Composer  Mary  Jeanne  van Appledorn

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Mary Jeanne van Appledorn was born October 2, 1927 in Holland, Michigan, to John and Elizabeth van Appledorn. Neither of her parents were professional musicians; her father was, however, organist of the Ninth Street Christian Reformed Church and active in music circles in Holland. As a child, van Appledorn studied piano, as did her older sister Ruth. Following the death of her father in 1944, she and her mother moved to Topeka, Kansas (where her sister was a music teacher at Alma College) for van Appledorn's senior year of high school. Van Appledorn graduated from Topeka High School in 1945 as valedictorian.

Van Appledorn studied both piano and theory at the University of Rochester's prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Van Appledorn earned the George Eastman Honorary Scholarship each year, and in 1948 received her Bachelor of Music with Distinction (piano); she studied under Cecile Straub Genhart. Van Appledorn received her Master of Music Degree (theory) from the Eastman School of Music in 1950; from 1948 she was a Teaching Fellow of the Eastman School of Music. In the fall of 1950 Van Appledorn accepted a position at Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University). She received her Ph.D. (music) from the Eastman School of Music in 1966, and was awarded a Graduate Fellowship from 1961-1962. She was also awarded the Delta Kappa Gamma International Scholarship from 1959-1960; one of three awards granted to outstanding women for furthering and completing the doctorate degree. Dr. van Appledorn's dissertation for this degree is titled A Stylistic Study of Claude Debussy's Opera Pelleas et Melisande (completed in 1965).

During her studies at Eastman, Dr. van Appledorn received training in composition from renowned composers Bernard Rogers and Alan Hovhaness.

In 1982 Dr. van Appledorn was one of nine faculty members of Texas Tech University to receive a faculty development leave, during which she studied computer-synthesized sound techniques at the Studio for Experimental Music, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Barry Vercoe, professor.

As an educator, Dr. van Appledorn taught at Texas Tech University from 1950-2008. Dr. van Appledorn taught a wide range of courses during this time, from undergraduate music theory to graduate composition courses. Dr. van Appledorn served as chairman of the Division of Music Literature and Theory (1950-1968) in the school of music, and played an important role in the development of the curriculum of the undergraduate and graduate music degrees, alongside Chairman of the School of Music, Gene Hemmle.

Dr. van Appledorn also served as chairman of the Graduate Studies Committee of the Department of Music. She founded and served as chairman of the annual Symposium of Contemporary Music at Texas Tech (1951-1981), and obtained the commission of many new works by renowned composers such as Dr. Howard Hanson (Streams in the Desert, 1969). In 1989 she was named a Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Texas Tech University.

As a composer, van Appledorn has had a very successful career. She composed music in many genres, both instrumental and vocal. She received her first awards for composition (Mu Phi Epsilon National Composition Contests) for Set of Five (1951) for piano and Contrasts for Piano (1953). Other honors include the Premier Prix, Dijon, awards from the Texas Composers Guild and ASCAP, and other commissions from the Music Teachers National Association and National Intercollegiate Bands. Many of Dr. van Appledorn's compositions have been published by Carl Fischer, Oxford University Press, and E.C. Schirmer Music Company, among others. Numerous recordings of her compositions have been made by world-renowned musicians and ensembles, and her music has been performed in festivals and concerts both nationally and internationally.

Dr. van Appledorn has been included in a number of published biographies, not limited to: International Who's Who in Music, 10th, 11th and 12th editions, The World Who's Who of Women, ASCAP Biographical Dictionary, 4th edition, Bakers Biographical Dictionary, Scribner Music Library Dictionary of Composers, and the Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

[Another biography which lists many of her compositions is at the bottom of this webpage.] 

In January of 1988, I arranged to have a conversation on the telephone with composer Mary Jeanne van Appledorn.  It was cold where I was in Chicago, but quite mild where she was in Lubbock, Texas.  She was most gracious throughout the interview, answering my questions with enthusiasm and directness.  We spoke of many things, and here is what was said that afternoon . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    You’ve been professor in Texas now for quite a number of years...

Mary Jeanne van Appledorn:    Since 1950.

BD:    Teaching theory and composition?

MJvA:    Yes, both undergraduate and graduate.

BD:    How has the teaching of theory and composition changed over more than 35 years?

MJvA:    With the present CAI, Computer Assisted Instruction, there are significant differences, really.  In the past we used to just rely on the piano with the ear training and the part-writing, and the textbook way of approach.  But now the students can go into the lab and work with all of these features.  In a way it’s far better than the drill sessions we used to operate.

BD:    Is it a better education for the students?

MJvA:    I think in the long run it probably will be.  It frees up the teachers, too, somewhat.

BD:    Is the personal instruction getting lost in the shuffle?

MJvA:    No, I wouldn’t think so here.  The other thing in regard to composition, the student can go right in and come out of the lab with a desktop-printed composition.  So no longer do I have to look at these little tiny notes and erasures.  They come off very nicely.

