Category: Articles

How did your education shape your attitudes about music? Annie Gosfield, Composer

Annie Gosfield
Photo by Nola Lopez

I was taught the importance of creativity and individual expression early in life at a progressive elementary school that had classes for children in music and theater improvisation. As a teenager, private study with jazz pianist Bernard Peiffer taught me to bring my own interpretation to any music that I played. College not only provided me with a traditional musical education where I was able to develop necessary compositional skills, but also placed me in a more conservative environment, which gave me a healthy urge to rebel and seek my own sources of musical education outside of the constraints of traditional academia. The most critical moments of my musical education took place not only in the classroom, but in seedy clubs, concert halls, recording studios, and my own home.

How did your education shape your attitudes about music? Amy Rhodes, Director of Artist Management, Fine Arts Management

Amy Rhodes
Photo courtesy Fine Arts Management

My traditional education did not really affect the way I think about music. In fact, I went to college and majored in Asian Studies and International Relations because I think I unconsciously needed to get away from music for a while. I learned about classical music completely at home. Being the daughter of two classical musicians, I grew up humming Beethoven Quartets and Mozart Viola Quintets as well as learning how to sing particularly difficult passages of Hindemith Sonatas and Carter Quartets that my parents were always practicing. My sister and I used to enjoy bursting out with a quote from a Babbitt Quartet at the dinner table just to see the expressions on our parents’ faces. At college, I learned about music, not in the classroom, but in the dormitory. I learned from friends about music outside the classical realm and broadened my horizons. For most of my friends, broadening horizons meant learning to enjoy listening to symphonies, opera or chamber music. For me, it was learning about Bob Dylan, Phish and Ani DiFranco as well as about John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Charlie Parker. I felt like I was learning things backwards. Now, I am learning about all types of music everyday, working at Fine Arts Management. Family life, friendships and my professional life are the things which have affected my thoughts and opinions about music up to now.

How did your education shape your attitudes about music? Elliott Sharp, Composer

Elliott Sharp
Photo courtesy Elliott Sharp

As a young child, I loved the music of Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, began piano lessons at age 6 and was performing by 7 1/2, but at a price: the pressures of practice from parents and teacher plus a rigid and uninteresting approach to the general knowledge of music killed my enthusiasm and gave me asthma (I’m convinced.) More music (clarinet studies) became a chore with only infrequent glimpses of real musicmaking. Composing was something that was done only by long-dead Europeans. The sciences became my major love and interest. Occasional music classes during my first college attempt only cemented my bad feelings towards a stilted and stifling approach to music. The basic theory and history could easily be obtained from books and records and concerts – “education” should be something more.

It took getting an electric guitar and simultaneously exploring on my own the ideas of Cage/Xenakis/Stockhausen as well as the world of improvisation and jazz that brought me to the possibility of composing music. Later, Bard College offered me the freedom to structure my own learning activities (which encompassed electronics, jazz, formal music, esthetics, information theory, and ethnomusicology.)

In graduate school in Buffalo, further studies with Lejaren Hiller, Morton Feldman, and Charles Keil were more about interaction and feedback than they were about the transmission of information – there was a ‘scene’ around them that attracted people interested in the exchange and ferment of ideas, as important as “teachers” and resources.

How did your education shape your attitudes about music? Joshua Cody, Composer and Director of the Sospeso Ensemble

Joshua Cody
Photo courtesy Sospeso Ensemble

I studied with several very gifted composers at Northwestern University, where I was also able to study some literature and philosophy. I’ll always feel uneducated-learning is an ongoing process. Of course the deeper one’s knowledge of the repertory and of the history of music, the more opportunity for depth and richness in one’s own compositions. Still, I feel the artist’s relationship to the corpus of knowledge will always be different than that of, say, a lawyer’s. As Harrison Birtwistle told me, “I use whatever I have and whatever I’ve got.” Or as Picasso said, simply, “When I run out of red, I use blue.”

Soundtracks: November 1999

There are over 60 American composers featured in this month’s round-up of new recordings, which is a wonderful way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the American Music Center this month! And, as always, the range of composers shows an astonishing array of diversity.

Perhaps the most momentous release this month is the long-awaiting 10-CD John Adams Earbox, a retrospective of his remarkably fruitful swith Nonesuch. Nonesuch’s commitment to the music of John Adams hearkens back to the days of Stravinsky and Copland at Columbia Masterworks and John Coltrane at Impulse. Would that more living American composers had such enduring relationships with record companies!

Mode’s commitment to the music of John Cage began shortly before his death, but has continued unabated since then with a seemingly-endless plethora of releases. The latest, their 19th, features Five3 – a microtonal tour-de-force for trombone and string quartet composed only a year before Cage’s death. Innova’s commitment to the music of the late microtonal pioneer Harry Partch continues on a high note with the long-awaited CD re-issue of the legendary Columbia Masterworks recording of his 1966 masterpiece Delusion of the Fury. Of similar historic magnitude is a CRI release of Charles Ives‘s complete recordings at the piano which shed new light on his eccentric genius.

