Part One – The Aztec Scoremaster 101
In January and February 1982 I worked in New York on the first part of Medea, which culminated in a draft performance (though I had left just before that). For the first week I stayed in the Chelsea Hotel and for the rest of the time I had a small apartment on West 72nd Street. I had completed Acts 1 and 2, and I wrote Act 4 scene C in New York as well as Act 5 scene C (the ending) and a draft of Act 3 scene 1. These were performed, with two piano accompaniment at the end of February 1982 following rehearsals at City College, New York with a mixture of students, semi-professional singers and singers, notably Wilhelmina Fernandez, who had recently starred in the film Diva and who was cast as Medea.
During this time, one of the rehearsal pianists showed me the pencils that he used for writing and recommended them to me. They were the Aztec Scoremaster 101 pencils that could be bought from Associated Music, West 55th Street. It transpired that as Associated Music also manufactured the pencils, this was the only place where they could be obtained. Associated Music was on an upper floor, reached via a lift, and was a place where that offered a combination of graphic supplies, chiefly to the music industry, and a dyeline facility for printing music from transparencies. This seemed to be used chiefly by musicians in the record industry and the Broadway musical theatre.
Although it has a softish lead (around 2B), the Aztec Scoremaster 101 holds its point much longer than other 2B pencils and the eraser is perfectly matched to the lead. But most critically for me – and for the rehearsal pianist who introduced me to the pencil – it photocopies very darkly, much darker and denser than other pencils and almost like ink. This became incredibly useful in the days before Schott became my publisher (some 12 years later) and in that period a photocopy of my handwritten full score had to serve as the conductor’s copy (although individual parts were written out separately by professional copyists). With any commission I would get the cost of copying parts covered, but the score was my reproduced manuscript.
Even after I joined Schott, I still composed with pencil and paper (and continue to do so) and my photocopied score (now often sent as a scan) is the source for my editors (Sandy Brown and then Rose Moore) to work from and for Chris Hinkins – who is the best in the business – to produce engraved scores for publication.
This continued quite happily for many years. Each time I went to New York I would buy a dozen or so boxes. And if I didn’t go for a while I would ask friends if they would collect a few for me. In the late 1980s I was even featured in The Independent newspaper as part of a series on things that people cannot live without. It was part of the colour section and there was a photograph of me with my pencils along with a short accompanying article. Not long after this appeared I was in New York and went in to the store to get more supplies. There was an excited shout of “It’s him!!! It’s him!!!” I was baffled until I saw a large reproduction of The Independent article and photo on the wall behind me…
The pencils were extremely reliable and the quality was absolutely consistent. There was one slightly alarming change when at some point the external colour of the pencil was changed from the original yellow to a kind of silver grey but it was stressed that the oencil was the same. I always felt however that there was a subtle change to the lead too, though this was not really quantifiable…
A few years ago, after I hadn’t been to New York for some time, I was running short of pencils so I got in touch with Norman Ryan at my publisher’s New York office to see if he might pop along and get a few boxes for me. To my horror he told me that Associated Music’s shop was no longer there and that it had gone out of business some time ago. It seemed that, since the advent and success of Sibelius and other computer notation programmes with their part extraction facility, no one was using transparencies for producing parts any more – and as this had been their main business everything collapsed.
I was down to my last 6 pencils (half a box) at that time and was seriously worried so I searched online. But all Google searches turned up many references to Mexican religion, but never to pencils. In fact the only references to the pencils themselves at all were to my reported use of the pencil in various interviews and articles…
Part Two – Derwent Pencil Company
As my stocks of Aztec pencils started to dwindle, and as there seemed to be little hope of finding any, I looked for other options.
My daughter Orlanda visited the Cumberland Pencil Museum in Keswick when she was on holiday in the Lake District. She mentioned my plight to the museum and I then wrote to the Technical Manager of the Derwent Pencil Company, which runs the museum.