BD:    During this period that you’ve been teaching, has the actual musicality of the students continued to improve?

appledornMJvA:    Yes, I think so.  For one thing, they can hear their pieces immediately, scored for the instruments and so forth; and not only those instruments, but completely new sounds as they rev them up on the Kurzweil 250.  They have immediate results, whereas often times in the past we would have to wait weeks before we got either a student or a faculty member to play lines for us.

BD:    I just wonder if it’s getting to move too fast?

MJvA:    Well, no.  I wish we had more than one Kurzweil!  There’s never enough of anything, computers or any of it.

BD:    Is there any chance that we’re turning out too many young composers?

MJvA:    Oh, I don’t think so, no.  We have the theory people working with the same equipment.  The numbers of our students in composition have not increased to that fearsome amount, I don’t think.  We have a lot more of the general students, not music majors necessarily coming in, too.

BD:    What about in more general terms over the entire country, or perhaps even the entire world.

MJvA:    Oh yes, this may be true.  The music business has gotten to be an immensely growing area, very definitely.

BD:    In amidst all of the business end of music, are the artistic values getting lost or repositioned in any way?

MJvA:    Somewhat repositioned, yes.

BD:    How so?

MJvA:    What I have in mind is the video production.  I have one doctoral student right now that is finishing up a big video, and much of it is very close to the television advertisement kind of thing — very close-up on everything.  It’s an amazing piece of work.  He’s been working with one of the Art professors on this project, and it was fantastically expensive.  They had to do an awful lot of promotion, PR stuff, and the premiere will be this March here at Lubbock.  They hope then to take it to Tokyo.  They’ve got quite a bit of interest even outside of the country for the use of it.

BD:    That sounds exciting for this young man.

MJvA:    Yup.  Certainly is, and for us! 

BD:    Then what do you feel is the purpose of music in society?

MJvA:    It has many, many purposes.  Goodness me!  On the one hand it’s a livelihood for people.  On the other hand it is an enjoyment all way around, even though it’s a livelihood.  I remember that shortly ago I was interviewed by a magazine, and I was asked to state my creative philosophy.  I simply quoted, “Music must be an evidence for living.”  This was stated by Toshiro Mayuzumi, and I think that is behind it for a lot of people; those of us who create it, who perform it, who teach it.  Therein is a tremendous area of existence for people, really.  You can reach people through this art in such depth that a lot of other areas you can’t begin to touch.  Music touches so many areas, when you stop and think about it.  Really there’s almost no end to it.  It’s extremely important for young children to begin with this, much more than what we now do in the schools.  Still much more can be done there.  They play maybe in a band or sing in the choir or something like that, but there is so much more to it than just that for the young student.  I know, because I started when I was about age five.  I was in a musical family.  That’s how it all went, and most of the training was done right in the home.

BD:    Are we losing any of this tradition of teaching it in the home with the current use of electronics?

MJvA:    I don’t know.  There’s a possibility that’s so.  Students are so much more having to go off by themselves and master the computer, with all the hitting of the right keys and so on and so forth.  It’s a very lonesome sort of a thing, I think, rather than the togetherness that can happen in a class with live teaching.  I would not want to forecast what the future may be.  I just hope they know how to operate these things when they come to us after five more years, because I do feel that some of our time with these people is being usurped by it.  It takes a while to learn this; it takes a good year out of the curriculum, almost, to master the computer, and then the musical uses of it is another whole ballgame.

BD:    Is mastering the computer going to take the place of mastering the keyboard?

MJvA:    I hope not.  [Both laugh]  David, the young man who is doing the video, was showing me the other day, and he said the Kurzweil is going to do away with the keyboard altogether.  At which point I thought,
Oh, dear me! 

BD:    Are we lost, then?

MJvA:    I don’t know.  But David said to me, “Van, absolutely keep on teaching every single thing that you teach!  We can’t do this without it.”  So, there’s that end of the line.


BD:    Let me turn the question around, then.  Are you optimistic about the whole future of music?

MJvA:    Oh yes, sure!  Goodness, yes.  I should say so.  I think that there’s just as much a future for the live acoustic music as there is for the synthesized sound production of it.  I think they will live together very, very well.  I don’t see any problem at all.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s talk a little bit about your own compositions.  When you’re writing something, do you have the audience in mind, or the performers, or whom?

MJvA:    If it is for a particular performer and the kind of thing that he or she is able to do, then the piece veers into that particular area.  For example, I have done a couple of pieces with Dale Underwood, who is the principal saxophonist of the United States Navy Band.  He is an alto saxophone player with altissimo range, a very, very high-note technique.  He really is a virtuosic, spectacular performer.  Liquid Gold is the one piece that I did with his kind of improvisation, his kind of tone, his ability with the high notes and so forth.  I really did that entire piece with him in mind.  Some of the piano things I wrote for myself for concert use.  As a matter of fact, Contrast and Set of Five were both written for myself, as was the Concerto Brevis for piano and orchestra.  I’ve used those many, many times in concert myself.  Set of Five and Contrast are going to be produced by the New York City Ballet this May at Lincoln Center.  So the pendulum swings back around.  I did both pieces in 1956 in Carnegie Recital Hall; that was my New York debut at that time.  So it’s sort of nice to have this happen this spring.