Another long-awaited CD release is George Crumb’s Star Child, a large-scale work from the late 1970s for chorus and orchestra which is a joy to hear in a professional recording. (The bootlegs floating around articulate the work’s greatness but are definitely less than a pleasant listening experience!) Several other legendary American composers receive definitive new recordings this month including the great jazz arranger Thad Jones and Igor Stravinsky. You may quibble that Stravinsky is not an American composer but he was a naturalized U.S. citizen and lived here longer than anywhere else. A highlight of the new CD by longtime Stravinsky accolade Robert Craft features the Danses concertantes, the first work Stravinsky composed in America.

All of Joan Tower’s Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman have finally been assembled onto one CD which is appropriate in the birth month of Aaron Copland, one of the six founders of the American Music Center.

November is a great month for fans of contemporary art songs. New World has issued Ned Rorem’s massive new song-cycle Evidence of Things Not Seen, sung by members of the New York Festival of Song, and BMG has issued the first-ever CD of songs by the San Francisco Opera’s Composer-In-Residence Jake Heggie, sung by a “can’t go wrong” all-star cast including Frederica von Stade, Renée Fleming, Sylvia McNair, Jennifer Larmore and Brian Asawa. Leonard Lehrman accompanies Helene Williams on a disc featuring new songs by ten American composers on a new Capstone CD and Music Text, another Capstone disc, features acoustic and electro-acoustic song-cycles based on the poetry of William Carlos Williams, Pablo Neruda, John Ashbury and P. Inman.

Continuing the vocal bounty, the first-ever all-Robert X. Rodríguez disc offers sizable extracts from two of his musical theatre works. The Dale Warland Singers[Britten & Bernstein CD] offer stirring accounts of choral works by a variety of composers. Jazz vocalist Mary LaRose offers a disc of stunning jazz vocal versions of tunes by Anthony Braxton, Eric Dolphy and Led Zeppelin as well as a not-to-be-believed jazz spin on Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament,” which though even more breath-taking live, comes across quite effectively on disc.

Several new releases continue ongoing NewMusicBox themes. A disc culling the highlights from the 7th Sonic Circuits Festival comes a month after our technology issue and proves that there is no last word on the subject. A La Par, a new CD by the Lawrence Conservatory Contemporary Music Ensemble, features music by Tania León who was the subject of In The First Person this past August. And the new José Serebrier CD is an excellent example of a composer taking charge as the conductor of his own works on a disc featuring three orchestral works.

Finally, the classical guitar is an inspiration for some unlikely composers this month: Gunther Schuller, the father of third-stream music and Terry Riley, the father of minimalism. Yet Riley’s pieces really no longer qualify as minimalist and Schuller’s work doesn’t sound third-stream, although a new CD of works for jazz combo and string quartet by Ted Nash perfectly fits that bill. . .but listen for yourself, there are RealAudio samples for every disc featured this month!

Help! New Music Service Organizations Answer the Call

Karissa Krenz
photo by Melissa Richard

Music abounds more than ever these days. On any given night you can hear any type of music in the concert hall, on the web, on the radio (and of course, on your stereo). One might think that in these technologically-advanced days, it is easy for a composer to get his or her music out there. But the music world is such a confusing place–who’s out there to help composers? There are so many composers, so many legalities they need to know, and so little money to go around. How are artists supposed to learn what they need to know, promote their music, and continue composing?

Luckily, there are a number of service organizations out there set up to help composers wade through the muck of the music industry.

On top of the list are the performing rights organizations, ASCAP and BMI. Both protect composers’ rights and ensure that composers receive payment for performances. In addition, the organizations assist in the commissioning process, work with other organizations to encourage commissioning, help composers network, advise artists on how to support themselves through their music, and serve as advocates for new music and composers.

ASCAP and BMI have realized how important supporting new music is. According to Frances Richard, Vice President of ASCAP’s Symphonic and Concert department, unlike the pop field, the concert music field is in a place “where standard repertory predominates. The kinds of principal influences on people who will become music professionals involves their teaching a repertory that they had been taught themselves, and perpetuating it — which we heartily believe in because we never feel any composer is dead as long as we keep playing their music. But to continue a living and lasting art form, every generation has to add its own contribution.”

That’s where all of these service organizations step in.

Alongside the performance rights organizations are groups dedicated fully to the creation and promotion of new music. The main organizations for the promotion of new American music are the American Music Center (AMC), American Composers Forum (ACF), and Meet The Composer (MTC). AMC exists as the official U.S. Information Center for New Music and is also a service organization which administers a variety of grants programs, conducts national workshops, and publishes NewMusicBox, the Web magazine you are currently reading. ACF works more directly with composers, having branch chapters throughout the U.S. that encourages the commissioning of new music and support of the composers themselves. Meet The Composer (MTC) offers a number of grant programs to bring artists to the general public through residencies, educational programs, and other commissioning programs.