(Here is the correspondence with Barbara Murray, the Technical Director of the Derwent Pencil Company also via the Cumberland Pencil Museum, Keswick from late 2009)
Dear Barbara Murray
I am a composer of contemporary classical music and use pencil and paper, not computer for composition. Since 1982 I have used just one kind of pencil called Aztec Scoremaster 101, which I have always obtained from Associated Music, West 55th Street, New York. Each time I am in New York I have bought a dozen or so boxes. Recently, however, I have discovered that this company stopped trading some 4 years ago and they seem to have been the only source of these pencils. I have just half a box of unsharpened pencils and a few stubs. All attempts to find them via internet have failed (although I find lots of references to Mexican religion…). Their special qualities are: (1) although a softish pencil it holds its point for about ten times that of a 2B; (2) it photocopies very dark which is useful for sending handwritten scores to my editor; the eraser is perfectly matched to the lead (though this is less critical).
If it is not possible to find these pencils I would be quite prepared to have them manufactured for me, if it is possible to do this by analysing the pencils that I have. I have used other pencils from time to time in order to conserve my supply of Aztecs, but none work as well – and I dislike propelling pencils, which don’t really have a very good point in any case. Any help would be very welcome.
(reply from Barbara Murray)
Dear Mr Bryars
I’m sorry to hear your pencils have become unavailable. From your description, I think we might have a pencil that could be similar. We
recently introduced a pencil called ONYX, which is quite black, but stronger than a normal graphite pencil.
I will send you a sample of the Onyx to try.
The difficulty in manufacturing special pencils for people is that we work in such large quantities – the smallest batch we could make here
would be well over 5000 pencils.
Here’s hoping that onyx will work for you.
The Cumberland Pencil Company
Derwent House, Jubilee Road,
Lillyhall Business Park,
Workington, Cumbria, CA14 4HS
Thank you for your prompt and very helpful reply. I will be pleased to try your ONYX pencil and if it works I will extremely happy.
I understand of course that there would be a minimum quantity if we were to look at manufacturing new pencils and I would, if necessary look at that as another option. Bearing in mind that I have written three operas, some fifteen concertos, four string quartets, countless choral and vocal works, I may well use up those 5000 before I die!!
With best wishes
December 10 2009
Thank you for calling yesterday and I enjoyed our discussion about the technical qualities of pencils, especially in my quest for something to take over from my rapidly disappearing Aztec Scoremaster101!
I enclose a stub from one of my pencils. This is from the second generation of pencils – the originals were yellow on the outside and I remain convinced that there was a slight change when they moved to the gold exterior, but I’m probably wrong.
I would be interested in your observations and ideas. I do like the Derwent pencils that I have, but I have become familiar with Aztec over the years, especially the way in which the point will hold so that I can write musical notation in fine detail.
With best wishes
PS I will look out the article on the pencils that appeared in The Independent some years ago.
From: Gavin Bryars
Sent: 16 February 2010 16:24
To: Murray, Barbara
You will remember our exchange about the Aztec Scoremaster 101, and that you looked at the two stubs which I sent you. You very kindly sent three Cumberland graphite pencils (HB) for me to try and I did indeed use them for writing my entire piano concerto, which I finished a few weeks ago and which is being premiered in Holland on Friday and Saturday.
Your pencils were very good, though not quite the same as the Aztec which may have been a little softer – perhaps B, though with the durability of an HB. The only down side with your pencils was the frequency with which the point broke off. This may have been because I do keep the point quite sharp, and employ an electric sharpener, in order to keep the musical notes and connecting lines, phrase marking and so on, quite precise.
If you think that this is indeed the closest you can get to the Aztec Scoremaster, short of manufacturing a clone (….) then I would like to order some, though I’d be interested in what you think about my using a B grade?
Can I order them over the phone, or online? I’d welcome your observation though before I do. I will be away in Holland for the performances from early Thursday morning until Sunday afternoon but will have my computer with me.