BD:    You’ve recorded a number of these works.  Are you the ideal interpreter of your own piano music?

MJvA:    Well, shall we say it is one interpretation.  You have to be very, very careful in your writing of the details of every piece so as to reflect what your intention has been, and then hopefully the others that perform these works will know.  I’m quite pleased when I hear them done by other people.  It seems to come across quite well, what is on the printed page.  Then, of course, you have to remember every performer is a person, a musician in their own right, and they look at these phrases; they interpret them in a personal way, too.  This is what goes on with Bach, for example, who never did even write dynamic markings and articulations and things of that sort.

BD:    Then how much interpretive leeway do you allow in your music?

MJvA:    It’s all right.  If the music is not being played at the proper tempo and so on, of course it will sound different, but...

BD:    Well, have you basically been pleased with the performances you’ve heard of your works?

MJvA:    Yes.  Some of it I have not had the opportunity to hear before the recording has been made.  I have worked as accompanist with some of these recorded things, so that’s always a joy to do.  We know for sure it’s all going to sound well, but I can’t get to every recording studio anymore.  It’s not possible.

BD:    You’ve been very fortunate in having a number of your pieces recorded.

MJvA:    Yes.  On the whole I have been very pleased with them.  The Opus One recordings are very excellent in quality, as well as the performance groups and solos and so forth.

BD:    Do you approve of the recording process in which they can get everything to be so technically perfect?

MJvA:    Well, yes.  The engineers have worked very hard.  For example, the engineer in the very recent Washington D.C. recording of the Missa Brevis talked to me at length.  He was very amazed and astounded at this piece.  It’s very hard to record organ, for one thing, and he said he worked a great deal in getting that balance really well in that church.  I think it was good; I think it was very fine; I’m pleased with it.

BD:    Speaking of instruments which are hard to balance, I want to be sure and ask you about writing for the carillon.

MJvA:    Oh, yes.

BD:    Tell me the joys and sorrows of writing for this, perhaps, unwieldy instrument.

MJvA:    Okay.  [Laughs]  That is, indeed, a good way to put it.  The instrument differs fantastically with every one that you come across.  Not only do they differ in size of bells and the number of bells, but also the ways they are pitched.  Some are transposing instruments.  They’re not all in C, so that the piece that you wrote might sound about a sixth away from where you wrote it!  [Laughs]  We have a smaller carillon here, so the pieces that I’ve done I’ve been lucky to hear and see what problems there might be on any of the large carillons.  I just finished another piece for carillon, a caprice, this past December, and it plays the whole length of the forty-seven bells.  So it will take one of the large ones.  The Riverside Church has a fantastic instrument.  You climb up into the tower for something like twenty floors, and the big bell is just immense! You can’t imagine the size of that thing.  You get way up above there, and look down and see all of these different sizes of bells.  But the problem of it is the little ones are way at the top.  With all the noise on the streets and everything, you simply cannot hear anything outdoors of those little bells.  You just have to be inside there for a carillon concert, or you don’t hear everything.

appledornBD:    And yet if you’re inside, aren’t you too close to the large bells?

MJvA:    They suggest that you get about three fourths of the way up.  You can stand on the stairs and listen to it.  It was the most fantastic experience I’ve ever had.  It’s magnificent.

BD:    Is there a certain camaraderie amongst people who compose for the carillon?

MJvA:    Oh, yes.  They also have a guild, a North American Guild of Carilloneurs.  It is one of the most ancient of instruments.  The thing of it is, they’ve used it very little as a serious artistic instrument until about our time.  They were used mostly for city gatherings or religious holidays, and national days and so forth, so most of the time they were playing only simplistic music of that kind.  It’s only been in this century, really, that the instrument has come into its own.

BD:    The only other person I know who has written seriously for the carillon is Johan Franco.  [See my Interview with Johan Franco.] 

MJvA:    Oh yes, and it’s beautiful, beautiful things he has done!  I was attracted to the movie titled Niagara.  If you have seen that, you’d remember the sound of the carillon up there at Niagara Falls.  It was the first time I ever heard anything like that, and I was so entranced with it!  Then I remember someone wrote to me and asked if I would write something for carillon.  That’s really what I did with the Suite for Carillon.  I put that together, and by the time we got one here, I had lost track of the person who asked me to write it!  We got this one here at Texas Tech, and so from that point on I began to hear it and actually play it myself a little bit.

BD:    Does it take almost an organ technique to play the carillon?