Other service organizations, such as the National Association of Composers, USA (NACUSA) and the International Association of Jazz Educators also maintain branch chapters throughout the country which exist as local support vehicles, while there are also regional organizations serving composers in specific areas of the country as well as the recently-launched Center for the Promotion of Contemporary Composers, which exists exclusively on the Internet. Older organizations, such as American Composers Alliance (ACA), College Music Society (CMS), and the Society of Composers, Inc., have maintained specific national initiatives for many decades.

Some organizations help promote specific types of music, such as the Society for Electro-Acoustical Music in the United States. There are also organizations which promote music by specific segments of the population, e.g. the Latin American Music Center (LAMC), the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR), and the International Association for Women in Music (IAWM).

In addition to all of the new music oriented service organizations, many other arts service organizations, representing various aspects of the greater music field at large (e.g. American Symphony Orchestra League, Chamber Music America, Opera America, etc.), support a variety of specifically-targeted new music initiatives.

An exploration of these organizations reveals an elaborate network working behind the scenes to make new music happen in this country. While critical kudos and audience approval goes out to the composers and performers in concerts and recordings, these service organizations also play a crucial role in the nurturing and developing of new American music.

Personal Anecdotes About the Founders of the American Music Center Samuel Adler, Composer; Professor Emeritus, Eastman School of Music; Professor of Composition, The Juilliard School

Samuel Adler
photo by Katherine Cumming
Courtesy of Samuel Adler

In a 1926 speech, Aaron Copland said of Howard Hanson:

“Hanson and Sowerby’s sympathies and natural proclivities make them heirs of older men such as Hadley and Shepherd. Their facility in writing and their eclectic style produce a kind of palatable music that cannot be expected to arouse the enthusiasm of the ‘elite’, but does serve to fill the role of ‘American music’ for broad masses of people.”

In the same context, he praised Hanson for his important American Music Festival in Rochester, but thought that it was quite insular in its outlook, promoting mostly the ‘safe’ or conservative composers rather than the more exciting avant-garde of the time. The latter remark was rather unfortunate and not really true to fact, since Hanson, especially in the early years of the Festival, did perform works by all kinds of composers whether he liked the music or not.

The remark and the general tone of the sentiment angered Hanson and he wrote a letter to the forum at which Copland had spoken and attacked these remarks by saying: “No matter what one does, one can never satisfy the “elite New York establishment.” This ‘dig’ was interpreted quite harshly, and might have even been perceived as an anti–Semitic slur. However one may interpret it, the relations between Copland and Hanson, never very warm, cooled considerably, and though they collaborated on several projects during the years, they remained friendly adversaries from that incident on.

In 1975 I was chair of the composition department at the Eastman School, and suggested to our then director Robert Freeman that we give an honorary degree to Aaron Copland on the occasion of his 75th birthday. He immediately agreed with that suggestion, and Copland accepted our invitation. The date was set, and I felt it would be important that Howard Hanson, for so many years the ‘spirit’ as well as the director of the School, invest Copland himself. This would certainly add great meaning to the event and also possibly ‘break the ice.’ I wrote a letter to Hanson asking him to officiate, and he immediately called me and enthusiastically accepted the task.

Three weeks later, I received a lengthy letter from Hanson with all kinds of documentation stating that he cannot make it on that particular date because he was being given an honorary doctorate on the same day. However in the letter he enclosed a sealed envelope which he asked me to present to Copland before the actual ceremony on that Sunday afternoon. In his note to me, Hanson said how truly sorry he was about this and that he hoped I would understand. I did understand of course and the honor bestowed on Hanson on the same date was an important one.

Well the actual day arrived, and in the robing room, I handed Hanson’s letter to Copland who opened it immediately. His face brightened, and yet there were tears in his eyes as he read the letter. He was so moved by the content, which by the way he never shared with me, that he asked that we delay the start of the convocation so that he could sit down and write a letter answering Hanson. Of course we delayed the ceremony a few minutes and Copland handed me a letter which I later transmitted to Hanson.

The ceremony was a beautiful affair, and the highlight was when Copland accepted the degree which read that he was the Dean of American composers. His speech began:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I may be the Dean of American composers in other places, but not here at Eastman, where my friend and colleague Howard Hanson has established this most important school which has served American music perhaps better than any other institution of its kind. I gladly take second place to him.”

From what I learned later, this convocation and the letter exchange smoothed the way to bring the two great composers together again for the few years that both were alive, and I was happy to have aided in helping to repair the breech.

