Tag: teaching composition

Samuel Adler: Knowing What You’re Doing

A conversation at the German Consulate to the United Nations
March 12, 2015—11:00 a.m.
Video presentation by Molly Sheridan
Transcription by Julia Lu

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who is more steeped in the tradition of Western classical music composition than Samuel Adler. The author of six symphonies, five operas, a dozen concertos, and ten string quartets (eight of which he still acknowledges), plus a ton of sonatas and choral pieces, Adler—now 87—remains steadfast in his determination to preserve and build upon this tradition.

“I would much rather have my piece played as a sandwich in between Haydn and Beethoven or Brahms and Stravinsky than between Mary Jane and John Doe … we’re writing music in a tradition, not the tradition, but a tradition,” exclaimed Adler when we spoke to him at the German Consulate to the United States before he began sifting through scores submitted by composers hoping to study with him in Berlin this summer.

Adler proudly asserted that he has now taught for 63 years, “first at North Texas, then at Eastman for 30 years, and 18 years at Juilliard.” Teacher-student relationships have been among the most important interactions of his life. His own teachers are practically a who’s who of 20th-century American music—Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, Walter Piston, Randall Thompson, Paul Hindemith, and Serge Koussevitsky. Throughout our conversation, he brought up people he has taught as well, including Barbara Harbach—for whom he composed a formidable solo harpsichord sonata—and Kevin Puts, the premiere of whose new opera, The Manchurian Candidate, Adler travelled especially to Minneapolis to attend the day before we spoke.

I’m very inspired by my students … I feel the teacher’s task is first and foremost to inspire the student to write as much as possible without any consideration for style and things like that. … I see the problems that students have that I also have. Sometimes I solve them for myself by solving them for the students. That’s a great influence on me, as has being with young people, and always being fed new ideas.

Beyond his own students, Adler has had a significant impact on countless others as a result of his writing definitive tomes on orchestration, choral conducting, and sight singing. Imparting these basic musicianship skills has been as central to his life’s work as his composing. He firmly believes that composers who eschew craft do so at their peril. But don’t assume that Adler believes the path to writing a successful piece of music is about merely following his rules or anyone else’s. Adler insists a composer also has to take risks, which is why in the 1960s and ’70s he dabbled in serialism, indeterminacy, and even electronics, though never in an austere or overly rigid way.

“I think a composer needs to go through what’s going on and still make it his own,” he explains. “I find that a piece has to be satisfying to play and have some kind of a message to give.”

Sometimes in order to do that, you actually have to break the rules.

“That’s how you compose—you cheat!”

Frank J. Oteri: We’ve never actually filmed a talk in a consulate before.

Samuel Adler: This makes it international. We’re not on American soil.

FJO: Technically we’re not. And this is very interesting because even though you’ve spent the majority of your life in the United States and created your music here, you actually were not born on American soil.

Sam Adler as a young child walking in a park with his father holding his right hand and his mother holding his left hand.

Samuel Adler in Mannheim in 1929 with father Hugo, and mother, Selma. (Photo courtesy Samuel Adler.)

SA: That’s true. I was born in Germany in Mannheim, in a house where Mozart lived. There was a plaque on the hospital where I was born, and it said, “Here was the Weber House.” He married Constanze Weber, who was a Mannheim girl, related to Carl Maria von Weber. My mother took a picture of the plaque and said to my father that there is no chance that our boy won’t be a composer. It was predestined by birth. So that’s my claim to fame.

FJO: But it was a little more complicated than that. As far as I know, you didn’t start writing music until you came to this country.

SA: Well, I was writing music so my sister could sing the songs, and if she didn’t sing them well I’d beat her up. That’s a very bad thing. But no, seriously, my father discouraged me from writing music before I had a background in theory and counterpoint. So after we came to this country, at eleven, he sent me to Boston every week to Herbert Fromm who was a student of Hindemith’s, and we did very strict harmony and counterpoint and sight singing and ear training, until I went to college.

An historic black and white photo of a crowd of people gathered together on the deck of a boat.

Samuel Adler on board the SS Manhattan, as the ship entered New York Harbor, the passengers collected to view the Statue of Liberty, January 22, 1939. (Photo courtesy Samuel Adler.)

FJO: It’s interesting that your father discouraged you from writing music, since he was a composer himself.

SA: That’s right. But he said you shouldn’t just write anything that comes to mind. You should know what you’re doing. The more I’ve taught, the more I think he was right because there are too many people, especially today, who sit in their basements with their computers and think they’re composing. I just feel that that’s leading people astray. Some people are lucky and are very talented with the computer and can do it. I’m not saying it can’t be done. But there is too much of that.

FJO: So what are the things that a composer should be doing?

SA: In the first place, a composer should play an instrument. I think that’s very important, no matter what it is, to have some tactical input into music. It doesn’t have to be a piano. It doesn’t have to be the violin. It can be the marimba. It can be the accordion. Then I think if a person is really interested in creating something, he or she should first steep themselves in music of previous times. I’m not just talking about yesterday’s music. Not only tradition. For instance, if you’re interested in folk music, you can start with that. But you must not come to the study of composition without any preparation.

If you’re really interested, you should have a year of preliminary exercises—in harmony, counterpoint, perhaps melody writing, which most people can’t do anymore. I feel that way every time I speak to high school students. Let’s say I want to get going in physics. I’m going to go to the best school, either MIT or Harvard. No other schools. I go to the head of the physics department, I say, “Sir, I want to major in physics.” “Have you had trigonometry?” “No. But I love physics.” “Well, can you add and subtract? “No, but I love when Einstein goes to the board and puts all those figures on it. That turns me on.” That’s how too many people go to music school—not knowing the fundamentals! For instance, everybody hates sight-singing classes, especially singers, and that’s one of the most important things. I have taught now for 63 years, first at North Texas, then at Eastman for 30 years, and 18 years at Juilliard. I know that singers get jobs if they can read. But nobody seems to be able to convince people going through their first year in music school that that is the most important thing, or that you really also need to know what a cadence is.

I get around this country, and I know what’s going on. We have thousands upon thousands of music students. In many places you are admitted if you love music. That’s a problem. Sometimes I resented my father, of course, but he was right. I feel much better that I had a background in something, that I could hear something. I feel that’s an important thing.

FJO: Your father was a composer, primarily of liturgical music, and he was a cantor. I’m curious about the music you were exposed to during your childhood.

SA: I was a violinist, and my father was an excellent pianist. We played every sonata from Bach to Bartók that we could get our hands on. That’s the music I heard. I played it. I had wonderful friends in high school. We had a double string quartet. Not an octet, but a double string quartet. I never played the Mendelssohn Octet, I’m sorry to say, until in college. But we played twice a week, three hours of quartet music. So I really got the message. I can’t thank my parents enough for the encouragement to do these things and the help that they gave me to do them.

FJO: And when you say Bach to Bartók, that’s when Bartok was new music.

SA: Listen, I went to the first performance of the Concerto for Orchestra. I want to tell you a very funny story about it. Koussevitsky did it in Boston in 1944. My father took me to the Friday afternoon concert. Being a young, aspiring composer, I went back stage to get his autograph. Well, he was very sick at that time; he was sitting bent over and was hardly able to say or do anything. Koussevitsky came in all energized, sweating all over. It was difficult for him because of all the changes of meter. That wasn’t his thing. But he did it, and he did it with great confidence. He came in and said to all the reporters gathered, “Boys, there sits the greatest composer in the world.” Bartók looked up to him and said, “Serge, didn’t you say last week it was Prokofiev?” Well, last week it was Prokofiev because he did the first performance of the fifth Prokofiev [symphony]. So, that was the greatest composer in the world. That was a great period in Boston. When I went to school in Boston, every week there was a premiere, and mostly by American composers: [Walter] Piston, [Roger] Sessions, [Randall] Thompson, [Aaron] Copland. Those people.

FJO: And you studied with almost all of them.

SA: Absolutely.

Side view of Samuel Adler and Aaron Copland standing next to each other, both wearing glasses.

Samuel Adler with Aaron Copland At Eastman in April 23, 1976. Photo by Louis Ouzer (1912-2002), courtesy of the Sibley Music Library at the Eastman School of Music

FJO: And you also studied conducting with Koussevitsky.

SA: And composition with Hindemith.

FJO: But you’re more comfortable with changing meters.

SA: Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, I’m always accused of doing that too much. In September, we’re going to record my Sixth Symphony, and in the last movement I don’t think there are two measures alike. I’m not so worried about it because I think it gives a focus to the accent that’s better than just putting an accent. But a lot of people disagree, especially conductors.


Samuel Adler’s manuscript for his Symphony No. 6 © 1985 by Theodore Presser Company (ASCAP). All rights reserved.


FJO: Will you be conducting?

SA: No.

FJO: So someone’s going to have to deal with it.

SA: José Serebrier’s conducting. And he is a composer himself. He knows what it’s about.

FJO: Good. Now, I had some thoughts about your studies with Hindemith. You were just mentioning that your first instrument was the violin.

SA: And viola.

FJO: Yes. I remember reading in the program notes you wrote for Randolph Kelly’s recording of your Viola Concerto on Albany that the viola was your first instrument.

SA: Well, I’ll tell you what happened. Today we’ve got a glut of violists. But in those days, there were none. The first violist in our high school orchestra, which was the size of the Boston Symphony, left. He graduated. So on Friday, the conductor said, “Sam, here’s a viola. Monday you play viola.” I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know that clef. In desperation, I called a friend of mine, and he said, “Listen, just don’t even worry about the clef. Play third position as first position and you got it.” And it’s true. I never learned the clef.

FJO: You certainly know it now.

SA: Of course. I’m joking. But in those days, I didn’t need to. I just did that.

A young Samuel Adler playing the violin.

A young Samuel Adler playing the violin. (Photo courtesy Samuel Adler.)

FJO: Well, what’s interesting about playing viola—and I think that’s what gives Hindemith’s some of its gravitas and particularly its really strong internal logic, and I would dare the same is true about your music as well—is that since you both played the viola, you were both more attuned to the middle register and had a better vantage point into the orchestra overall.

SA: Mendelssohn said it’s the soul of the string quartet. Because it is. You can hear all the other voices. A friend of mine who is a great colleague and an excellent composer, Gunther Schuller, really learned how to orchestrate because he sat in the orchestra and, when he wasn’t playing [French horn], he looked at the score. And he heard all those things. The greatest experience for a composer is to play in an orchestra or sing in a choir. As a matter of fact, you should do both. Because one will teach you that it’s not so easy to find the pitches that you think they should have. I wonder if Webern could have sung his cantatas in a choir. They’re terrific pieces, but they’re difficult because it’s not what you can see or hear.

FJO: An area we didn’t talk about yet, which seems appropriate for a conversation we’re having in the German consulate, is the difference between European and American musical culture, which is definitely something you could speak to because you travel back and forth so much and even teach a summer composition course in Germany.

SA: In Berlin. And I just had a performance by the Berlin Philharmonic, which was very nice. It was in a program called “Violins of Hope.” It was a commemoration of the freeing of Auschwitz. They did a fantastic program and included my Elegy.


The score for Samuel Adler’s 1962 Elegy for string orchestra. © 1964 by Theodore Presser Company (ASCAP). All rights reserved.


Of course, the first difference is that in most countries like Germany, the state helps. You don’t need philanthropy all over the place to get enough money for the orchestra or the opera to function. Now, that’s good and bad. I think we have a culture of giving in this country which is rather wonderful. And many people are committed to classical music, to opera, to pop, to jazz, whatever.

Another thing to consider is the patronage of the composer in Europe versus America. In America I must say, speaking from personal experience and from the experience of let’s say 90 percent of my colleagues, the universities are our patron. And it’s a very good patron considering that, once you have tenure, they can’t throw you out because they don’t like your music. While Mr. Esterhazy could throw away Haydn’s music because he thought that Haydn shouldn’t play this. So, I mean, we don’t have that flip kind of thing.

There is also one other thing in particular. I think we in America have a terrible inferiority complex when it comes to our own music. Sure, our pop music pervades the world. There’s nothing like it. But we also have classical music—which is a terrible term. We also have concert music. We have hundreds of orchestras in this country. And what do they do? Most of them completely neglect our tremendous heritage. For instance, I think if you can count them up, more symphonies were written by American composers in the 19th and 20th centuries than in Europe or any other place. I’ve been to China four times. They really love our music. I’ve conducted Piston, Harris, Copland—they love that music. We don’t. At least we don’t show that we love it. And I think this is a very big shame. Can you imagine in Germany them not playing Beethoven? Or not playing Brahms? Even the 20th century composers—Hindemith is a rock star even today. Less so than he was in the 1950s, because he went back himself to conduct, but they still do the music. [Karl Amadeus] Hartmann, who’s a wonderful composer, is done by the major orchestras. I feel that’s one big difference.