With my best wishes, and sincere thanks for all your help,
PS Is manufacture out of the question?
I’m glad the Cumberland graphite pencils were better than the other pencils. I have no problem with sending you a sample of the B grade to try before you buy. I will pop one in the post.
If you do want to order any of the pencils the best way is to do it through our pencil museum shop. Follow this link for ordering instructions https://www.pencilmuseum.co.uk/shop.aspx
I’m afraid a special manufacture isn’t possible for the kind of quantities you have in mind.
Part Three – correspondence with Colin Matthews
This correspondence with Derwent had not taken me any further. But then I embarked on another extended exchange with composer Colin Matthews
December 9 2010
Forgive my appearing of the blue as it were. I was speaking with Sally Groves this morning and the question arose about the pencils that I use. Since 1982 I have used only Aztec Scoremaster 101 pencils, which were only available from a music copy shop, Associated Music, on West 55th Street, New York. The shop went out of business as, since the advent of Sibelius and other part extraction systems, no one uses transparencies for producing parts – which was their main business.
I used to buy half a dozen boxes each time I was in New York, or get people to pick them up for me if I hadn’t been there for some time. But now, as far as I can tell, Aztec doesn’t exist and I am down to my last 6 pencils (maybe this reflects my mortality..)! All Google searches turn up references to Mexican religion, but never to pencils…
Sally mentioned to me that you had found specific pencils on ebay and that they might be the ones I use. Is this so? If it is I would love to find out and the world may, or may not, be happy to learn of my extended composing life!
With best wishes
December 9 2010
From Colin Matthews
At last a serious email!
But alas, I can’t help you – the pencils I use are mechanical, Pentel Graph 1000, architects’ pencils that went out of production about 10
years ago. I’d given up all hope of finding them again until I managed to buy half a dozen on ebay a few years back, but now they turn up quite regularly and I have a life’s supply. When I googled Aztec Scoremaster the only reference I could find was in an article about you in The Independent from 1998!
I have every sympathy: I had fantasies of giving up composing when my pencil supply ran out, and when I used to use pens, each time I found the perfect one – Rotring used to make one which was wonderful, but wore out quite quickly – it would be discontinued. I have a tiny stock of pens left, but I barely use them, and the last full scores I did by hand were in pencil.
I’ll try a contact in New York who’s very good at finding things like this: but I imagine you’ve exhausted all avenues. Although I know Aztec by name, I don’t know what kind of pencil it is – but I’m sure that there are no substitutes for something you’ve used for 30 years.
I do hope something turns up.
all best wishes –
December 9 2010
To Colin Matthews
Thanks for getting back to me. I tried using mechanical pencils but was never happy with the quality of the point… Any information you get from New York would be interesting but I think I’ve exhausted that avenue.
I even tried the Pencil Museum in Keswick, which is linked to a manufacturer, the Cumberland Pencil Company. Its technical director, Barbara Murray, sent me various pencils to try, which weren’t bad but didn’t quite fit the bill. I even sent her two stubs – one of the originals that were yellow, and one of the later gold ones. I remember that I had been disturbed by this change at the time that it happened, although I was told that the pencils were identical. I always felt there was a slight difference. They examined my Aztec stubs in Keswick and Barbara Murray did note a slight difference in the lead….
One day some PhD will dig up this correspondence and think we have lost our minds.
All the best
PS I remember that there was something about Sondheim’s pencils in the Guardian a week or so ago, but when I dug it up it turned out to be of little use as he seems to enjoy frequent sharpening!! I copy below.
A sofa and a snooze: Sondheim on what he needs to compose a lyric
“The pencils I write with are Blackwings, a brand formerly made by Eberhard Faber but alas no longer. Their motto, printed proudly on the shaft, is “Half the pressure, twice the speed” and they live up to that promise. They utilise very soft lead, which makes them not only easy to write with (although extremely smudgy) but also encourages the user to waste time repeatedly sharpening them, since they wear out in minutes. They also have removable erasers which, when they have dried out, can be reversed to resume their softness.