MJvA:    Yes.  It’s a good idea if you are an organist.  One uses the feet and the hands, and it’s a very athletic kind of big experience.  It takes a great deal of power.

BD:    You’re actually moving the clapper of the bells?

MJvA:    Oh, yes!  You play with the fists, and the speed that one is able to get is remarkable.

BD:    That doesn’t smear the musical line?

MJvA:    No.  Of course, you can’t stop anything.  That’s why you have to write every single thing.  What I do is write with the pedal down on the piano to test how long those sonorities are going to be lasting.  [Laughs]  You can’t stop anything!  It can be the biggest roller coaster you’ve ever known.

BD:    If there’s a great deal of interest in the carillon, will they invent some kind of damping mechanism?

MJvA:    I don’t know what possible changes there might be in that instrument.  Of course, they have electric ones.  The bells on the synthesizer are just absolutely fantastic!  I have been toying with the idea of doing something for the carillon and synthesizer, but I don’t know.  What I need to do is get my unit out over there and try it and see what’s going on with pitches.  You can tune the synthesizer, but the bells in the carillons have this crazy sort of out-of-tune effect.  So I don’t know at this point how successful something like that would be.  Brass ensembles and carillon is a fantastic effect.

BD:    Because brass carries so well in the open air!

MJvA:    Yes, right.  So those are things I would like to address somewhere down the line.  I’m just finished with a clarinet and piano piece right now, a little sonatina that I’ve done, and I don’t know what next.

BD:    Are most of the pieces you write on commission, or are they just things that you have to put down?

MJvA:    Some are commission, and many of those have been during the 1980s.  Cacophony [for wind ensemble, percussion and toys] was commissioned in 1980 by the Women Band Directors National Association, and was premiered at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in December of that year.  It happened to be done by a high school from Texas, Spring High School, and they did a very nice performance of it.  Next there was the bigger commission from the National Intercollegiate Band, Lux: Legend of Sankta Lucia [for harp, handbells, percussion and symphonic band] and that was premiered in Cincinnati in August of ’81.  There was an immense band; they had actually three different bands formed by the people that attended the convention.  These are all university students, and they do this commissioning once every other year.  I was the first woman to be commissioned in this series of composers.  It’s a very large piece of about eleven minutes, and it has a definite story behind it that I happened to find in our own newspaper in November, just before the St. Lucy’s Day.  I was casting about for an idea, and I read this whole thing as it was described in a short article in a little ancillary part of the paper.  Getting a little more close to home came a piece called West Texas Suite [for chorus, percussion ensemble and symphonic band] which was commissioned back in ‘76 for the bicentennial.  It was a choral commission from out of the high school, and the text was written for me by one of the top Texas poets, Everett Gillis.  The latest one was Freedom of Youth which I tried out on my synthesizer.  It’s actually my first piece that I did for synthesizer, and I performed it.  It was for a reader and synthesizer, and was commissioned by the Arts and Sciences College of the Texas Tech University.  It’s a sound sculpture kind of piece, and was commissioned for the dedication of the brass sculpture of the same name, Freedom of Youth, a sculpture of a young girl swinging on a rope over the water.  The whole idea was the fantasy that this child would have while swinging freely on the rope probably at the height of the afternoon, and the kinds of things that would have come to her.  All of a sudden, the three o’clock chimes, and down the rope she goes, and that’s it for the afternoon.  [Laughs]

BD:    Is this story you just told me something that needs to be known when you hear that piece?

MJvA:    Yes.  It’s pretty hard to transfer that.  It’s one of those kinds of things that’s sort of a one-purpose piece.  Of course, the reading of the poem does go right with it.  It’s part of the composition.

BD:    So then it is made clear?

MJvA:    It has to be.  That does have to be spoken.  So far I have only put it out on a tape release because I haven’t finished the actual professional copy of the thing.  It does exist in notation, but I just haven’t had time to do it.  Max Lifchitz, who is head of NACUSA, the National Composers USA — the New York Chapter, not the Los Angeles — has been very interested in the piece and asked me if I wouldn’t get it together.  He was very interested to try to do it in New York.  But you know, there’s just so much time.  Life is short, and art is long!  [Both laugh]

BD:    When you’re handed a commission, how do you decide whether you will accept it or decline it?

MJvA:    Usually I have accepted all of them, and came across, somehow, at the deadline with it.  They’ve all been very interesting and worthwhile.  I have not had anything that has not been a challenge to me, not only just to me separately, but something that I felt would add immeasurably to whatever the area was.   For example, the band commissions were excellent, and sources as well as opportunities for performance.  Cacophony has been done a few times.  Lux was done up at Northwestern University about a year and a half ago, and was done at University of Massachusetts.  They also took it to their big MENC conference at Hartford Civic Center in Connecticut, and I was lucky enough to go up and hear that.  They did an excellent performance of it.  Then there was another one, a women’s chorus and organ piece called Darest Thou Now, O Soul on a Walt Whitman text.  There I could choose my own area and everything.  It was for the International Women’s Year.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let me ask you to address the whole business of women in music.   Is it harder for a woman to be a composer than a man because of the extraneous circumstances but not because of the musical circumstances?