We also have another inferiority complex when it comes to audiences. Look, I’m now 87. I’m old, yes, but I still can get around. I even got here this morning. And the thing about graying audiences, well, I have two daughters. They have families. They can’t afford it. Every once in a while they go, but the prices are high, babysitters, and so on. The graying audience is there to stay. It’s wonderful. I’m glad they’re coming. What’s really bad and that is what Europe also doesn’t have is a wonderful educational system in music, which we had. When I went to school, America had the very best music education in the world. We had orchestras and we played all the Brahms symphonies in high school. We played all the Beethoven symphonies except the Ninth. Now that’s really something. Plus, our conductor encouraged me to write a piece for the orchestra every semester. They don’t exist anymore, but I got that experience.

I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, and at 15 I was playing in the Worcester Philharmonic, which was a town-gown kind of orchestra. I wrote a piece during the war called Epitaph for the Unknown American Soldier. We actually performed the piece. The New York Times even ran a review. A very excellent publisher in those days, Mills Music, called me the next day. I should come to New York. So I came to New York. A cigar-chewing man, Max Stark, was the head of the company here, and he had Morton Gould, Leroy Anderson, Roy Harris, and Zez Confrey—you know, the guy who wrote “Kitten on the Keys.” They were all there to convince me to go with the company. They took me out to lunch. When we came back, he said, “Sam, we’re going to publish everything that you write from now on, including the Epitaph for the Unknown American Soldier.” I don’t know how I got home! But, of course, I couldn’t sign the contract. My father had to sign. And when I got home, my father said, “I’m not going to sign this contract.” “It’s making my future; this is my future.” He said, “Look, the pieces you write now in five years, you’re going to be sorry to see again.” As my grandsons say, I was bummed. Of course, I’m always reminded of that because they did publish one piano piece called Arabesque, which is the worst piano piece ever. I’m not kidding. And I can see it, and I know how right my father was.

A young Samuel Adler sitting at a piano looking at sheet music while his father Hugo sitting next to him is speaking and has his hands raised as if conducting.

Hugo Adler and Samuel Adler. Date unknown. (Photo courtesy Samuel Adler.)

FJO: So there’s no score of Epitaph.

SA: No, and no score of my first two string quartets, nor the first violin sonata, nor the first cello sonata. Look, one has to be judicious. Now Brahms I think was too judicious because I think he was a much better composer at that time. I’m glad Mendelssohn didn’t throw away all those pieces he wrote when he was 12, 13, 14, because those are masterpieces. I was not a masterpiece writer in those days. It was, you know, music. But bad.

FJO: But you said you got a good review in The New York Times.

SA: Oh, and how. And the Third String Quartet, which is now my first, really convinced me not to have the other two because The New York Times said this is a new voice in our musical horizon. Well, that’s nice.

FJO: If that convinced you to eliminate the other two, why did you keep calling it String Quartet No. 3?

SA: Because it was published already.

FJO: But the other two weren’t.

SA: The other two were manuscripts, so I could easily throw them away.

FJO: But if you call something number three, everybody wants to know what happened to one and two.

SA: Well, that’s for the musicologists. You know it’s wonderful for them.

FJO: So there are no manuscripts hiding out somewhere.

SA: No, because I’m old enough to have experiences with fallen colleagues’ wives. You know, colleagues who have died, and their wives find a piece and say, “This is a masterpiece my husband wrote.” Always, it never fails. If he was a friend of mine, they call me and say, “Sam, this must be published.” What are you going to say? She was in love with the man. That’s great. But the piece shouldn’t be published, you know. So I make sure that it doesn’t exist.

FJO: Now hang on. You say these pieces shouldn’t be published, but you also said Brahms went too far. Isn’t it helpful to aspiring composers to see the failures as well as well as the successes?

SA: You’re absolutely right. But it’s a little embarrassing, I think. I mean, it would be for me. Look, Brahms’s early works, Opus 1 to 8, those fantastic pieces for piano, these are already mature masterpieces. Mine were not. I have to admit that, and why not admit it and get rid of it. I’m very proud of the Third Quartet. I think it’s a decent work, it works very well. People love to play it. Great.

FJO: Now the earliest piece of yours I know is the Horn Sonata.

SA: Yeah, that is the earliest. I fell in love with a horn player and wrote this for her junior recital, as a matter of fact. It was also the reason I wrote so many brass pieces in those days. I’m very sorry about them. And you see, those pieces were immediately published because my theory teacher was Robert King of Robert King Music, music for brass. So whatever I wrote, he published right away, including the Horn Sonata. Now I’m not ashamed of the Horn Sonata. It’s very Hindemithian, and I know that. I’m not ashamed of the First Symphony which is a combination of influences from Copland and Piston. I was very happy to write it and I still like it. For my 80th birthday, there were ten performances of it. And I must say, the tenth performance I actually liked.

Adler in military uniform conducting an orchestra in front of an audience

Samuel Adler in Germany in the early 1950s conducting the Seventh Army Symphony . (Photo courtesy Samuel Adler.)

FJO: I’m curious about what the attributes are for a piece that you think is truly you and how you are able to sense it as a composer.

SA: That’s a tough question because at one point you just feel that it’s going—it’s saying something. That’s really all I can say. I have to be a little abstract about it. You just know that this is a piece. And also, it comes from the performer. The first two string quartets I played myself and I was always dissatisfied, but I didn’t know what to do about it. By the way, the performance of the Third Quartet that was hailed here in New York, it’s not the way the string quartet is now, because it was re-done five, six years later. I usually don’t re-do pieces. I’d rather throw them away. But I think that was worth doing and, as a matter of fact, the second movement is the elegy that was played in Berlin. That was written before the Third Quartet was redone.

FJO: So was the Third String Quartet the piece in which you feel you found your personal voice as a composer?

SA: No. The Second Violin Sonata is the first piece that I think is me. The Horn Sonata is not. I’m not ashamed of it. I think it works. I just heard a beautiful recording of it by the principal horn in the Houston Symphony, William VerMeulen. He plays it as if he were playing the Hindemith sonata. The Hindemith is very good and unfortunately, this gets coupled with it all the time. Some people like it better. Most people don’t like it better. But that’s alright.

I find that a piece has to be satisfying to play and have some kind of a message to give. What it is should be the composer’s secret. I’m very much against telling too much to the audience because the result that I have seen, if I’ve said too much, is, “Well, it doesn’t mean that to me.” This is a danger, you know, like the whole idea of “Do you think I’ll remember this melody when I leave the concert hall?” Look, you’re going to remember Schubert Unfinished because you’ve heard it six thousand times. Of course, when you hear it again, you’re going to know it and sing it on the way out. I’m not for writing melodies like that necessarily, but I do feel that part of it should be communicative. The music should say something, give an experience. All I ask of an audience is not that they like the piece or don’t like the piece. All I want is for an audience to have an experience with me, an adventure, something new, something different. I cannot have them expect a piece that sounds like Mozart or Beethoven or Brahms or Debussy or Stravinsky. It may have parts of all of these things, but I want it to be an adventure. Most of our audiences don’t want an adventure because they’re told they shouldn’t like the piece in the first place, instead of just letting them enjoy it.

FJO: I think one of the problems—and this is truer with orchestra concerts than with other formats—is that the new piece has to co-exist on a program with older pieces that are already familiar.

SA: Which actually I like. I don’t like new music programs, because most of them are the same. That is, it’s all music that is new to everybody. I would much rather have my piece played as a sandwich in between Haydn and Beethoven or Brahms and Stravinsky than between Mary Jane and John Doe. This started in the ‘60s, the whole business of new music groups. It said that our music has to be anaesthesized, and I don’t think so. At least I would hope not. They’re wonderful, and I love them, and I write for them, and again I love them. But we’re writing music in a tradition, not the tradition, but a tradition.

Side view of Adler with arm raised conducting an orchestra

Adler conducting the Eastman Philharmonia on October 28, 1966. Photos by Louis Ouzer, courtesy Sibley Music Library.

FJO: Well, most of the pieces you have composed clearly fall within this tradition—six symphonies, a dozen concertos, sonatas for all different kinds of instruments, ten string quartets minus the two that you’ve hidden from us.

SA: Operas.

FJO: Yeah, five operas—we’ll get to those soon. But before we do, these are all types of pieces that have hundreds of years of history behind them. When you call something your Symphony No. 4, not only does it automatically reference your previous three symphonies, but everybody else’s symphonies. It makes the piece part of a continuing dialectic, and because of that I think it gives listeners an expectation about what they are going to hear.

SA: Well, my Third Symphony is altogether different because it’s for wind ensemble and is only two movements. As for the rest of them—you mentioned the Fourth Symphony. In the Fourth and Fifth symphonies there were really experimental things, especially in the Fifth Symphony. I was going for 12 years through a period of being influenced by serial music, aleatoric music, and so on. I think a composer needs to go through what’s going on and still make it his own. I think Webern sounds very different from Schoenberg and Berg sounds very different from Schoenberg or Webern. No people’s music can sound more different than mine from my closest friend in the last years at Juilliard, Milton Babbitt. And yet, he could talk to me about my music like nobody else. He didn’t have to write like that; he actually loved that music. And I don’t have to write like him to love his music.

What is difficult today for an audience is not that name “symphony.” It is that they don’t know what’s coming and therefore I, for instance, feel that an orchestra that’s doing a new piece should send out to its subscribers a CD of that piece before they come. Again, I go back to the Schubert Unfinished. I have 20 recordings of it at home. Well, I don’t, but some people do—you know, Karajan, Ormandy, this, that, in order to get different perspectives on the piece. Well, if you know it that well, of course you’re going to love it when you hear it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have all those recordings. I feel that that’s very important for a new piece. When I go to an orchestra that does a new piece, I always ask the orchestra to record certain portions of it. And when I give my pre-concert talk, I use those. For example, in the Viola Concerto, the first theme you hear eight times, so I’d say, “Look, you’re going to hear this eight times” and I play it for them. I play it for them on the piano. Then I have the viola play it and the oboe play it. Well, they know what to expect then. The more complex parts, I play for them because I feel what music does is to give the composer’s view of his time, the energy of his time. Most people don’t want to hear the energy of our time because they’re afraid of it. But we have to be true to ourselves.

Boulez , Benson and Adler talking and holding drinks in cups.

Samuel Adler (right) with Pierre Boulez (left) and Warren Benson (center) on February 17, 1974. Photo by Louis Ouzer, courtesy Sibley Music Library.

FJO: I want to go back to what you were saying about Babbitt’s music being so different from yours. As you know, Babbitt was somebody who was very embracing of a much wider range of music. A lot of people are unaware that he actually encouraged people who studied with him not to write music like his.

SA: Look at Sondheim.

FJO: Well, before Babbitt started writing serial music, he had written a musical theater work. And for the rest of his life he maintained a love for Tin Pan Alley music.

SA: He knew more Tin Pan Alley than anybody else.

FJO: One thing I found so intriguing was the little piano piece you wrote honoring Babbitt.

SA: For his birthday. That’s on his name.

FJO: It’s part of a cycle, which also included pieces for Ned Rorem, David Diamond, and Gunther Schuller. What I found so interesting about them is that in each you created pieces that evoked their music but you did it basing the material on letters from each of their names. Babbitt starts B-A-B-B. There are all of these Bs, so whatever music you create from that should instantly sound tonal, yet you still managed to compose something that sounded serial, even though it isn’t serial.

SA: That’s right. Well, you can do B both ways: you can do it as B-natural or you can do B as B-flat. We don’t use H, like in German. In America, we use B. But in German, B would be B-flat. Then [since A is the first letter of the alphabet and C is the first letter of the musical alphabet], if you can count C as the first one [e.g. A], B [which is the second one] would be C-sharp. So you have three ways of doing it. That’s how I got its 12 tones.

FJO: Ah, so you cheated.

SA: Of course. That’s how you compose—you cheat!

FJO: It’s funny to hear you say that because one of the things that you’re known and revered for is for writing one of the most definitive books on orchestration, which is the opposite of cheating. It is a bible for many composers, the book people turn to for the answers on what works and what doesn’t work.