Personal Anecdotes About the Founders of the American Music Center John Duffy, Composer; Founder and Former Executive Director of Meet The Composer

John Duffy
photo by Jay K. Hoffman
courtesy of John Duffy

The AMC was a rich haven for me during my student days. How glad I was to be there as it was the only place to see and study scores by living American composers. It was there that I first encountered Aaron Copland, which led to my studying with him at Tanglewood. My sense of public, political, and professional stewardship was encouraged through contact with Copland. Like him, I wanted to bring music to a large public, to earn a living composing, and to help my fellow musician/composers. It required developing a new mindset – learning about: contracts, ownership of one’s music, residuals, composing for theatre, documentary films, and other forms of collaborative work. All of this I brought to Meet The Composer, and because, like Copland, I loved music, and composers, and had faith, it worked. I also learned that countless people were there to help in every way possible. From Copland I grew to see with greater clarity, that music was a social art, honed by composing steadily for public use. These insights were etched deeply into MTC’s credo, and contributed, in large measure to the good of music, composers, and our society. His torch, his beaming beacon was kept aflame. MTC became a safe, caring, helpful haven for all composers. And our programs of commissions, residencies, collaborations, publications, composer – public encounters, music for students, film, theatre dance, and a dedication to unity and fairness kept his vision alive.

From day one of my work at MTC, Otto Luening was a constant source of encouragement, good cheer, and a wellspring of history. The phone would ring:

“Hello John, this is Otto. I want to say what a fabulous job, an invaluable service you, and your staff are doing for composers and music. Wherever I go I see MTC. Keep it up. And I like the fact that music of all kinds is represented. We’ve not had that before. And the new programs were unheard of in my day.”

Often I’d met Otto on Riverside Drive, and his kindness and authentic spirit were unique. His sense of fairness, fellowship, and love of music were constant and selfless. He seemed always ready to hold the banner high for the principles imbedded in Meet The Composer, to offer his time and his counsel, and to give his last breath to what would make our world better. He was a genuine champ.

Personal Anecdotes About the Founders of the American Music Center Sylvia Goldstein, Former Senior Vice-President, Boosey & Hawkes

Sylvia Goldstein
photo by NewMusicBox

Sylvia Goldstein

own music in the repertoire, Aaron Copland always had time for others. One incident involving the program for a concert he was to conduct at Carnegie Hall comes to mind. The composer of a listed symphony was unknown to me or others in the office. When asked about the work, Aaron replied that the composer had been writing music for forty years and never had had an opportunity to hear his work played by a good orchestra. Aaron added “I think we owe him that.”

Personal Anecdotes About the Founders of the American Music Center Patrick Hardish, Composer; Co-Director, Composers Concordance

Patrick Hardish
photo by Barry Cohen
Courtesy of Patrick Hardish

Otto Luening was a great mentor and influence as well as being a close personal friend. He was important to my development as a composer and on the progress of our organization, the Composers Concordance. I got to know Otto in July 1980 at Bennington College where I was taking a composition seminar. He was a visiting professor there that summer but was no stranger to the Bennington campus having headed that college’s music department from 1934-44. We ran into each other often after that in New York City at various events such as new music concerts, the American Music Center annual parties and his own birthday parties. A highlight was a wonderful gala at the Century Club for his 95th birthday. We also saw each other in and around the Columbia University area where Otto had an apartment on Riverside Drive. (I was a graduate music student and staff member of the Columbia University Music Library at the time.) Otto also taught for several years at Columbia and served as music chairman of Columbia’s School of the Arts until his retirement in 1970 when he was named Professor Emeritus.

Otto was much involved from the very beginning of the Composers Concordance in 1983 and became our Chief Advisor. It began with regular meetings (or “pow-wows” as he liked called them) at his apartment. The meetings took place between Otto, Joseph Pehrson (my co-director) and myself and usually set out with a broad look at the contemporary music scene along with asides on Otto’s historical odyssey as a composer both here and abroad. He always kept up on the current developments of music and was very catholic in his tastes. He hardly ever discussed musical aesthetics as he thought that this was the personal business of each composer but often discussed the practical matters of being a composer and our job as concert directors. He always made Joseph and I feel very at ease during the meetings and always came across as “one of the guys.” Sometimes these meetings would last for five hours, but they would go by so quickly as we were all having such a good time. He had so much to say to us, so much advice to give, so many wonderful stories. These meeting were a very important and wonderful time in my life and I will always remember them.

Otto was very political in a positive sense, that is, he knew how to get along with his colleagues and help the cause of contemporary American concert music. Of course he always had a keen sense of who had talent and who did not having been a professor of composition for many years but rarely spoke ill of another composer. Otto had so many wonderful qualities but the one that stands out in my mind was his quality as a human being in addition to his obvious abilities as a composer, professor of composition, and organizer. I know no one as interested in advancing others as he was. I feel very lucky to have known him and miss him dearly.