MJvA:    Yes.  I think that says it succinctly.  There’s a great deal of talent amongst the women composers, I have noticed in particular, and some of them are not actually connected with a university, which makes it a little tough, maybe.

BD:    Tough on the composer?

appledornMJvA:    Yes, because you don’t have quite as much chance for performances unless you’re in a music unit of some sort.  I’ve looked at that situation as a problem with some of them.   Those that are connected with universities have a little more opportunity for performances with orchestras or with bands or with solo works.  I just have to complete a new work and performances come pretty rapidly.

BD:    Does that, then, preclude performances by the Chicago Symphony and other great orchestras of the world?

MJvA:    It’s very hard for either men or women to get performances with, say, the Chicago Symphony, or the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  It’s very, very tough.

BD:    Then what advice do you have for the young composers coming along today
either women or men?

MJvA:    Part of it is you do have to do a certain amount of promoting.  You have to write extremely good music, for one thing.  You have to know the kinds of music that these conductors are turning to.  The Meet the Composers business, for example can be helpful.  If you know any of those folks, it may be helpful to get a foot in the door with those orchestras, like Harbison or whoever.  [See my Interview with John Harbison.]  I have been doing some promoting on my own, to a certain extent, and have found several performers in this particular way of doing it.  Anatoly Selianin in Russia, for example, premiered the Missa Brevis before we did it here in the United States, and this next month he’s going to do the Trumpet Concerto with the band at the Saratov State Conservatory in Saratov, Russia.  [Selianin provided the translation when I interviewed trumpet virtuoso Timofei Dokshizer.]  It’s hard to know.  I have done it basically on just flyers and complimentary cassette tapes, and things of this kind.  The Missa Brevis was asked for in Prague just about three weeks or so ago.  I mailed a copy off to this gentleman.  Then in Hungary, the Trumpet Concerto was done at the Franz Liszt Conservatoire last year by a student, as best as I could make out from the Hungarian on the program.  It’s amazing how one comes upon these various things.  I knew nothing about this New York thing coming up in May, for example, and the choreographer came upon the recording of Virginia Eskin doing the Set of Five.  So I would say to my students, the thing to do is to promote by recording, getting the best performances possible, and getting as many performers playing your music.  This is not hard to do if you have music that appeals.

BD:    But you don’t change your style just to get it more accessible, do you?

MJvA:    No, no.  Oh, no, no, no, no.   Nor do I just write to please myself.  There is a certain amount of theoretical concerns that make for these sounds that one has to behave.  You don’t just haul off and improvise.  There’s a great deal more to it.  One must be concerned with what is the most striking way of projecting that which you have come upon.  Each day is a brand new world in this thing.  It can sound one way one day and the next day or two, after you go back to it, you find something else that you needed to take care of.  There’s a tremendous craft in it, and without that tremendous attention to detail, nothing is done until every finesse, every fine thing is there that needed to be there to make the piece come off.

BD:    Where is the balance, then, between the inspiration and the craft?

MJvA:    There’s another interesting end of it because I do improvise, and some of the pieces I have just simply improvised and then wrote them down later.  There comes in the necessary part of it, the rounding of it, that you are constantly criticizing that which you have done, and you need to get away from it.  That’s why I play it on tape quite a lot, so that I can stand off and hear and get the basic effect of it.  Where is it going?   Is there line?  Is it achieving that point?  Is it achieving the relaxation point exactly where it ought to come?  One of our greatest blessings is this business of being able to tape what we are doing.  I came up before that, even at the Eastman School of Music.  We didn’t have anything like that when I was there in 1947.  We started with what was called a wire recorder.

appledornBD:    Oh, yes.  I remember those.

MJvA:    One of the guys from New Orleans had gotten a hold of a wire recorder, and boy was that something!  So I immediately bought a little tiny one when I came down here in 1950, one that ministers would use for taping their sermons.  It wasn’t anything sophisticated.

BD:    Very low-fi. 

MJvA:    Yes!  [Both laugh]  But I shortly realized the tremendous value of it.  Our students should use video constantly!  We should video ourselves in performance.  We need to know what in the world we look like.  There’s no way otherwise.  It’s this mirror of what we produce that is ultimately important.

BD:    When you’re writing, are you in control of the pencil, or is the pencil in control of you?

MJvA:    Sometimes I don’t even use the pencil.  The pencil is just simply to make these little notations.  I will often times revamp an entire thing by eye, by the look of something.  Sometimes, I will lay all of the sheets out from one end of the hall to the other end there at the university.  I do this sometimes with the students.  In other words, we can see the architecture of the entire thing, and this is very interesting.  I stumbled upon it when I was working with a doctoral student on the Schoenberg opera Glückliche Hand.  It has the color crescendo in it, and that is the point at which I realized what can be gleaned from looking at one’s composition almost as an architectural draft.  You can’t do that with just one page at a time; you really had to pass by the entire thing.