SA: Oh well, I was kidding. The orchestration book I did as a tool because I had to teach orchestration. I could never see an orchestration book without every note being recorded so that students could hear it. By the way, the fourth edition is coming out and it will have streaming of all the music, so you have it on your computer. All you have to do is click and you hear the piece. We’re going into the 21st century and that has to be. The fourth edition is ready, but it’s going to take a little time because it’s so big. It’s going to have almost a thousand pages.

FJO: Wow.

Covers of Three Books by Sam Adler: Sight Singing, The Study of Orchestration, and Choral Conducting

Samuel Adler’s books have been a tremendous resource for generations of musicians.

SA: We added a long chapter on the band, which is necessary, I think.

FJO: Well good, that was actually what I wanted to talk about with you next—the difference between writing for orchestra and wind band. You’ve written a lot for wind band. You already mentioned your Third Symphony. You talked about people being able to hear 20 different interpretations of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. It’s very rare for that to happen with a new piece.

SA: Except when it’s wind ensemble.

FJO: Precisely.

SA: That’s why we write for wind ensemble. I’ve written 19 pieces for wind ensemble. I just finished a new one for a consortium of wind ensembles. It’s wonderful because, number one, you get lots of rehearsals. Number two, you get young people who are very excited about doing a new piece. My first wind ensemble piece, Southwestern Sketches, was written in 1960. An orchestra piece gets, if it’s lucky, one performance every three or four years. This gets a performance every week some place, you know. So, it’s worth doing.


Ed. Note: One of Alder’s most popular band pieces is A Little Night and Day Music which incorporates aleatoric elements. © 1977 by Carl Fischer Inc. (ASCAP). All rights reserved.


FJO: But even though there have been some extremely high profile composers who have written for wind band—Persichetti, Karel Husa, Copland, Hovhaness—there’s been a huge amount of really high-quality repertoire for wind band. But there’s still a stigma about it. I remember when Corigliano’s Third Symphony had its New York premiere at Carnegie Hall.

SA: I was there.

FJO: That was a very exciting performance, but because it was part of the CBDNA conference, and was performed by a student ensemble, The New York Times wouldn’t cover it.

SA: Oh, wow. I don’t really want to say much about The New York Times except one thing. I think they have some knowledgeable people as music critics, but I cannot understand how these people can let the arts section, when it says “new music,” be all pop. I think once a week they have a whole page that says new music, but they only discuss the new albums by pop singers. New music to me means more than just pop music, at least I hope so. And that’s why I think your endeavor is so important. I think this has created and I hope creates more new audiences that listen.

It’s wonderful to have a birthday these days because either it’s honored on National Public Radio or my wife puts it on Facebook. They have birthday celebrations on NPR stations and you’d be surprised how many people write to the composer then. I got a slew of letters last week because, for instance, the Oklahoma system and the Minnesota system had celebrated my birthday. That’s a wonderful feeling. I think if we did more like that in the newspapers, focus on new music not just music that sounds so different that nobody every wants to hear it again, but music that’s written by hundreds of wonderful composers, young composers—I just came back yesterday from Minneapolis where I heard a new opera by my former student, Kevin Puts, The Manchurian Candidate. I thought it was just a terrific piece. What’s interesting was what the comments were. An opera cannot be one style. Even Wozzeck, one of the great operas of the 20th century, changes styles quite often. Kevin did the changing of styles just beautifully and, of course, he was criticized for it, which I think is wrong. When you have a band marching on the stage, you have to write music with the band marching on the stage. So they said something sounded like John Philip Sousa. Well, good. He’s a great composer of marches, you know. I think so much great music is being written, and we should not feel that we need to apologize in any way.

Samuel Adler and Kevin Puts, both wearing a jacket and tie, standing next to each other.

Samuel Adler and Kevin Puts in Minneapolis following the premiere of Puts’s opera The Manchurian Candidate in March 2015. (Photo courtesy Kevin Puts.)

FJO: We didn’t really touch on your operas yet. You wrote five operas, but I have not heard any of them yet.

SA: One you can hear streaming on Naxos—The Wrestler, the second opera, which is a 12-tone opera by the way.

FJO: Wow. Five operas is a formidable amount of work, but it’s interesting that you haven’t written one in nearly 40 years. Something must have made you stop.

SA: Well, I have an opera lying on my shelf which can’t be done. It’s based on a story, and the author objected to the libretto, so we can’t do anything with it. I’m in negotiations with him. Maybe I can move him a little bit. I sometimes see him. But you know, I can’t be sued for five million dollars. I don’t have that.

FJO: So this is something that you wrote more recently.

SA: Yes.

FJO: So you are still interested in writing operas.

SA: I am. As a matter of fact, I would like to do a children’s opera. In Germany they commissioned a piece for children on a subject that I’m sorry American children don’t know, but every child in Germany knows, and that’s Max und Moritz. It’s been very successful in Germany. It’s for narrator and large orchestra. It’s like Peter and the Wolf, except everybody knows the story Peter and the Wolf. Max und Moritz is a darker story. They get ground up at the end. They’re bad boys, and so.

FJO: You’ve also written a great amount of choral music.

SA: Too much.

FJO: Well, one thing that I find fascinating is that you’ve written a lot of sacred choral music, including what I think is an extremely effective setting of a mass. But you’re not a Christian.

SA: This was an ecumenical mass and it was commissioned for a specific purpose. As a matter of fact, I have two. One commissioned by Notre Dame in 1975 called We Believe. And the other is the mass that you’re referring to. I feel that religion has very few boundaries when you get on the basic level of it. Even though I am a practicing Jew, sometimes anyway, and I believe in my religion, I can also see other religions and they mean something to me. Especially I’ve studied a lot of Christianity. My father, being a cantor, was also a great expert on the literature of Christianity, and I have steeped myself in that, too. I had a teacher at Boston University who for two years taught us chant, starting with Gregorian chant, going all the way through Lutheran and Episcopal chant and everything else. And of course I’ve studied Jewish chant and this influences some of my writing.

FJO: But despite what you’re saying about religion having few boundaries, we’re living at a time where we’re seeing a very extreme interpretation of religion, and there’s a great rise in intolerance all over the world that is triggered by the extreme interpretation of religious beliefs. Now more than ever it seems important to stress that there can be a much broader ecumenical view.

SA: Yes, especially here in America. Europe is becoming much more secular, but religion does play a part. I had a commission by the Bach choirs of Germany, to write a cantata on Jonah. It’s in German, but it’s been translated and it’s going to be done in New York next year in English. It was first done in my home town, Mannheim. I went to the morning service, and there were hardly any people there. There were 30 people in a church that seats 1900. Well, I thought, “Oh my God, nobody’s going to come this afternoon.” So I talked to the organist who commissioned the piece and he said, “Sam, just don’t worry. The place is sold out this afternoon. We have a concert every Sunday afternoon because people don’t come in the morning, but they will come to music things in the afternoon.” It was packed.

FJO: Absolutely fantastic. All this discussion about being ecumenical and embracing things that are not of your immediate background reminds me of the last time we spoke with each other, which was after the New York premiere of your Tenth String Quartet. That performance was part of the Kyo-Shin-An Arts concert series and everything else on the program incorporated Japanese traditional instruments. We talked at that time about places your music would go, and places your music wouldn’t go. At that time, you said that you don’t really know the workings of these instruments, so you wouldn’t feel comfortable writing for them. This spirals back to the beginning of this conversation where you were talking about getting expertise in different instruments if you’re going to be a composer. So I’m curious about the level of risk you’re willing to take, things that you would set out to do in your music and things that you wouldn’t do and why.

SA: Well, I do take risks. You referred to the sonatas; I’ve also written a series of concert etudes for 22 instruments, including everyone in the orchestra. I tried to make those people take a risk to the nth degree of their ability. That’s the kind of risk I like to take. My heritage is European, from a religious point of view, Jewish, and also Western religions. That influences me and I feel comfortable writing for all these things. I’ve had many Chinese students, Korean students, Thai students, from all over. And I think they should write not only for Western instruments, but also for others. One of my students is the vice president of the Central Conservatory in Beijing, Xiaogang Ye, a wonderful composer. He has written a ballet on a subject of the 13th-century Dalai Lama, for Hong Kong, which has an orchestra and a Chinese orchestra. It’s fantastic. I couldn’t do that because I didn’t grow up in that tradition. He did. I’m too old now. Even if I were younger, I think it would be sort of fake for me to do that. Debussy once said, “A composer writes in his language.” That’s very true. And composers should take care of that. I can write in my language—a language I feel comfortable in, the language that I speak. I speak three languages, so I feel at home writing in those languages. While music doesn’t express any particular thing necessarily, there is a big difference between Debussy and Hindemith. Even though his Viola Sonata Opus 11, No. 4, starts out sounding like Debussy, very soon, after the fifth measure, it sounds like Hindemith. And Hindemith spoke perfect French, by the way. But that’s not his native language, nor mine, you know.

Adler, Rands and Schwantner standing and talking in a classroom in front of a blackboard with musical staves across it.

Samuel Adler (left) at the Eastman School of Music with Bernard Rands (center) and Joseph Schwantner (right) on April 2, 1986. Photo by Louis Ouzer , courtesy Sibley Music Library.

FJO: But you have written music for instruments that are outside your native language, so to speak. For example, you wrote a wonderful solo harpsichord piece. Part of what makes it so wonderful is that it’s very different from what one expects in terms of the sound world of a harpsichord.

SA: Right, that’s why I wrote it. There are two recordings of it, and both are excellent, but the new one on Toccata Records is fantastic. I’ve never heard anybody play it that fast. It’s amazing. But you know, that’s the risk I take, you see. Bach is my favorite composer, but I don’t want to write like Bach, because that’s not me. So I write like I think we can do something today with it. So, that’s my risk. I wrote it because I had a student who is a wonderful harpsichordist and organist, Barbara Harbach, who wanted a piece for harpsichord. She also recorded the piece. Anybody that wants a piece gets a piece.

FJO: So if somebody does want a piece for koto or pipa?

SA: Well, then I’d have to think about it. I’d have to first really study it, because it’s not easy to write for. I love these instruments, don’t get me wrong. But other people should write for it. The literature is growing by leaps and bounds. Five of my students have written pieces for pipa and also for koto, and they’re very good pieces.

FJO: What about electronics?

SA: Well, I love people, and I love what comes out of people when they play or sing. I don’t necessarily want to do electronic things unless there’s a definite reason, like in The Wrestler. I need to feel that it’s organic in the music. To add electronics, that has to have a very special reason. And I have not felt that I needed it. In The Wrestler, because I feel Jacob is wrestling with himself rather than with the angel, the angel is there but never speaks. It’s a distorted voice of Jacob that sings the angel’s part.

FJO: You’ve brought up a number of your students throughout the course of this conversation. Teaching has certainly been a very important part of your life for more than half a century.

SA: Sixty-three years of teaching.

FJO: So I wonder, aside from the incredibly generous activity of imparting your knowledge and experience to others, how this interaction fuels your own creative work.

SA: I’m very inspired by my students, especially because I’ve been able to choose my students, and they’ve been just great. I can’t think of the student that I wouldn’t have wanted to teach. I feel the teacher’s task is first and foremost to inspire the student to write as much as possible without any consideration for style and things like that. And then, slowly, to see if he or she can be moved to be something very special. And many of them can and do. I’m very happy with the result if you don’t immediately say, “I only want 12-tone music” or “I only want tonal music.” Let them bring you something, and go from there. You talked about Milton Babbitt. I feel exactly the same way. He never imposed his very strict system on anybody. If they wanted it, certainly. I had students who, after studying with me, went to Milton at Juilliard and also at Eastman, because we had Milton up in the summers to teach at Eastman. He never changed somebody’s style just because it should change. That’s the way I feel also. I think you have to be very careful with students because they’re volatile, and I am very careful because the most difficult thing in music is to create music. And after all, this is what they’re there for.

FJO: So how has teaching influenced your own music?

SA: I think I’m more careful. I see the problems that students have that I also have. Sometimes I solve them for myself by solving them for the students. That’s a great influence on me, as has being with young people, and always being fed new ideas. This has inspired me all my life.

FJO: And having taught for 63 years, that’s an incredibly long time.

SA: Yes, it is.

FJO: You don’t have to teach anymore. You can do whatever you want, but you’re still teaching.