I write on a yellow legal pad with 32 lines, allowing alternate words to be written above one another without either crowding or wasting the space. These pads are hard to find, as most come with fewer or more lined spaces. Having been warned that stationery supplies are frequently discontinued, I had the good sense to stock up on them, as well as the Blackwings, before they disappeared, and now have a lifetime supply.
Some people write sitting at a desk; some standing at one. I write lying down on a couch (except when I’m at the piano), for the obvious reason that it allows me to fall asleep whenever I encounter difficulties, which is often.”
Extracted from Finishing the Hat by https://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/sondheim published by Virgin Books. Copyright © Stephen Sondheim, 2010.
PS Do you have the link for the 1998 Independent article? I’ve been looking for it for some time but can only find the one where the pencils are mentioned in passing, not the one where I just talk about pencils!!
December 9 2010
From Colin Matthews
is the only one I’ve found, with only the passing mention.
Let me know if you find the other one, so I can indulge my own obsession with pencils!
Part Four – further correspondence with Colin Mathews
March 5 2013
From Colin Matthews
A few years ago we had a pencil correspondence – did you ever track down any Aztec Scoremasters? I’m afraid I’m not writing to say I’ve tracked them down, and I’m sure no substitute is acceptable; but I recently came across Palomino Blackwing 602 pencils, which claim to be as used by Stephen Sondheim in their original form as made by Eberhard Faber, discontinued about 20 years ago and now (they also claim) faithfully reproduced. I have one, and it’s certainly good quality.
Another pencil I’ve had for years (given me in quantity by MTT) but hardly used is the Alpheus Music Writer, which used to be available from Judy Green Music, so probably also defunct.
There’s a website at https://www.penciltalk.org/ which might be worth posting on, though putting Aztec in the search got no results.
I hope all is well with you – pencils apart!
March 5 2013
To Colin Matthews
Thanks for this email and for your current state of pencil awareness!
You’re right, the Aztec Scoremaster 101 has gone into the shavings box of the Great Electrical Pencil Sharpener in the Sky. All searches throw up lots of information on Mexican religion but little else…
You might be interested to know that, after my daughter visited the Keswick Pencil Museum, I was in detailed correspondence about Aztecs with the technical director of the company that owns it – Derwent, I think. I sent her stubs of both the original Aztecs that I’d had in 1982 (yellow on the outside) and the later ones (silver on the outside) and she agreed with me that there was a subtle difference in the lead, even though Aztec claimed they were exactly the same! She sent me various pencils that they made, but none were suitable. I then asked if they could manufacture new pencils, working from the pencils that I sent her. She said that the minimum order would have to be 3000 and was staggered when I accepted! But then she had to admit that they really couldn’t achieve what I was after, so we parted on good terms…
I did see an article some time ago in which Stephen Sondheim talked about his pencils and I obtained some, but they were no good at all. However, I have just ordered a box of the ones you mention even though the web site doesn’t specify anything about the lead – Aztec was, roughly, 2B. I have also order some Music Writer pencils from the Judy Green website and I’ll let you know what turns up!!
We will appear from the outside to be a pair of anoraks – and probably we are..
But I am well, and I hope you are too!
All the best
March 5 2013
From Colin Matthews
Do let me know how you get on! Both the Blackwing and the Music Writer are 2B, and the leads are nicely soft – in fact because of the thickness of the lead I’ve rarely used them, as I would have to be constantly resharpening them. You may have got the first attempt at remaking the Blackwing, which apparently was not a success : the current version came out in 2011 and has been approved as very near to the 1930s model. But who knows how fussy Sondheim is?
If you can stomach propelling pencils I can throughly recommend my Pentel Graph 1000, which can take a 3B 0.5 lead; but I suspect you would prefer 0.7, which doesn’t seem to go beyond 2B and which I find a bit too hard. Another pencil I’ve started using which might appeal to you is an Austrian called Cretacolor Monolith, which is made of solid graphite with a shiny metallic coating and a very nice weight and feel.