BD:    Are you ever surprised by where the music takes you?

MJvA:    Yes, in the cantata Rising Night after Night, which has not been recorded.  [Note: The work would be recorded on VMM and released late in 2011.]  The work is about 23 minutes.  It’s all in Hebrew, and I remember the pitch wanted to rise constantly.  I don’t know why this was, but it happened to be facing the mountain, and I suppose it was the height of the whole thing in the text.  It has a fantastic text by Abba Kovner, one of the principal Israeli poets.  It was done for the thirtieth anniversary of the State of Israel, and somehow or another I received two packets of the text materials.  There were three texts.  I don’t know who in the world mailed it to me.  I never did know, but it was a contest of some sort, and I didn’t finish in time.  I met Abba Kovner in New York when he was on a speaking tour reading his poetry in ’79.  We played a tape for him of our performance of it in the apartment of his nephew, Victor Kovner, and at that very moment he gave me the total permission for the use of it.  He told me that nobody won that contest.  He said, “You must submit it,” and I said, “Under no circumstances will I submit this a half a year later.”  The next day I happened to meander over to Carl Fischer with the score under my arm, and they asked me what I had.  I told them and he demanded to see it.  He didn’t even have to hear the tape.  He looked at it page by page, and he looked up and said, “What do you want me to do?”  I said, “Can you take this into the rental library?” and he said, “Yes.”  The safety factor of turning over a score scares the daylights out of me.  I feel better about it once I have flung it, so that there are multiple copies all over.  It’s a crazy idea, but I feel better about the whole business since there are the score and parts for the chorus and solo and piano rehearsal stuff.   The premiere here at Texas Tech was before something like two thousand people.  It got a standing ovation after the thing was over with.  There was not a dry eye.  We had used multiple carousel slides of the translation because the whole thing was in Hebrew.  We had scenes from Israel going on throughout the entire performance.

BD:    I hope it gets more performances.

MJvA:    It takes a humongous size orchestra, to say nothing of trying to record it.  At one point we looked and it was going to take $30,000 to pay the performers necessary for a rehearsal, one public performance, and then immediately going in to recording session. 

BD:    Tell me about the particular joys and sorrows of writing for the human voice.

MJvA:    Ah.  It is marvelous, really!  The Missa Brevis can be done either by voice or trumpet.  I actually wrote the whole thing with words in mind so that the trumpeter can learn from the singer, and the singer from the trumpet production.  This has not all happened yet; we just had trumpet and organ.  But the voice is just simply fantastic, and there again I have written almost everything with a particular singer in mind.  All the parts of the cantata, for example, I had the three faculty members in mind
Bill Hartwell with that tremendous bass/baritone thing in it, John Gillis the tenor, and the sister Sue Arnold.  I must say that this is a problem, because when you think about other people, you wonder if they’ve got the range, the Bill Hartwell range.  And Sue Arnold has a terrific ability.  She’s really a mezzo soprano, and she went right straight on up there to the Cs and the Ds, way up very high in that one instance.

BD:    When other people are going to perform it, would you rather have a committed performance that changes a note here or there to fit the range, or would you rather it not be done?

MJvA:    Even our own performer here, the tenor, came down an octave that evening for about three or four notes.  He decided not to ride it on up.  We had talked about it and there’s always an option possible.  But yes, there’s such a tremendous difference in the human voice.  Every one of them is different, but I would think probably it’s wonderful.  All choruses sound different.  Every year the choir sounds different.  You have different students, a different mix of students.  We only had 43 people in the Tech choir that year.  That was unfortunate.  We had this humongous orchestra, because we were doing a piece during one of the symposium events by Walter Mays called Icarus.  He teaches at the University of Wichita, Kansas.  He is a very gifted young man, and his piece called for an immense orchestra.  We had almost all the musicians out of the Lubbock Symphony, the high school, as well as Texas Tech Symphony Orchestra.  So we had a tremendous orchestra that evening.  And of course, that was perfect for my piece, too.  It just so happened all of that came together at once.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    What are some of the traits that you feel contribute to greatness in music?

MJvA:    It is a combination of things.  If we’re speaking about greatness of a person in music, the first thing I would have to say is that the person is able to perform very outstandingly, as well as to create.  Greatness in music itself per se is the creation of music in all areas
not just piano pieces, but the entire palette, whether it be orchestra, orchestra and chorus, opera — in other words, the ability to speak effectively in the very large forms as well as the very small forms.

BD:    Is the music of Mary Jeanne van Appledorn great?

appledornMJvA:    I don’t know.  [Laughs]  People like to perform it, apparently.  I have to say that I do not have as large an output as some persons, perhaps, comparably.  I hope yet to write in some of the very larger areas yet.  I hope to address symphonic writing, perhaps, and opera.