SA: Well, I’m teaching in Berlin, that’s six weeks out of the year. And I go around the country doing masterclasses. I really quit Juilliard because of the commute. We live in Ohio. I commuted every week. That’s a tough thing. I did it for 18 years; I thought that was enough. The other thing is, I really would like to have more time for myself. I’m composing and I’m reading what I want to read a great deal. I’m actually practicing the piano, which makes me very happy. I’m the worst pianist, but it makes me very happy to have that tactile experience. And so every day I practice the piano, and I do a great deal of reading on all kinds of subjects. And I’m writing an autobiography with somebody, and so that takes up some time, too. So, I’m always busy.

FJO: Well, I’m glad that you made some time to talk to us today.

SA: It’s a great pleasure. I thank you for doing it.

Art and Environment: Connections, Community, and Being

I have attended several lectures by various Estonian artists and thinkers during my first two months in the country. One common thread between their talks is the importance of a connection to nature and the land in not only their work, but also their identity as Estonians. One artist, Peeter Laurits, summarized this notion simply: “Estonians are people of the forest.” This is a seemingly obvious conclusion for any observer of Estonian culture: more than half of the country is covered by forests, and city-dwellers can easily access several of the many national parks by bus or car in under an hour. Yet the foundation of this connection runs much deeper than simply visiting and being in nature. Although I am only beginning to grasp the ways this relationship to the land resonates throughout the culture, my initial observations have helped me to better understand many aspects of the music and philosophy of the composer Helena Tulve, with whom I have been studying here.

The majority of my exploration into the Estonian connection with nature has happened through a series of workshops and lectures organized by Tulve under the auspices of the CoPeCo master’s program. CoPeCo (Contemporary Performance and Composition) is a brand new program for people of the composer/performer/improviser hybrid ilk who travel to four different European music institutions over the course of two years: Tallinn, Stockholm, Lyon, and Hamburg. I am remarkably lucky to be in Tallinn for the group’s first semester of study and am taking advantage of every opportunity to work with the eight participating musicians who hail from all over Europe and North America. Tulve’s influence on their Tallinn education is through private lessons and running a course titled “Art and the Environment.” Rather than hold weekly classes, Tulve organizes trips to the Estonian countryside and lectures with an assortment of artists and professionals.

Veljo Runnel holding recording equipment in a field

Veljo Runnel

The first trip brought our group to Estonia’s western coast with nature recordist and biologist Veljo Runnel. We traveled to Matsalu National Park, an important wetland and staging location for many migratory birds. Runnel explained his many different recording techniques and showed us his assortment of largely DIY equipment. We had the opportunity to experiment with different microphone placements and listen to the sounds of faraway birds using Runnel’s parabolic reflector. We also experienced the seldom heard and magical sonic environment of a marshland using stereo hydrophones. Runnel’s knowledge of biology and his vast experience as a field recordist helped us to differentiate the creaking, rhythmic, and subtle sounds created by reeds rubbing together and those of the fish and insects living in the marsh.

A single person walking on a pathway in an open field.

Following this highly active and informative morning, we headed to one of Estonia’s many bogs. We walked along several kilometers of narrow planks through the water, peat, shrubs, and occasional trees of the mire. Peat accumulates at a rate of approximately one millimeter per year; the peat in this particular bog measured around eight meters. Coming from the Northeast United States, I had never experienced a landscape quite like this one and felt humbled by the age, slowness, and stillness of this place. At one moment, Tulve asked us to remain in silence until we felt ready to move again. The experience was striking and enriching, and I am not sure if we remained still for five or thirty minutes. This silence continued throughout much of our 90-minute walk back to the rental bus.

Estonian rural landscape with trees and a variety of other plants

I have since spoken with Tulve about the importance of silence, not necessarily as an attribute of her music, but as related to a state of being. For Tulve, silence is an attribute of our internal selves that allows us to access what she calls a vertical axis of being. Too often we live only by a temporal, horizontal axis along which we over-analyze, live within our heads, and lose connection with the earth and with our bodies. Being in touch with silence reinforces access to our inner selves and serves to reinvigorate connections with the earth and our identities. For Tulve, being in the forest, in nature, allows one to access and face silence, but she is careful to note that this state is also possible to attain, with practice, even in the noisiest of cities. Losing a connection to nature causes one to lose a connection with his or her identity; returning to nature, where one is confronted with silence, provides a space to re-establish a link to body, self, and environment. The connection to body and nature is of vital importance to her compositional process. Tulve forgoes standard pre-compositional planning practices in favor of beginning with a small sound or idea and a desire for discovery; she does not want to compose what she already knows. Tulve emphasizes that the act of composing is about trust of oneself, and this trust is made possible by being perceptive of both the horizontal and vertical axes of being.

Attendees of theCoPeCo workshop standing in a circle surrounded by chairs

The second CoPeCo workshop took us deeper into the Estonian countryside. We traveled to the southeastern region of Põlva where we met with a traditional choir of Seto people, a small culture with distinct customs and a unique dialect. The Seto singing, or Leelo, is a heterophonic and text-driven tradition primarily practiced by women and originally meant to accompany daily life. (It is now listed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.) The distinctive vocal timbre and dense harmonies are striking and mesmerizing; you can listen to some samples here and here. The Leelo choir sang for our group, introduced us to their customs, and invited the women in our group to participate in a Seto song with dance. Tulve organized this part of the trip because for her, nature cannot be separated from community. She not only wanted to expose our group to a unique music, but also to another way of living, of connecting with the environment.

A group of people sitting on the floor around a very large nhandwritten manuscript

Our next destination was MoKS, an artist project space in the small parish town of Mooste. MoKS is run by American-born sound artist John Grzinich and Estonian visual artist Evelyn Müürsepp. Rural Mooste provides the artists who take up residency at MoKS a focused and unique environment for creation. Grzinich and Müürsepp led our group through several exercises that forced us to consider different ways of listening. We spent one hour listening to a curated selection of Grzinich’s field recordings and reacting to the sounds in the form of drawing, painting, and writing. We discussed acoustic ecology and our connections to the sonic landscape. Our day finished by heading to the nearby forest, where we walked amongst the pine, spruce, and birch trees, armed with some particularly sonorous sticks, to experience the special resonance only possible in a forest of this kind.

A maze of trees in winter

Tulve’s “Art and the Environment” course allows students to engage with Estonian nature and reflect on how we as individuals connect with our environments. These workshops and experiences made me realize that her music, like the Estonian identity, is much more than a reaction to the visual, immediate aspects of nature. The relationship runs much deeper, and is founded on being with rather than being in nature.

(Note: The views presented here are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.)

Incarceration and Musical Inspiration Part Three: A Live Concert in Prison

A full view of the Auburn Correctional Facility building from across the street

The main entrance to the Auburn Correctional Facility, photo by Julia Adolphe

Violins are not allowed in maximum-security prisons. Auburn Correctional Facility had generously permitted us to use an electric keyboard during our music theory and appreciation course, but a violin was out of the question. Stuart Paul Duncan, the course instructor, played what he could on 44 keys. As his teaching assistants, Claire and I tried to describe what different instruments looked like. We brought in photographs. Our students—17 male inmates—were starved for culture, communication, social interaction, and creative expression of any kind. They understood that they brought this harsh, dehumanized reality upon themselves, committing the horrendous acts that lead to incarceration. Yet in the classroom, these men transformed. They were no longer nameless criminals, demonized murderers, or monstrous outcasts, but fellow human beings who cared about art, education, and each other.

In three short months, my students had progressed beyond my wildest dreams. Shane was learning to write down his own compositions. Gherald could notate the rhythms he created for his rap songs. Josh could perform the phasing part of Steve Reich’s Clapping Music by himself while the rest of the class sustained the repeated pattern. Christopher understood the difference between melodic, harmonic, and natural minor and could write scales in any key. As we listened to recordings on the prison’s small boombox, Williamson could identify motifs as they recurred and transformed. Others were still learning how many eighth notes make a quarter note and on which side of the note head they were supposed to draw the stem. Each student was at a different level, yet everyone wanted to learn as much as possible. The diversity of educational needs coupled with the students’ insatiable hunger for knowledge enlivened the classroom to an electrifying degree.

Some of my students were able to practice between classes. Clean behavioral records inside prison walls granted certain privileges, including access to the prison’s electric keyboards, a makeshift gym where anything that could be lifted served as weights, and typewriters. Being enrolled in the Cornell Prison Education Program was an enormous honor that the inmates cherished. One mistake would expel a prisoner from the program for five years. Men gave up their meals and recreational time in order to attend classes. Most students took full course loads. The remaining hours of their days were spent working in Auburn’s license plate factory, bringing in revenue for the correctional facility.

In the evenings, if my students were not in class, they would do their homework in their cells, trying to block out the noise of their fellow inmates. Prison life is harsh and unpredictable. I remember one class when three of my students were absent. We were worried: absence is impossible when a guard escorts you to and from the classroom. Those who were present told us that an inmate in Cell Block A had figured out how to steal a wireless connection. Until the guards found the culprit, the entire cell block was being punished with solitary confinement. Those three students still somehow managed to turn in their homework, passing along their booklets to students who lived in cells on the other side of the facility. I do not know how this happened.
Our students were devoted to us, to each other, and to the pursuit of learning music. And we were devoted to them. We desperately wanted to give them a real musical experience: a live performance. How could we do this in a prison? There had not been a live concert at Auburn Correctional Facility in ten years.

Stuart wanted violinist Joseph Lin to perform Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for the class. At the time, Joseph Lin was a professor at Cornell. A year later, he became the first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet. Professor Lin was eager and curious to enter the prison walls, to share his artistry with men who had never been exposed to live classical music. The only hurdle was gaining permission from the Auburn Correctional Facility itself.

There was great concern among the prison administration that the violin was a dangerous instrument. The strings could be turned into a weapon. A knife or other harmful object could be hidden in the wooden violin body. Officers in the prison administration asked if Professor Lin would mind taking his violin apart, bringing it into the prison in pieces, and assembling it once he was inside. This way they could ensure there was nothing concealed within the instrument. Could he possibly use thinner strings, ones that would prove less harmful if they ended up in the wrong hands? Emails and phone calls went back and forth for months as Stuart and the former head of Cornell’s Prison Education Program, James Schechter, argued that the violin had to enter (and exit) the prison intact.

Even once permission was granted, we did not tell our students that Professor Lin was coming. We were afraid that there could be last minute objections at security. When we finally did arrive with Joseph, our students were shocked and thrilled, almost ecstatic. They could not believe that they were about to hear live music.

As the first G minor chord sounded on Joseph’s violin and the melody floated gently downwards, a somber stillness filled the room. No one moved or seemed to breathe. My students were mesmerized. They could tell immediately that Joseph Lin is a fantastic musician, a truly talented artist. His performance of Bach’s Sonata No. 1 for solo violin, given to a small room of incarcerated men, was unlike any concert I have ever experienced. The men were completely enraptured. I believe that my students heard every single note that Lin played. They watched each individual bow stroke. They stared at Joseph’s face, full of concentration and passion. Little by little, the inmates swayed in their seats, mirroring the way Joseph’s body naturally moved with the music. It was as if the music held some secret answer and if they listened hard enough, they would understand. These men took in everything. Nothing seemed to escape their notice.

As Bach’s sonata resonated through the air, I could feel emotions rising. The intensity and passion of Bach’s music permeated the environment. It was as if the sound emanating from Joseph’s violin filled every single particle of the space. It touched every human being in that room. I looked around. Some of the men had their eyes closed and were breathing deeply. Others had their eyes wide open, staring at Lin with shock and admiration. Some were silently crying, wiping away tears while they listened. They were not self-conscious. They were present, alive, and alert.

As I listened, I understood. Art is powerful when it makes us feel alive. Music enables us to transcend time and space, unlock memories, leap over the edge, remap the universe. In that moment, all of us were so far away from prison. We entered another world. Yet we knew, acutely, that we were behind bars. We felt freedom in the midst of incarceration. I felt that sense of liberty too, even though I could never fully understand the realities of prison. In that moment, I experienced the yearning for life and freedom because it was so powerfully present in the people beside me.

Listening to music allowed these men to explore feelings that are constantly suppressed in the prison environment. Those of us who live at liberty in society understand this feeling too, even though our life circumstances differ drastically from those who are incarcerated. Music is healing and freeing. Watching Joseph Lin express himself through music inspired the men to turn inward. The intimacy and direct access between performer and audience created an emotional dialogue, a sacred space dedicated to internal reflection.

