by exploring the neighborhood during my lunch break.

My other work is as a composer and Midtown is ground zero for all things musical. On 48th Street you can peruse the saxophones at International. In Sam Ash, you might catch a washout corporate rocker playing a fancy overpriced guitar, plucking his favorite Van Halen licks for his buddies during lunch. But I was searching for paper-musical staff paper. As a composer, I have a special relationship with paper and size matters. The dimension of staff paper helps frame the composition within my mind. And special paper is hard to find. But I got a tip that the place to go for music paper was on 52nd St. at a place called Aztec.

I found the store only a few blocks from the office. It was located at 333. W. 52nd St. The building is off-white with an eroding stone façade. There is no doorman. The elevator is very small allowing only three passengers per trip. Located on the eighth floor, the office is camouflaged by battleship gray doors and walls with only a small black sign to identify the name of the business - Associated Music Copy Service. I entered the small office that contained a large front counter. Behind the counter there were many pre-cubicles with old fluorescent lights at each desk. The walls we faded pink pegboard. There was not a computer in sight. Associated didn't even have cash register and all transactions are written up on hand slips. There were small stacks of staff paper on the one table in the office. This space served as the showroom for a specialty music paper division called Aztec Music Papers. I had found my paradise.

Associated Music Copy Service used to do a bustling business for composers in New York. In the pre-Finale days (Finale is the software most composers use today for finishing their scores and creating parts for the musicians), Associated employed a dozen or so professional copyist that churned out music parts for every imaginable demand a composer might have. Associated is located in close proximity to Manhattan's theatres, radio stations, television shows and studios. Whether it was a rush job for the night's opening show or commercial jingle parts for a big band, Associated and its scribes produced. Radio drama or chamber music parts, whatever you needed, Associated could do the job. It was good honest work. But certainly times have changed.»

I found the exact the paper I needed at Aztec. If I was writing quartet music, they had special quartet paper. When I was working on orchestral works, Aztec provided the perfect papers. The staff was always extremely courteous and never hesitated to show me something special on a whim. At Aztec, they had a sense about the emotional needs of composers concerning the paper selection for their next ‘masterpiece’. I bought some of the best piano staff paper I have ever owned at Aztec. I still use it. Sparingly.

Often times returning to the office after these visits I would fall silently into a trance nostalgia dream. With new score paper tucked neatly under my arm and wearing my thrift store suits to my pretend job, I would imagine myself returning to the set to begin work on a new soundtrack for a TV series circa 1972. It would be a crime show set in New York, I would use lots of oboes and violas for mood settings. Perhaps the theme music would be a snappy, jazzy number with lots of syncopation and major chords for that feel-good TV vibe I know so well. Sometimes I would imagine myself in 1952 returning with Bernard Herrman’s latest cue sheets or perhaps string quartet parts for an avant guard string quartet I was rehearsing at Carnegie Hall. It only takes three blocks to get lost in a dream. But 666 was always waiting and lunch was over. I think everyone in Midtown after lunch on a hot Thursday July afternoon has had a variation of this dream

I hadn’t made it to Aztec in awhile since I started working downtown. But buying staff paper is always a great stimulation to create. Whether you use it now or later you will always use your paper. You never know when you will need some 60-stave orchestra paper! When I began to write this story I wanted to get the address correct so I called information to get the number. I dialed it thinking I could innocently ask the cross streets and hear the voice of the sweet woman that runs the shop. I got the sweet woman’s voice, but not like I expected. With the clicking sound of a number that has been disconnected I got a recording directing me to a website for my music paper needs. The familiar voice trailed off at the end of the message, sad, a little cracked, " The New York office of Aztec Music Papers is no longer open for business". I hung up the phone and realized that a small but delightful part of New York City had vanished. Farewell Aztec, farewell.

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§ 5 Responses to “Composer’s Haven”

  • Sounds awesome, I bet New York is a great place for all things musical, especially jazz.

  • Paula Eisenstein Baker says:

    Re “Composer’s Haven”
    Loved the story about Aztec and wonder whether you have any suggestions for identifying old music staff paper by the symbols/initials/other identifying marks found on the left-hand bottom of the page. I can’t even figure out what to Google!

    One work, probably composed in Russia before 1917, is on paper that has the Roman initial letters “B.” and “H.,” but these could also be the Cyrillic capital letters representing the sounds V and N. Any suggestions?

  • John says:

    Peter “PDQ Bach” Schickele was a frequent customer of Associated/Aztec, and just about everybody in show business, in the New York area, used them for music copying, even if they sent somebody else to drop off or pick up their work. Their music calligraphers belonged to musicians’ Local 802

  • David Lucero says:

    Certainly a haven for artists. Agree with Paula, wonder the same things re symbols or even the identifying marks.

  • Music1 says:

    Coming to this story late, I must say that Aztec produced very precise staff paper. A pleasure to buy and use. I ‘m sorry they are no longer in existence.

§ Leave a Reply

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