BD:    You’d like to do an opera?

MJvA:    Yes.  I am at the moment camping on a text which would lend itself very well to a video type of opera, namely Fraulein Elsa, which is a Schnitzler play.  The libretto has undergone two or three writings at this point, and it’s quite set to go.  When one embarks on something like that, one can almost do nothing else.  It’s a very, very in-depth, time-consuming thing, and at the moment I am trying to finish up about three or four doctoral people either this semester or in the summer.  So I just don’t have an awful lot of time to engage in planning a very large work the way one would like to do it.

BD:    Do you have enough time to devote to composing, or is teaching gobbling up a little too much?

MJvA:    Yes it is, but nevertheless, after all, that was my mission.  Composition more or less grew with me.  I do not even have my degree work in it.  It’s something that developed.

BD:    What did you do your degree work in?

MJvA:    In piano.  The bachelor was in piano performance at Eastman.  Then I did a master’s in theory, and taught there also as a teaching fellow.

BD:    You figured you’d start a concert career?

MJvA:    Well, I had too small hands!  [Laughs]

BD:    You could tour playing Bach and Scarlatti.

MJvA:    Oh I know, but you’re not content to do that.  I suppose it really was one of the reasons I wrote some of this piano music, too, because of that.

BD:    You write pieces, then, for your hands?

MJvA:    Yes, but curiously enough, they sound big.  So I found a way to do that. 

BD:    Have you ever thought of adapting pieces by Liszt or Chopin for people with slightly smaller hands?

MJvA:    Well, my Liszt Fantasy really is that in a sense.  It’s on one of the CRS record albums.  Actually it takes about sixteen of the pieces of Liszt.  These are detailed in the back of the score, and they’re all worked into this piece one way or another.  So, it’s kind of an interesting, very big sounding kind of piece.  I wrote it for the Liszt commemorative year.

BD:    Is composing fun?

MJvA:    Yes.  Yes.  It is not only fun, but it’s such a satisfying thing.  It is the time that a person is truly human, truly living, truly thinking about the other persons, because of the expression for whatever it is you’re writing, the voice, the instrument.  Now these are, of course, all hypothetic, but this has been part of my PR work.  I am trying to find the persons who have interest in this music, and one doesn’t do this with leaving the stuff on the shelf.  We’re in a tremendous century of advertising.  It’s a free thing that we can do, so why not make use of it?  Networking is a fantastic thing.  Are we only truly living when we can say that our music has been heard and enjoyed in Russia?  That’s a part of glasnost.  I have now a Dutch publisher for the Trumpet Concerto.

BD:    So you really feel that music is a universal language?

MJvA:    Yes.  That must be underscored.  It’s the only language that really can come across between people.  That’s a very strong statement, but I espouse that.  I have truly sensed this. 

BD:    I want to make be sure and ask you a rather mundane question.  In Baker’s Biographical Dictionary you’re listed under “A” and in the Schwann Catalogue you’re listed under “V.”  Where do you want to be?

MJvA:    The “A” is supposed to be capitalized, and the “V” small, so if you go by that it will be under
“A.”  But much of the time we see the “V” large.  Von Appledorn means from Appledorn, so I think “A” really is proper.

BD:    So, you want to be listed under
“A” for Appledorn?

MJvA:    Yes, right.  [Note: I inquired at the Northwestern University Music Library, and was told that the Library of Congress Authority Record lists Van Appledorn, Mary Jeanne, 1927-, so that is what they must use.]

BD:    This has been fascinating talking with you!  I’m glad that we’ve finally gotten together.

MJvA:    Well, I, too, and please feel free to ask if you would like to see any of the scores.
  I will be happy to send anything that crosses your mind.

Mary Jeanne van Appledorn

The widely-respected educator and stylistically diverse composer Mary Jeanne van Appledorn was born October 2, 1927 in Holland, Michigan. She graduated (as valedictorian) in 1945 from Topeka High School, Topeka, Kansas. She received her Bachelor of Music (with Distinction) in Piano at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, in 1948, and was awarded George Eastman Honorary Scholarships each year; her Master's degree in Music Theory followed in 1950, and she received teaching fellowships between 1948-50. She received her PhD in Music from Eastman in 1966. Her primary teachers at Eastman were Bernard Rogers and Alan Hovhaness. She is presently on the music faculty at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, where she has taught since 1950.

Her earliest listed composition dates from 1947, her Contrasts for piano, a group of three homages in the styles of Bartók, Bloch, and William Schuman. The work received the Mu Phi Epsilon National Composition Contest. In 1948 she wrote Cellano Rhapsody for cello and piano, which was recorded by CRS Inc. Her Two Shakespeare Songs for choir and piano (1953) received two awards: one from the Ithaca College Choral Composition Contest in 1979, and from the Southcoast Choral Society of California in 1985. Her Set of Five for piano received a Mu Phi Epsilon award and was recorded by Opus One Records (#52) featuring the composer as pianist.