My students had a lot of questions for Joseph Lin. Gherald, always outspoken and confident, spoke first. He said, “It seems like you’ve done this before.” I was about to laugh when I realized this was not a joke. Gherald genuinely wanted to know if this was Professor Lin’s first time playing the Sonata in G minor. Lin explained that he had been practicing and performing the work for years. More questions followed. Is the piece the same or different each time you play it? Why do you keep playing this particular piece over and over again? What is practicing like? Why did you decide to play the violin? Are you going to keep playing the violin? When are you coming back to Auburn?

Williamson spoke next. He observed: “I noticed that when you play, you closed your eyes, your mouth twitched a certain way, and you leaned your head a little to the left. Do your facial movements affect the way you play? Do they change the sound?”
Professor Lin paused. I wondered if he was as startled by this question as I was. Immediately, I began to imagine what it would be like to compose a piece inspired by subtle changes in facial expression. How do our facial expressions reveal our thoughts, our musicality, our connections to the internal and external world? While additional movements made by performers, either in the face or body, help them interpret the music, how do sympathetic movements in listeners help them process what they hear? A whole line of questioning opened.

Williamson’s observation was thought-provoking and intelligent, yet it was also naïve and childlike. This was the astounding contradiction of prison life. Here were grown men who had experienced horrors beyond imagination, who had made devastating choices and had suffered the consequences. Yet most of these men had been in prison since their late teens or early twenties. In a way, they were still like children who had seen nothing of the world. Their only mature experiences had taken place behind prison walls. All of this was evident in Williamson’s comment. People accustomed to seeing live music know that musicians’ faces and bodies move during performance. We take it for granted as an indication of self-expression. The visual signs of emoting or communicating were foreign to this man.

As I looked around the room, I saw the tension between experience and innocence, intelligence and childlike intuition, strength and vulnerability. This is the very tension that makes art: the struggle between mind and heart, logic and passion. Composing requires a constant dialogue: intuition, improvisation, and accidents guide certain musical choices while formal planning, theoretical knowledge, and practical constraints inform others. When I write, I try to evoke my inner child, to let my imagination run wild. Yet I also try to control her with conceptually and rationally defined principles.

That day in the prison’s music class, I learned an important lesson about my own compositional process and the power of art. The stark reality of incarceration illuminated my creative world in a way that I could never have anticipated. Artistic expression is an enactment of freedom. This is a maxim that we learn about, that we know and say we comprehend. When I witnessed men who were not free transform, attaining a sense of liberty through their contact with music, I understood it in a new way.

Incarceration and Musical Inspiration Part Two: The Human Piano

A 1932 State Education Department plaque on the entrance to Auburn Prison which reads: "ERECTION COMMENCED 1916, FIRST PRISONERS 1817 ASSISTED IN CONSTRUCTION, FIRST ELECTROCUTION IN THE WORLD 1890"
“I always knew you were a C sharp,” Gherald chuckled as Christopher looked at his card. Stuart Paul Duncan, the course instructor, had distributed large hand-written cards to the inmates, each labeled with a different pitch in the chromatic scale. It was our second month teaching music theory and appreciation at Auburn Correctional Facility, one of New York State’s largest all-male maximum-security prisons. Claire, my fellow TA, watched with apprehension as chatter broke throughout the classroom. Though Stuart had told Claire and me his plan during the car ride to the prison, neither of us was sure it would work.
“Alright, gentlemen,” Stuart called over the noise. He always addressed the inmates as gentlemen, to their great amusement (his English accent helped). He had their attention instantly. “We’re going to form a lineup!”

The men stared, not knowing if he was serious. “Take your cards,” Stuart continued, “and stand in order of the chromatic scale. We’re going to form a human piano!”

Laughter and relief swept through the room. The men gladly rose from their individual desks and gathered towards the back of the room where there was space to move. “Look! I’m next to you!” Gherald called to Christopher as he held up his own card, which had a big letter D written in marker.

Stuart, Claire, and I had been struggling to communicate basic concepts of music theory to these seventeen men with vastly different levels of education. Our only tools in the prison classroom were a rickety chalkboard on wheels that moved every time you wrote on it and a small electric keyboard which, while helpful, was difficult for the entire class to see at once. We hoped that the “human piano” would enable the students to better visualize major and minor scales, bringing the keyboard to life.
On one side of the lineup, near B-flat and A, the inmates were laughing while David held up his A-flat card as if he were posing for a mug shot. He turned left; then right, his face expressionless as the men around him roared with laughter. Claire and I had cards as well, and we took our places beside the men. I stood next to Shane and he inched cautiously away from me, avoiding eye contact.

I held up my E, realizing with a jolt that I was standing next to a man who had committed murder. It was shockingly easy to forget, in the midst of the classroom environment, that the majority of the students were serving life sentences for committing horrendous acts. I reminded myself that I was not there to treat or regard them as criminals. My goal was to share the joys and mysteries of music making, to try to understand their need for creative expression and, in turn, gain insight into my own personal and artistic motivations.

The energy in the room crackled and it was clear why. In music class, these men were able to temporarily change their identity from prisoner to student, from being numbered to being human. Music became a life force, providing vital human connection in an environment where social interaction is suppressed. The classroom provided a safe haven, enabling the inmates to engage with each other in a positive way, to explore and experiment with feelings of normalcy and inclusion, feelings that are alien to incarceration.

“Who belongs to a D major scale?” Stuart asked. Little by little, the men stepped forward, helping each other as they counted whole steps and half steps. F sharp and G flat debated who should be part of the line.

Stuart’s undoubtedly risky pedagogical experiment paid off. The students actively engaged in a constructive, educational game instead of passively accepting information recited from the front of a classroom. They took their learning experience into their own hands. More importantly, Stuart appropriated an aspect of prison culture and transformed it into a positive experience. Yet he was simultaneously challenging the prison environment by allowing the inmates to take charge and solve a collective problem. The exercise implicitly questioned the inmates’ sense of their own identity—as individuals and as a unified whole.
The “human piano” proved to our students that Stuart, Claire, and I accepted that we were not simply in a classroom but deep inside prison walls. It showed that we were willing to stand beside them, aware of their crimes, yet still believing that the human need for education and artistic expression extends to those living behind bars. The lineup was no longer a threatening assembly of criminals but a team of individuals with the potential for creativity and growth.

Though Stuart never explicitly communicated these intentions to his class, they understood. From that point on, there was a shift in the atmosphere. The tension broke. They began to trust and accept us, and we began to trust and accept them.
The inmates at Auburn sprang to life whenever we played music. The entire room pulsed with energy, excitement, and a thirst for culture and intellectual engagement. From the prison’s small boombox, we played Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain, Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, along with songs by the Beatles, Scott Joplin, Howlin’ Wolf, and T.I., to name a few. Stuart compared rhythms in Rachmaninoff to those found in salsa music. Britten’s music introduced the orchestra, revealing how instruments trade musical ideas. We discussed color and orchestration, form and motivic development.

Stuart always found a way to relate the music to an aspect of culture familiar to the men in the prison. When we listened to Quartet for the End of Time, Stuart gave historical context, sharing that Messiaen composed the work in a German prisoner-of-war camp using the broken instruments available to him. The work premiered in 1941 for the inmates and guards outdoors in the rain. Our students were well aware that their situation was not analogous; they were in prison for crimes consciously committed. Yet, the story served its purpose. It allowed the inmates to imagine music flourishing in the stifling prison environment. It demonstrated that the creative spirit lives on in the face of dehumanization, incarceration, and fear. The story granted immediate access to the music.
A group of prisoners seated at long desks attentively listening to a seated instructor who is talking.
My students were completely immersed in the musical experience. Listening allowed them to relax and be moved by what they heard. They let down their guards and open up to each other. While listening to Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor, the men closed their eyes and swayed from side to side. They tapped their feet to the beat or conducted in time with their own made up patterns. Gherald announced that he had named Rachmaninoff’s piece “Spider Legs.” Michael said that it reminded him of how an autistic person is shut off from the world, desperately trying to communicate. For him, the music captured the frustration of a person unable to reach or be understood by fellow human beings. In essence, it captured life in prison. My initial fear that classical music would somehow be alien to these men quickly evaporated. They felt it spoke to them directly and they quickly read themselves into the music.

Many of the students described what they heard in terms of an emotional narrative, inventing a story that corresponded to the music’s building of tension and release. Stuart would then translate their observations about dramatic development into musical terminology. My students began to recognize recurring motifs, struggling to understand how a musical line simultaneously sounded the same and different. This was fascinating to them, and I felt their excitement as they strived to articulate compositional techniques. Seeing Stuart play our little classroom keyboard proved thrilling to these men who were starved for culture. Their eyes would light up like they were seeing fireworks for the first time.

Steve Reich was very popular. Stuart linked Reich’s manipulation of magnetic tape to practices of sampling found in rap music. He explained the source material for Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain, a speech given by an African-American Pentecostal preacher, which led to a fascinating discussion about the musical and rhythmic elements of preaching. We also taught the inmates to perform Clapping Music. As they struggled to master the different parts, Stuart reminded the students that this was a professional piece of music and that even paid musicians had to practice. He said that we had complete faith that they could perform the piece by the end of the semester. I remember that day; Stuart, Claire, and I left the classroom feeling hopeful. As we waited in the hallway for a guard to lead us back to the prison entrance, we heard our students inside practicing Clapping Music. They wanted to rehearse in the few minutes they had together before the guards would return to lead them back to their cells.

Being in the room with these men as they listened to the music I love transformed my understanding of art. I witnessed how music sparks communication and openness among men who have lived in a world of violence. Love, warmth, and life filled a small room set inside a vast, cold, dehumanizing prison environment. Emotions ran so high with the exposure to music that they were tangible. Connection to art and to each other generated such a life force that it was physically apparent. Each day after teaching, I would return home exhausted, feeling that I had just experienced seventeen different therapy sessions, one for each of my students. Listening to music and sharing their beliefs proved so cathartic to these men to such an intense degree that it was infectious.

Ultimately, I was encouraged and inspired. Teaching music in prison affirmed my belief that art is accessible to anyone if placed in a fitting context. All a listener needs is a way in, whether it is through the real-life events behind a composition, an imaginary narrative, seeing how instruments communicate, following how a motif transforms overtime, or understanding the composers’ aesthetic intentions. The experience of art needs to be personal. Music becomes accessible when we can project an aspect of ourselves into the work of art, whether we are conscious of it or not. Even if it is not an emotional engagement, but an intellectual or philosophical one, the music must resonate in some capacity with our thought process. Even if music pushes us, challenges us, or defies our very definition of art, it does so by speaking to us personally, by taking something we know and altering it dramatically. The inaccessibility of classical art is not an issue of intelligence but an issue of identity and means of exposure. Once we can identify, we can listen. Once we can listen, we can identify.

Incarceration and Musical Inspiration Part One: Meeting the Men at Auburn’s Maximum Security Prison

seven of the students from the prison seated at a long desk, one of them is raising his hand

All images courtesy of the Cornell Prison Education Program

Shane, an Auburn Correctional Facility inmate with bright orange hair that clashed against his green uniform sweatpants and pullover, told the class that he wanted to study music theory in order to “express himself musically. I want to transfer onto the page what I hear in my head.” It was our first day teaching music theory and appreciation at one of New York State’s largest all-male maximum security prisons. I was a senior in college, accompanied by my fellow T.A. Claire Schmidt and a doctoral student Stuart Paul Duncan, who served as the course’s instructor.

We pretended to not be surprised that a man serving a life sentence for second-degree murder wanted to compose and was already hearing melodies, struggling to bring his internal world to musical life. Shane was not the only one. A quiet, middle-aged man seated beside him expressed that he wanted to put music to his poems. Gherald, a tall, broad-shouldered man with long dreadlocks, said that he composed raps and wanted to learn how to notate rhythms. He also sang with the prison’s church choir on Sundays and hoped to improve his voice. Christopher, incarcerated since the age of 17, said he wanted to know “why music sounds good, why it works the way it does.” Michael, a Hispanic man seated alone at the end of the table, informed us that he used to teach a class on music theory.