We are not alone! I bumped into Harry (Birtwhistle) in the London Graphic Centre a while ago, and we spent a happy time discussing pencils – he won’t use anything less than 3B, although he isn’t so pernickety about the actual pencil.
Thanks for the distraction from composing – anything helps!
March 5 2013
To Colin Matthews
I’ve now ordered some Cretacolour Monoliths too! I will indeed let you know what happens with all these deliveries.
Thanks for the information about the Pentel – John Casken once recommended these to me too (0.7) – but I don’t get on with mechanical pencils. I don’t mind constant sharpening as I have various electric pencil sharpeners, both battery and mains operated and keep some at our home on the West coast of Canada too.
I don’t know if you remember the film about David Hockney “A Bigger Splash” (Patrick Gowers did the music). I was always struck by the fact that Hockney had an assistant who just sharpened pencils!!!
We could on forever. Maybe there is a jointly composed opera here….
All the best
Part Five – email exchange with Jen Lindsay and triumph!
(November 2015 email from Jen Lindsay)
On 25 Nov 2015, at 10:40, Jen Lindsay <email@example.com> wrote:
Dear Gavin Bryars
I have a box with seven and a half Aztec Scoremaster 101s which I will not use (the yellow painted ones, bought in June 1995 for me by a friend in NY) and which you are welcome to have if you want them…let me know where to send them and I’ll post them to you.
This is the most astonishing out-of-the-blue email I have ever received. Not only do you have some Aztec Scoremaster 101 pencils, but you have the original yellow ones! I am down to my last 6, and these are the ones with the silver finish, which are slightly different. For the last few years I have been using Blackwing 602 (“Half the pressure, Twice the speed”) in order to avoid running out of Aztecs completely…
How did you come across them in the first place?
I am performing in Helsinki this week and return to UK at the weekend. But if you could send me your pencils I would be incredibly grateful. My address is at the foot of the email. Perhaps I could send you something in order to reciprocate? Do you have my albums? Or are there some that you don’t have? I have just released remastered versions of my first two original Obscure Records for example, and I will gladly send copies – or of anything else.
With many thanks
I am delighted by your delight!
I will enclose with them a copy of the letter my friend Christopher sent to me in 1995 describing how he got them – it all happened because there was a short piece about you in one of the colour supplements, in which it said you used only Aztec Scoremasters, which you got in New York. Just as a matter of interest (and because I like good pens/pencils) I sent it to Christopher (who is a calligrapher, lives in Astoria NY), and his letter tells the story of what happened next…
No need to reciprocate – a kind and generous thought, but your obvious pleasure is enough – and the knowledge that they’re going to the right home.
I, too, am using Blackwing 602 – for some atavistic reason I didn’t feel I could use the Aztecs (although obviously I have used four and a half!): they seemed too precious!
Hope current performance going/goes well (I am of course only familiar with ‘Jesus’s Blood’).
Do you have anywhere a copy of the article from the colour supplement? It was in the Independent, I think in their Saturday supplement, and was for a series that they ran on “things that I can’t live without” or something like that.
I’d thought about putting an account of my love affair with the Aztec Scoremaster on my web site and it would be nice to include the article. I had a copy once, but it was at a time when I had managers looking after me and all the press material went into their press books and I haven’t been able to locate them all.
There was, for example, a lovely moment a little while after the article came out. I was in New York and went to Associated Music. When I went through the door (I remember it was a few floors up) there was a cry of “it’s him!!!”
I was a bit baffled until I saw that they had a large colour blow up of the article and picture on the wall by the door… They were really pleased to meet me…
Alas, I do not have a copy…but it would be a charming story to put on your website.
I rung the back issues dept. of The Independent, but they weren’t very helpful: charge £25 per hour to make a physical search as they have no digital archive.