Within these few short minutes of introduction, millions of questions raced through my mind. Who are these men? Am I scared? Why am I here? Do I know why music sounds good and can I communicate an answer in a way that will be meaningful? Each of the seventeen men seated around the room looked at us with calm curiosity and a sincere respect. Their eyes were wide like a child’s discovering the world, yet their capacity for intellectual and philosophical exchange transcended that of the average student. They were a striking mix of total inexperience and naïvety, having spent the majority of their lives within the narrow confines of prison, and a source of devastating experiences, having lived in dangerous communities, witnessing horrors, and committing the terrible acts that led to incarceration. One man, presumably involved in gang violence, told me that prison had saved him. He believes that if he had not been arrested and removed from his situation, he would be dead by now.
The Music Theory and Appreciation course was implemented through the Cornell Prison Education Program, allowing incarcerated men to attain an associate’s degree through Cayuga Community College. Classes offered throughout the program’s 15 years of operation include genetics, constitutional law, medical anthropology, Asian meditation, writing, theater, and economics, to name a few. Philanthropist Doris Buffet provides the crux of financial support through her Sunshine Lady Foundation. The program aims to increase an incarcerated man’s chances of reintegrating into society upon release and lessens recidivism. It enables some men to even come to terms with their own imprisonment as well as their circumstances and choices that led to their sentence.

The Auburn penitentiary of the 1820s imposed constant silence during the day and solitary confinement at night. It was also the site of the first execution by electric chair in 1890. While the “Auburn System” has since been abandoned, the incarcerated men still live in a state of dehumanization. They are the first to acknowledge that they brought this life upon themselves, committing some of the most atrocious acts imaginable. My students had murdered their lovers, even their children. They had raped women and led violent gangs. The least offensive of their crimes was armed robbery. I knew this because all of their records were accessible online. At Cornell’s training session, program leaders told us over and over again “Do NOT Google your students! You will not like what you see.” I did it anyway. I needed to know.

At home, reading of their crimes, I would feel sickened. Walking through the prison to my class, I felt scared, even though a guard escorted me through the halls and showed me which handle to pull in case of emergency. Yet the moment I arrived in the classroom, these men transformed into my students. Despite their crimes, I grew to care for them as fellow human beings whom I hoped would grow and change. They were no longer nameless men in green with an identifying number but real, emotional, articulate individuals who taught me as much about music as I taught them. I sat next to them, separated only by a desk, while they told me about the music they loved and revealed their artistic aspirations. When Claire and I moved about the room, the men would make way and always ensure we had enough space. They did everything they possibly could to make us feel at ease. They understood how they were viewed in the eyes of society and cherished the feeling of normalcy and respect created within the classroom.
Close up of one of the students listening and taking notes
I soon became accustomed to the hour of security checks that preceded each visit and the routine of waiting for the guards to lock one door before crossing the room to open another. As the semester unfolded, I was strangely no longer afraid, not even when walking through the prison yard as the men huddled in groups and stared at me. I was baffled and intrigued. Their whole world was gray concrete: not even a stray weed could grow through the cement. Just this small glimpse of prison life stood in stark contrast to the vibrant atmosphere engendered within the classroom. Instead of feeling fear, I felt inspired by the resilience and determination of my students to be the best that they could possibly be. I anticipated that the severe circumstances of prison would color all aspects of the classroom experience, but to my surprise, the room felt like a safe haven, a comfortable space where ideas could flow freely. It was the purest form of education I have ever experienced. Imagine a class where every student feels it is a privilege to learn, yearns to participate and be heard, and absorbs all of the material with passionate curiosity. Imagine a music class where every piece is fresh to the ear and observations are not bound to a preconceived notion of what makes classical art. Within the nightmare of incarceration flourished the dream of education, an unabashed, provocative insight into musical meaning and expression.

My favorite student was Shane, who did ultimately learn how to write down his own compositions. The students regarded Shane as a leader in the classroom, a role that Shane never experienced in the prison as an openly gay man struggling to survive. Shane’s partner, also an inmate, was attacked by fellow prisoners and transferred to Sing Sing for his safety. Shane’s 1996 trial was well publicized: his was the first death penalty case brought by a New York City prosecutor following the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1995. Controversy surrounded the possibility of a death sentence in the trial of a gay man when the murder was not pre-meditated. After years of appeals, Shane received a natural life sentence.

Just like Shane, most of these men only experienced life outside of prison walls until their early twenties. I was twenty-one, but they thought I knew everything. They were visibly disappointed when I could not answer a question, questions such as: “Why does music have meaning?” “Why do different people like different kinds of music?” “How does music communicate?” They knew that these were difficult questions, but they genuinely believed that an answer could be reached. With each insistence that I try to explain, my students challenged me to examine my artistic identity, what was behind my drive and desire to become a composer. I would stare at their eyes as they implored me to demystify an art form that people spend their lives trying to understand. Every lesson, I would have to confront myself again and again, admitting that I do not have an answer. In response, their insights would guide me in ways I could have never expected.

I hope to share through my remaining posts what I learned about myself as a composer and musician during my three short months as one of Auburn Correctional Facility’s music teachers. I arrived wondering why a group of prisoners would voluntarily take a class on music theory when my freshmen class hated the topic. I feared that they would feel disconnected from classical music, particularly contemporary music, and wondered if we would find common ground. Over time, they shared with me their thoughts on Steve Reich, on Purcell and Rachmaninoff, on Benjamin Britten and Messiaen, and during the last class, they told me their thoughts on my own compositions. I will never know if I changed their lives, but I do know that they changed mine. Inspiration comes from unexpected sources. I learned that if you want to be an artist, it is imperative to reach beyond your comfort zone, to explore your wildest dreams and engage your deepest fears. Push yourself as a writer, a creator, and as a person to connect with the world outside of yourself. Dig through uncomfortable material and unknown territories until you see the stalk of green striving through the crack in the cement.


Photo of Julia Adolphe

Julia Adolphe

Julia Adolphe is a composer, writer and producer based in Los Angeles. Her music has received performances across the U.S. and abroad by the New York Philharmonic, Inscape Chamber Orchestra, the USC Thornton Symphony, JACK Quartet violinist Christopher Otto and cellist Kevin McFarland, guitarist Mak Grgic, the What’s Next? Ensemble, Nouveau Classical Project, the Cornell University Chorus, the Fiato Quartet, and the Great Noise Ensemble, among others. Recent highlights include the New York Philharmonic’s premiere of Adolphe’s orchestral work Dark Sand, Sifting Light conducted by Alan Gilbert at the inaugural 2014 Ny Phil Biennial, a recording on Inscape Chamber Orchestra’s album American Aggregate to be released by Sono Luminus in August 2014, and the concert premiere of Adolphe’s chamber opera Sylvia at NYC’s Bargemusic in 2013.

Richard Toensing (1940-2014)—“The Oak Doesn’t Grow as Fast as the Squash”

Richard Toensing

Richard Toensing, photo courtesy Bella Voce Communications

Richard Toensing (March 11, 1940 – July 2, 2014) started teaching composition at age 26 at Upsala College, and at age 33 began a storied career on faculty at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU). He continued teaching privately a bit after he retired from CU in 2005, and he passed away last month at age 74. After over forty years of teaching, Dick was well known as a pedagogue for his integrity, his delightful wit, and his zero-tolerance policy for what he called “that bull-hooey ego nonsense that gets in the way of hard work and real life.”

Composer Greg Simon, a former student of Dick’s currently completing his DMA at the University of Michigan, wrote a beautiful memorial blog post in which he wrote:

No one would ever accuse Dick of coddling his students. True to his upbringing, he demanded work, dedication, and a bit of a thick skin. If you came to a lesson without the work done, he sent you away to do it. He was quick to tell you if he disliked something, and slow to spell out the solution – he believed you should find it. But Dick loved his students, and he cared for them. He would lend students hours of extra time to help them make decisions about music or life.

Dick was also a wonderful composer. The writer of an obituary published in the Boulder Daily Camera the day after he died remarked: “Reviewers of Toensing’s works, sacred and otherwise, have said that the listener is struck by a transparency of sound, a simplicity that exists inside complexity, and a sparkling clarity of parts.” After being raised a Lutheran in Minnesota, in the ’90s Dick converted to the Russian Orthodox Church. If you’ve not yet heard his music, a great window in would be to start with his Responsoria, his Flute Concerto, and/or his Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ.

Mere weeks before he passed away, Dick wrote an e-mail to a group of former students, telling us of his terminal cancer and how proud he was to have been able to teach us. Since his death last month, I’ve re-read the full contents of my “RT” e-mail folder. We began e-mailing in the fall of 1998, after my three years of master’s degree study with Dick ended and I had moved to Ann Arbor for the downbeat of my DMA at U-M. RT’s folder spans 16 years of correspondence, and I share his words in excerpts from his e-mails (I’m sure he wouldn’t mind), to best illuminate how he was as a teacher.

As in his music, Dick embraced the challenges of teaching with his simplicity inside complexity. He had an indelible ability to be engaging, stringent, rigorous, and nurturing all at once.

Congrats on your entrance exams – that’s no mean feat, and you should be proud of what you did. But don’t overload yourself – save plenty of time to think and to write. Just remember that the first two bars always have to be something folks would go across the street twice to hear! I’m sure that once you find your sea-legs you’ll do splendidly.

Dick taught like he wrote music, with a stunning patience. Lessons were calm, slow. He looked only at the score and never touched the piano. With his patience and diligence he heard every note he saw.

Glad to hear that things are going well with you and Albright – but again, remember; take your time, the oak doesn’t grow as fast as the squash.
I’ve learned the absolute necessity of taking time thru the composing of Orthodox liturgical music – since everything one writes in that genre is intended to be sung forever (well, at least for a millennium or so) the music has to absolutely sound well and wear like iron – a far cry from the Western idea of “write it, perform it, and if it’s no good, throw it away.” I just revised the second half of my Cherubic Hymn this a.m., and now am letting it sit and cook for at least a year (with numerous revisitings, tinkerings, tweakings, etc. along the way.)

Dick had a staggeringly dry wit. He often imparted compositional wisdom via exaggerated impersonations of his own U-M mentors Ross Lee Finney and Leslie Bassett, and/or his tried-and-true Minnesotan Ole & Lena jokes. In re-reading his e-mails I was reminded, too, of how often he’d dapple in delicious nuggets like so:

Did you read that Frankie Yankovic died? He, along with Whoopee John, was the King of the Polka Bands. If you can find a Yankovic record, get it – it’s SO bad that it’s actually good – the ultimate low-brow high camp – and makes Lauren Swelk* look like the Hollywood cheese that he really was.

(* A pun or a dig or a ridiculous misspelling was RT’s way.)
In his diligence and dedication to his art, Dick believed all one needs is faith in one’s process and faith in one’s self – simply stay at it, it’ll come. He signed off most emails with a variance of “just keep writing beautiful notes, and you’ll be just fine – RT” or, my favorite, “write thousands of good notes – RT.”

Sounds like you’ve got a full plate, all right. Well, welcome to graduate skule, Michigan-style. Not only will you survive, you’ll thrive, if I know you. A propos of your pno. piece – just keep slugging away, and remember to compose every day, even if only for a little while.

Expect that your first effort there, in a new and demanding environment, will be like your first effort here (remember how long it took to do that little piece for clarinet, vibe, and bass, and how dissatisfied you were by the end of the year when you heard it?). But that was an important first step – what you are writing now is likewise. So keep your powder dry and keep on firing.

One thing you might try to maintain is continuity: at the end of each composing session write out in longhand for yourself exactly where you are in the piece, what you need to do next, what problems you need to solve, etc., etc. Then when you next get back to your work, read what you had written – it’ll help focus your mind. Another trick that I often use when I get stuck is to “unravel” a bit of the piece – i.e. to take a clean piece of paper and simply re-write the last phrase or so as a way to get the wheels rolling; usually you can move forward then.

Dick spoke of feeling musically rejuvenated when he converted to the Orthodox Church. This faith and its community seemed perfectly suited to his mind and musical aesthetic. He didn’t over-speak about how his church informed his life; yet it was clear his was a deep, poignant faith with which he engaged passionately.

The Orthodox are strict about what they will allow to be sung in the Liturgy – it has to be “orthodox music” (which is one of those things that no-one can quite define, but, as Fr. S. says, “I know it when I hear it.” Quite different from my good ol’ lax Lutheran days, when anything I wrote “went.” But in Orthodoxy one is writing music that the church will use potentially from now unto ages of ages, amen, so one has to take time and really do it right. It’s a good spiritual discipline – keeps one humble.)

Dick really knew repertoire. He believed in and demanded exacting, hard-core score study. He also loved to lunch and rep-talk. He adored melody; his own music is plushly drenched in it. At the same time, Dick was also all about harmony, harmony, harmony, in every sense of the word.

I finally got this new piece off the ground (barely) this a.m. – I’ve decided to do it the old-fashioned way – lots of hard work, hand-crafting each spectacular sound (and all that jazz).

About the (two pieces) you sent: I was very impressed and pleased by the increasing sophistication of texture and gesture in both pieces – they mark a huge step forward for you in that regard (remember the piece for clarinet, vibraphone, and double bass only a few years ago?); I’ll be eager to hear where you go next, and most interested to see where it all ends up. The only thing that gave me pause a little was what I heard as a kind of static harmonic rhythm which seems at odds with the sophistication in other areas. I’m certainly no foe of slow harmonic rhythm (as you know), but I had the sense that harmonic movement was something which wasn’t a principal concern in either piece. As you continue, you may want to try working out a tentative harmonic rhythm plan beforehand, so that the piece has a harmonic shape which is totally under your control; I’ve found that harmonic movement (or the lack of it) is such a powerful expressive tool; I think you will too.

Re-reading his e-mails has been like patching together a massive memories-montage of my formative years in Dick’s studio, even before we wrote to one another. He is responsible for my love of Stravinsky’s music. When he heard I was to play Piano IV in Les Noces at CU, Dick said, “Goodness. Well. Excellent! We must take time in your lessons this term to analyze that one to death.” He frequently pointed to Stravinsky’s scores as good go-to’s for help, particularly with proportioning contrasting sections and economy of musical materials.

I was surprised (and pleased) to find you writing in as diatonic an idiom as you did; somehow I had expected something more chromatic. A couple of points to ponder: 1. Do you need the winds? In the main, they didn’t seem to be doing that much that was significant. 2. You need to have some larger sections of the work that are simpler, more melodic, and more transparently scored to balance the sections that are more dense – it seems to me that your writing is generated more harmonically than melodically, and you may want to re-consider that for future works. But these are small cavils in what is a huge achievement – buy yourself some roses!

Dick’s manner was like a perfectly constructed song about being comfortable in one’s skin. He wrote a large collection of solo and choral vocal music; it all sings exquisitely. He talked about “screaming quietly,” or “loudly whispering” – which is how he taught. As in his music, Dick taught steadily, steadfastly, unwavering, with kindness and precision. He believed that our lives sing. That our music is not simply a 19th-century romantic notion in which the notes are “tied to life”; rather, our music is life, and that tones are “simply beautiful in themselves.”

Finney once said to me, “You don’t like melody much, do you?” (Obviously that’s not true now.) In the piece you sent most recently, melodies, when they occur, are some of the most fetching and expressive parts of the music – make more of them! They’re what connect with a general audience, and show that you have a heart, as well as technique.

As the years drew on, our correspondence became less about the nuts and bolts of composing, and more about our general lives. Dick shared updates about his kids and his cats, he spoke of his beloved wife Carol’s goings-on, his students, etc. His obituary states his fondness for gardening, “with a special weakness for irises.” From the last e-mail I received before his death, which was so sweetly him:

To contemplate the end of one’s life is quite an experience! But I’m thankful, at least, that I have both the time and (still) the mental capacity to actually do that contemplation, and my Orthodox faith makes it both a time of sadness for what will soon be lost, and joy, for what will soon be gained. I look forward to the future (for myself) with hope and confidence, though I will miss Carol more than I can possibly ever say. But some day even that pain will be erased. So – we go forward.

Dick Toensing gave us some of the most gorgeous music on this earth. Equally important, the distinguishedness of the sheer volume of wisdom he imparted to his students is immeasurable. He was an ever-optimist, an ever-realist, and never a downer. Yes, he could see through the bull-hooey quicker than most and didn’t hesitate to politely call it out. His career was like the slow-growing oak, and as an artist, teacher, and human he expressed himself clearly, gently, with respect and compassion. Then, for example, when a former student sent a quick note from NYC saying she had a job offer from his shared alma mater, his words sang:

WUNNERFUL! WUNNERFUL! HIGH CONGRATULATIONS – THAT’S ABSOLUTELY GREAT! BRAVO FOR YOU! (I assume you’ll take it….) It’s 10:20 in the evening out there, or I’d call you and gush all over the place, but I will save that for another day and time. I can’t tell you how proud of you I am, and how pleased for you. I know that you’ll make the most of it.
One word of advice: don’t bring out that little piece for vibraphone, etc.

As always, for the loving advice Dick, thank you.

Jim (J.K.) Randall (1929-2014)—Out of View of Anything Resembling the Mainstream

Mackey and Randall

Steven Mackey and J. K. Randall

[Ed. Note: Composer James Kirtland Randall is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking computer music compositions from the 1960s. (His 1965 Mudgett-Monologues by a Mass Murderer appeared on one of the earliest commercial LPs of computer music, released on Nonesuch in 1970.) But Randall created a much wider range of music. In his later years, he was particularly devoted to group improvisation. A member of the composition faculty at Princeton University from 1957 until his retirement in 1991, he influenced generations of composers. Shortly after learning of his death on May 28, 2014, we asked one of the composers he mentored, Steven Mackey, to share his memories.—FJO]

During my first week of teaching at Princeton in the fall of 1985, Jim Randall walked up to me and said, “Hey Steve, let’s improvise: you on the electric guitar and I’m thinkin’ that I’ll try the front end of the piano.” Any part of the piano—the back, the under carriage, the legs, inside, outside—it was all fair game to Jim, and he was never one to make assumptions. He knew guitar players that played with a knife and fork, but he knew that wasn’t me and he wanted me to be in my wheelhouse so he figured he would play notes on the keyboard.

Jim would put a 90-minute cassette—45 minutes a side—into the tape machine, hit record, and we would play non-stop until the cassette clicked off. Then we would immediately sit and listen to what we had recorded. We did this a few times leading into fall break that year, but during fall break we took it to another level. We met, three times a day for seven days straight—10 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.

I have to admit that I had a need to impress Jim with the virtuosity of half-remembered licks from my childhood. I used them up by the end of the first day and by the end of the second day I was truly present. To aid in purging my prefabricated riffs, he set a teddy bear on the piano and told me that he would take musical suggestions from the teddy bear and pass them to me; then I took suggestions from the teddy bear and passed them to him. And then I gave the teddy suggestions to pass on to Jim. Eventually all possible permutations for communicating via the teddy bear were explored.
He was a great improviser. He could be stubborn as a colleague (one always got the feeling that if you disagreed with Jim, it was because you didn’t understand him), but as an improviser he was quite flexible. His rules for musical interaction were simple: don’t try to control the other, don’t be controlled by the other, but always listen carefully to the other. The goal was to contribute something to a whole that was bigger than the individual.

Our post-improv listening and conversation deflected my musical destiny permanently. There was the obvious effect of forcing me to explore the electric guitar in a new context. More profoundly, I noticed that the parts I liked the most violated all sorts of taboos that I had learned in graduate school. My favorite parts had various manifestations of awkwardness that I would have never “thought of” but that had real character, humanity, and curiosity.

Jim’s own music exemplified human oddity. It certainly did not aspire to impress or even express; it revealed. He was way out there. His Gap series of piano pieces are truly marvelous and quirky in the extreme. Thirty-minute piano pieces made from one note at a time and each note the vortex of a thousand trajectories. Or his Scruds and Snorts (I think it was called), where he had the idea to realize some of his most unsatisfactory, dysfunctional, and previously abandoned pitch charts and give musical voice to crippled logic. It was like listening to my father try to talk after his stroke.

Jim achieved notoriety early in his career as a pioneer of computer music. Any retrospective memorial to Jim’s work must mention his ground-breaking Lyric Variations for Violin and Computer Tape and his computer-generated score for the film Eakins. These are masterworks regarded by most as essential to the development of computer music.

J. K. Randall, Steven Mackey, and Jim Moses seated

J. K. Randall, Steven Mackey, and Jim Moses sometime in the 1990s. (Photo courtesy Steven Mackey.)

I encountered Jim some 20 years after these works, and the Jim I knew had navigated a unique course well out of view of anything resembling the mainstream. Jim didn’t just get washed up on these exotic shores for lack of ability to navigate the waters around the mainland. He could unpack German masterpieces better than anyone. In his last year before he retired from teaching, we, his colleagues, assigned “late Beethoven” as an area of study for graduate student general exams for the express purpose of hearing Jim tell us what it all meant just one more time. He could explicate objectively verifiable facts like key structures, Schenker spans, and pitch class sets, but he was most interested in what the music was really about or, more precisely, what music might conceivably be about. I remember him being frustrated with a student’s devotion to conventional analytical tools. He said, “Beethoven wasn’t throwing his bed pan around the room because he was worried about his fuckin’ Ur Linie.” At my colleague Scott Burnham’s job interview some 20-plus years ago, Scott presented work from his dissertation and quoted a metaphor from A.B. Marx. Marx had described a passage from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony saying it was like “Napoleon mounting his trusty steed.” Snickering filled the room until Jim stood in defense of both Marx and Burnham by pointing out the pathetic irony that we are more comfortable limiting the scope of Beethoven’s music to tonics and dominants rather than with allowing this music any aspirations toward illuminating the recesses of the human psyche.

Dozens of times I heard him challenge someone who described something as “making sense,” by asking them what kind of sense. His Beethoven, especially his beloved late Beethoven, was far removed from the normative example of common practice tonality that I was taught. It was, like Jim’s own late music, radical and unsettling.

Jim was a high-octane intellectual, one of the few people in the world with a brain big enough to transcend the intellect. He brought maximum intensity to everything he did, whether it was working out a pitch chart, watching a ball game, or eating a ham sandwich. He chose to make music a rare and deep experience and not just Beethoven. He would choke up when Charlie Rich sang “When We Get Behind Closed Doors” or when his favorite Irish tenor would sing “Danny Boy.” He binged on Shostakovich long before that was fashionable. He once said that “Rachmaninoff is what all music should be.”

Long after he was no longer a player in the contemporary music world he continued to listen, compose, and write with relentless integrity and passion, and his work had an enormous impact on those who were lucky enough to engage it. The single most enduring impact that Jim made on me was to embrace composition as a process of discovery rather than an explanation. He composed to explore what music might be capable of saying, not to tell an audience what he knew.

All the Colors of Life: A Celebration of Fred Ho (1957-2014)

Fred Ho and Marie Incontrera, 2013

Fred Ho with Marie Incontrera on his birthday, August 10, 2013

I had my very first lesson with Fred Ho on March 9, 2011, in his sunny Greenpoint apartment. He was in year five of his eight-year cancer war, but he came across as strong, sturdy, and stoic. I presented him with my best work, a bound score and CD of my lifeblood, and settled back to wait for the critique. I didn’t have to wait long; Fred listened to about thirty seconds of it before flipping the score shut and handing it back to me with one word.


This is how I remember Fred: brazen honesty, sharp-tongued wit, vibrant virtuosity in every area of life. It was that moment that I pledged to know Fred for life, however long or short our time might be together. That day was the first of many lessons; week after month after year I would come to sit at his kitchen table and lay bare my heart and soul, opening myself up to the pain of self-reflection and growth that comes with becoming.

“You write too quickly,” Fred told me once.
“Take more risks,” he said constantly.

Fred gave me work that would keep me up until three in the morning, high on aural hallucination. Write 50 two-, three-, or four-measure ostinati in odd meters, all starting on the low E of the bass. Write an opera and produce it yourself. Collaborate with me on an arrangement and conduct my band. Copy this score and tell me what you’ve learned. In this, I was more apprentice than student, and he was more family than friend. Our time together bridged the waters of music and delved into politics, healing, life, and death.

Fred has a way of creating family wherever he goes. He had no children of his own, but his sons and daughters of musical revolution gathered around him unrelentingly through the worst of it. As we coordinated bringing Fred food on Christmas Eve and argued like siblings over the best way to feel six and a half beats, I realized that family is not always blood but a collective heartbeat. I wonder if Fred knew this all along, raising us through demonstrations of the toughest love into littler versions of his own spirit, holding the next successes just over our heads so that when we finally catch them, we are just a tiny bit older and wiser.

I like to remember Fred marching around a church with his saxophone quartet, the sound filling the room and filling my soul. The music lifts me up, above life and death and the quicksand of my grief, and I experience for the first time the instance of redemption in music.

“Black music is about the redemption of the soul,” Fred says as we sit at his kitchen table. “It’s about turning your pain into power.”