HOWEVER: The British Library has The Independent archive (on microfilm if I understand the notes correctly) and I found a reference no. for the Independent magazine. If, therefore, you have an idea of the date of the article I can go and do some research: I have a BL Reader’s card and it’s easy/not far for me to go.
Whilst I had the pencils and no longer the article, and time passed, I no longer knew to whom the article had referred, and no means of finding out until, thanks to the facility of the web I found you when I typed in ‘Aztec Scoremaster’.
I bet the blow up of the article Associated Music had on the wall was the one I sent to Christopher (with whom I have unfortunately lost touch) – he says in the letter I have copied for you that he showed it to them – and perhaps he gave it to them? How good to close that circle now, by returning your pencils to you. Will post them on Sat. so you get them Monday, is that OK?
I will investigate the Independent article and maybe if I have a more diligent look through my former managers’ files I might find something.
When we parted company (amicably) about 15 years ago I was given two filing cabinets with collected papers – contract, accounts, correspondence, photographs, details of every project we did or even started – and I had neither the time nor, really, the inclination to go through it all. There is always the danger that, in looking for something, one finds something nearby or alongside and then one embarks on a circuitous trail. You mention your BL membership, and I had a card from the mid-70s onwards when I was doing research on Duchamp and, more thoroughly, on Lord Berners. This often involved visiting the Newspaper Library in Colindale and, when I found the page for which I had a reference, would find myself reading the next page, and then perhaps the sports page and so on (in those day I was given the physical newspaper).
It sounds entirely plausible that it was Christopher who was responsible for the blow up being there – they said that it had been given to them as they certainly did not get the Independent themselves. And that does give a quite poetic circularity to the whole adventure…
Perhaps I should now write the complete story on my web sit…
All the best
Yes, write it now, whilst it’s in your head…(would that I could take my own advice)…I was just thinking that this would make one of those wonderful essays in London Review of Books (or perhaps New York Review of Books).
Like you, I am always straying/being diverted up interesting tributaries that lead off the main stream, but they are fascinating and, heavens, you learn so much.
A note to let you know that your package – probably the most carefully packed that I have ever received with its skilful combination of bubble wrap of various sizes, and airbags – arrived safely this morning.
There were several things in it that exceeded my expectations and there was, of course, the initial thrill of opening the box itself.
In the first place I hadn’t realised that your pencils are the original yellow ones, whose passing I regretted at the time that they were changed to silver, and it took me some time to become accustomed to the new ones (I only have one small stub from the Yellow Period). Secondly I didn’t realise until I read Christopher’s letter that Associated Music had been so alert to my feelings about the yellow ones, so much so that they seem to have been holding back some old pencils just for me! And I didn’t know too that it was you who had sent him the clipping from the Independent, and which he took with him to Associated Music. And I didn’t know that 333 W.52nd Street (between 8th & 9th Avenues) was in an area known as Hell’s Kitchen!
It’s touching, too, that these pencils had been given to you when you moved to your new home – and that this is a place where you still live (I tend to stay for long periods in one house – I’ve been here since 1992).
Oddly enough, I’ve encountered a minor compositional block with a piece that I’m trying to finish and I will see if switching to the Aztecs will have any effect! It’s the first time that this has happened since just before I moved here in 1992 and it is mildly annoying: I’ll let you know if you have managed to break the ice…
I haven’t had chance to read the Virginia Wolff piece but I will very soon.
With many many thanks
I wondered whether you might want to have a photo of the box of Aztecs, so here it is – one of the closed box, and the other open. I also attach a photo of my last box of (metallic gold) Aztecs, as well as two stubs. One of these was, until you appeared as the Pencil Angel from On High, my last and only yellow one…
I just spent a happy 30 minutes putting together the correspondence between me and composer Colin Matthews about pencils. I think I should put all this together into one piece, though I’d like to locate the Independent article first.
All the best