If nothing else, Fred has done exactly this with his life. Fred’s power has come from his transcendental suffering: he fights radically against injustice, fights cancer with a big band, infuses his students with virtuosity through strategic boot camping. I endure the latter willingly and gratefully, absorbing the chord progressions and musicological essays into the quick of my being. Fred’s teachings are in my blood, and I carry his politics and bass lines in the pockets of my soul so that they are with me wherever I go.

I like to remember Fred on our trips to the thrift store, poring through the bins of clothing for the next colorful treasure. I like to remember him in his handmade neon green suit, laughing with friends at a book release party after his 2011 surgery left him without a bladder or bowel—and, for a little while, without cancer.

I like to remember Fred, five days post-heart attack, on the day of a snowstorm that threatened to shut down the city, leading his big band as if his life depended on it. In hindsight, I recognize that it absolutely did.

I like to remember Fred as he stood on a stage for the very last time, greeted by a standing ovation, obliterating every register of his baritone saxophone like nobody’s business. Terminal, six months to the day before he died.

It’s hard to think of Fred without a new melody coming from the pencils he kept sharpened at his desk. And yet, as time passed, Fred’s thoughts became preoccupied with survival rather than beauty. When Fred could no longer manage it, he handed over his legacy like the keys to a kingdom and I am tasked with understanding the complexity of an entire life, of filling the shoes at his podium. As I humbly adjust to my new role, I begin to see Fred’s 56 short years for what they were: brilliant, and enough to fit six lifetimes.

I see Fred’s final big band work, Grace of the Guerrilla, My Love, as a trajectory of Fred’s epic and unique life. It is drum-cadenza-for-the-ages into altissimo-saxophone-virtuosity into acrobatic-trumpeting-dream-sequence into a final groove in six-and-a-half time, complete with a tongue-in-cheek quote that I affectionately call “Mission Impossible on steroids” and building into collective solos that end on a high note. It is a mammoth and monumental masterpiece that is at once cacophonous and groovy, easy to love and difficult to understand. It goes out much like Fred did: with a bang, not a whimper.
To have known Fred is to know how to end one’s life beautifully: staring death in the face unafraid, surrounded by love that has been both born into and chosen, sharing with the world as much beauty and justice as is humanly possible. I was one of the lucky ones: I got to look into Fred’s eyes and tell him I love him one last time. And yet no matter how well Fred prepared us, he goes gracefully before we are ready for him to, leaving us with the imprint of his spirit upon our hearts.


Fred Ho passed away on the morning of Saturday, April 12, 2014, in his home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, ending an eight-year battle with metastatic colorectal cancer. He is survived by his mother, Frances Lu Houn, two sisters, Florence Houn and Flora Houn Hoffman and their families, and his companion, Melanie West. He leaves behind a legendary body of musical work; several books he either authored or co-edited about political theory and the cultural politics of music; a revolutionary political movement, Scientific Soul Sessions; two big bands; and a distinct Afro-Asian aesthetic.
There will be no funeral; Fred will be cremated and his ashes will be spread over the sea of Kauai, Hawaii, where he will swim forever among the coral reefs. A memorial is being organized for a later date and will be held at BAM Cafe in Brooklyn. A celebration concert with the Eco-Music Big Band will be held later this month on April 23, 2014, with concerts at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at Ginny’s Supper Club on 310 Lenox Avenue in New York City.


[Ed. Note: To read, watch and listen to a conversation with Fred Ho for NewMusicBox (originally recorded on October 8, 2008), click here.]

Skirts or Pants? How About Both

Skirt by Wanda Ewing

“Skirt” by Wanda Ewing

When I first considered writing on the topic of gender in “classical” composition, I wondered how I could possibly have anything new to say. Then, my colleagues challenged me. Why not? As a consequence, I have read about the role of gender in popular music, punk misogyny, and photography and discussed analogies between film and composition with a number of friends and colleagues. I have conversed with my closest collaborators, both male and female. I have started asking deeper questions, and in doing so, confronting why this issue is so challenging for me.

In graduate school, I consciously disassociated being female with being a composer. In fact, I took that even further and came to the conclusion that being a composer was in direct conflict with what I knew as a teacher, as a student, and as an artist. While I was coming to realize that my work coupled with my teaching style reflected a theme of synergy and convergence, I perceived a dichotomy in trying to fuse my various roles. I am sure some of this can be simply attributed to youth, but also, I believe we have been part of a transformation, where our generation is realizing a gradual shift in the way we view the artist.

Generally, we are coming to accept a more multidimensional role for an artist in the 21st century. Being an entrepreneur, musician, and teacher (and/or any number of other occupations) are all equally important. As Claire Chase said in her 2013 Bienen School of Music convocation address, “You can’t really separate the act of creating music, even very old music, from entrepreneurship.” She examined how entrepreneurship manifests in our time by providing countless examples of how we assume multiple roles: the artist as collaborator, the artist as producer, the artist as organizer, the artist as educator, and the list goes on. The resounding message delivered is that there is no clear roadmap. She inspires her young audience to “blow the ceiling off anything resembling a limitation.” I try to remind myself of this mantra every day; however, it is not always easy.
From my vantage point, the “guru” mentality is an accurate snapshot of the history of the composer/composition teacher relationship. In graduate school, I was encouraged to ignore the gender bias, which at the time was probably for the best in order to preserve my identity; however, this is not the same advice I offer to my students. I want to talk openly and non-judgmentally with them about the inherent challenges of being female and a composer alongside being a composition teacher and entrepreneur. More importantly, I want begin to identify why and how we have fallen into patterns of behavior that support the status quo. We have far too many resources at hand in the 21st century for female composers/teachers/organizers not to have more visible role models.

As women, by and large, we have been taught to view ourselves as made up of independent spheres, separating our profession from our gender, and from our craft. One challenge is to allow and encourage our various roles to operate and shape us in tandem, rather than in silos. For me, this involves accepting that being a good composer is being a good teacher, and that composing is my lifelong lesson. These two essential parts of who I am should not, and cannot, be in conflict. Whether it is teaching and composing, or composing and being a mother, or doing any number of things that we as composers in the 21st century must do to survive, we all deserve the opportunity to merge our identities and define ourselves in our own unique way. Granted, I am primarily coming from the perspective of a female in academia, but I suspect that the challenge of balancing multiple and often simultaneously demanding roles is consistent for female composers in general.

Recent publications about the relationship of women to the field of composition present numerous heartening viewpoints. Amy Beth Kirsten’s “The Woman Composer is Dead” (2012) offers many valuable observations. Kristin Kuster’s “Taking Off My Pants” challenges us to embrace who we are, while maintaining respect for our craft. And Ellen McSweeny’s “The Power List” offers concrete solutions to incite change. These three articles in particular illustrate exactly how much we need to talk about this pervasive issue, so I assigned these articles to students. Their reactions ranged from, “I’m saddened” to “…a women could never have composed Beethoven’s Ninth or Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto…women need to stop having hissy fits about it.”
The teacher in me desperately wanted to understand these reactions, so I researched and looked to the visual art community for answers. As Linda Nochlin probes in her famous 1971 essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”:

“Why have there been no great women artists?” …like so many other so-called questions involved in the feminist “controversy,” it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer: “There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness.”

Power structures have long operated along gendered presumptions like the one above. Certainly, all artists struggle to balance both creative and personal life challenges—this has become part of the romantic “plight” of being an artist—but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that for me, this quandary was further complicated by sex and gender. As women, we are pulled in directions that are conflicted, both due to social pressures and the biological constraints of childbearing during key career-building years. Culturally, we are expected to respond in “feminine,” frequently subservient ways, but to follow the modernist trend, as composers we are expected to provide answers.

I agree with Eva Hesse that “excellence has no gender.” But how exactly do we begin to tell that story? Visibility is imperative for role models to succeed.

I also relate to Lucy Lippard, who writes, “Of course art has no gender, but artists do.”
So then, the question is: does being a “female” composer make a difference to being a good composer?
In confronting the question solely in the realm of being a good composer, the answer is inequitably no. There are countless examples of superb, successful, living female composers. However, when confronted with being a good composer, alongside being a good mother, and (for me) a good teacher, it becomes more difficult to quantify.

Nochlin answers the women-artist question sensibly:

What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity. Disadvantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an intellectual position. Rather, using as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that of ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought—and true greatness—are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown.

As creative artists, we are students forever; otherwise, we would not have chosen such an infinite language to study. And frequently we have to act like a teacher, student, and artist simultaneously. Whether it is building music, art collaborations, schools, teaching, or learning, we create materials, build forms architecturally, and communicate those ideas creatively. Remember, maestro, male or female, as artists, we are inherently collaborators.
Gaining a broad perspective through all of the roles we must play has provided a critical lesson for me. Beyond social construction and convention, judgment, joy and anger, we must confront the abyss and challenge, question, and listen. And, above all, we should celebrate being female, and choose to wear pants or skirts as we see fit.

Rethinking How We Teach Composition, Part 2

Igor Stravinsky & Nadia Boulanger (1937)

Igor Stravinsky & Nadia Boulanger (1937)

In graduate school, I was shocked by the “master” mentality of the composition world. Young composers literally fawned over their professors, and it seemed insincere. I thought the purpose of going to graduate school was to carve my own path, not simply to hob-knob with the “greats.” Since I had come from a relatively non-traditional undergraduate experience, I was eager to gain the technical experience that my peers had already achieved. I took extra independent studies in counterpoint, spending almost a year on perfecting the retrogradable canon. I’m not sure I ever did actually master the skill, but I sure loved the process! I could not get enough of the literature and was fascinated by imitating forms. If I had been forced to do this work sooner, I would surely have recoiled from it. Yet to this day, I refer back to many of the readings and writings by composers about their work that I came across during that time. I also developed a passion for visual art and patterns—Morton Feldman became my hero. The way he wrote about his work, brainstormed, and drew inspiration from painters broadened my aesthetic palette.

Yet, beneath my excitement and fascination with the infinite study of music, fear was brewing; skepticism towards my teachers emerged—particularly the mentality that privileged the “master” over the “apprentice.” Coming from progressive and forward-thinking schools, I had built for myself a certain dreamscape for creativity, and this “guru” approach was confusing and concerning for me. As I got closer to the professional world, I started witnessing overt gender biases as well. I noticed that there were markedly fewer women in my graduate program than men. I distinctly recall dismissing this worry, consciously deciding that I could not give my concern credence, because if I did, it would get in the way of what I wanted and needed to make my music. I remain conflicted when trying to negotiate between the many roles I assume, now as a composer, a teacher, a mother, and an administrator. The survivalist in me still cautions about even considering whether being female makes a difference, but as I become more involved with all aspects of my career, I am not sure how ethical it is for me to ignore the issue. Aesthetically, it is impossible for me to separate being a composer and a teacher–both activities feed one another. However, when I consider the number of female role models in my education who were able to live lives that also successfully integrated being composers and teachers, I can barely count them on one hand.

There is a deep lineage from composer to student that is rooted in imitation and modeling. Like following the legacy of Feldman in Buffalo, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau. Nadia Boulanger’s spirit was alive and well, though I did not have the opportunity to work with her directly. As Leon Botstein explains, she was “less interested in the imposition of an aesthetic, and more invested in the transmission of discipline”—whether through conventional or non-conventional means. Like other modernists, she encouraged the exploration of new forms alongside a reverence for the masterpieces of the past. However, she was unique in that she was the first hugely influential female to train an extraordinary A-list of 20th-century composers. Her pedagogical approach was based in counterpoint—in combining the vertical and horizontal simultaneously. She composed, but we have come to know of her primarily as a pedagogue. And she was strict! Students consistently report that she made them work harder than they had ever worked before.

“Do not take up music unless you would rather die than do so.”
—Nadia Boulanger
Unfortunately, Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) did not have the same opportunities to be both a composer and a teacher that we have access to in 2014. While there are many speculations about why she was not equally successful as a composer and teacher, the lesson I take away is that we still have a long way to go in terms of shifting the model of what a composition teacher can provide. First, we must address the master/apprentice mentality. I propose we to do this by continuing to allow more inquisitive learning to take place alongside modeling. Secondly, we desperately need to openly and pragmatically identify the inherent challenges of gender in composition. When you add gender roles into an extraordinarily male dominated system, the challenge becomes further complicated. I will address this in more detail in my final post next week. In the meantime, I continue to admire Nadia, and all of her students, but I would celebrate and welcome the chance to rethink the mold, as a woman and a composer/teacher, simultaneously.