Her Concerto Brevis for piano and orchestra followed the next year, and her Patterns for French Horn Quintet was written in 1956; this surprising work was released on a recent Opus One CD (#162). Her Concerto for Trumpet and Band (1960) was premiered in the USSR in 1986, and in Budapest, Hungary in 1987; it has been recorded on an Opus One LP (#110) by Robert M. Birch and the Texas Tech University Symphonic Band.

Her Passacaglia and Chorale for orchestra was composed in 1973 and was a finalist in the NSOA/Scherle & Roth Orchestra Composition Contest in 1979; it is available on the same Opus One LP (#110). The year 1976 saw two important works: the West Texas Suite for chorus, symphonic band and percussion ensemble (commissioned by the Lubbock Independent School District for the Lubbock Bicentennial Choral Concert in that year; and her award-winning Suite for Carillon which received the Premier Prix at Dijon, France in 1980.)

The large-scale cantata Rising Night After Night for choirs, three soloists, narrator and orchestra was composed in 1978 and premiered the following year at Texas Tech University. It has been recorded in the Vienna Modern Masters Series (#3004) by the Slovak Radio Orchestra of Bratislava, conducted by Oliver Dohnanyi.

Her Matrices for saxophone and piano (1979) received the Texas composers Guild Award for 1980, and was recorded on Golden Crest Records by Dale Underwood and the composer. Her 1980 Symphony for Wind Ensemble, percussion and toys was commissioned by the Women Band Directors National Association and recorded by Golden Crest Records. It received the Virginia College Band Directors National Association Award. The same year saw her Azaleas for baritone solo, flute and piano, which received the Petit Jean International Art Song Festival Award in 1984.

Her Lux: Legend of Sankta Lucia for symphonic band, harp, percussion ensemble and handbells was commissioned by National Intercollegiate Bands in 1981 and it received the Virginia College Band Directors Award in 1982. One of her most unusual works, Liquid Gold for saxophone and piano was composed in that year, and received its premiere at the 1982 World Saxophone Congress, Nuremberg GFR. It received the American Society of University Composers Award in 1982 and Premio Ancona (Italia) Award in 1986. It has been recorded on an Opus One CD (#147). Her A Celestial Clockwork for carillon followed in 1983, and in the next year A Liszt Fantasie for piano which received awards from Bradley University and Composers and Songwriters International Composition Contest. It has been recorded by Max Lifchitz on a North/South Consonance CD. Her Four Duos for viola and cello (1986) won First Prize fro the Texas Composers Guild in 1987.

Her 1987 work for harp, Sonic Mutation was premiered in New York in that year and was recorded by the Contemporary Record Society, and her Missa Brevis for voice, trumpet, and organ (also brass Quintet) was premiered in the USSR. The following year saw a variety of new pieces including the Caprice for carillon which was premiered at the Riverside Church in New York City by James Lawson, Sonatine for clarinet and piano premiered at Carnegie Hall, New York City, a ballet, Set of Seven was premiered by New York City Ballet Company at Lincoln Center, a work for mixed chorus and organ, Love Divine, All Love Excelling and five short pieces for unaccompanied trumpet, Cornucopia rounded out the year.

The year 1992 saw two dramatic works: her Incantations for trumpet and piano was commissioned by North Dakota State University and premiered there and later recorded on an Opus One CD (#162); and the excellent Terrestrial Music. A double concerto for violin solo, piano solo and string orchestra received its premiere in Nagano, Japan and a later performance at the Columbia University Miller Theatre in New York.

The 1993 Atmospheres for trombone ensemble was recorded by Opus One (#169); also that year her Postcards to John for guitar was composed and the next year received the Guitar Foundation of America Award. The year 1994 also saw the genesis of her Rhapsody for trumpet and harp, also recorded on Opus One (#169); Les Hommes Vides (from T.S.Eliot's The Hollow Men) for unaccompanied chorus; Sound the Trumpet for trumpet and organ, and the very colorful and brilliant Reeds Afire for clarinet and piano.

Cycles of Moons and Tides for symphonic band was commissioned in 1995 for the 50th Anniversary of Tau Beta Sigma and received a lively recording on Opus One (#170); in the same year came an organ work Variations on Jerusalem the Golden, the very intelligent Trio Italiano for trumpet, horn and bass trombone; and a setting of a Kay Scully poem, Legacy, for bass baritone and piano. The Trio Italiano received the International Trumpet Guild Award for 1996 in Long Beach, California; and a new work, Passages for trombone and piano received its world premiere at the International Trombone Festival in Feldkirch, Austria.

--  Biography by Philip Krumm (slightly edited) 
--  Names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.  BD 

© 1988 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded on the telephone on January 20, 1988.  Portions were used (with recordings) on WNIB later that year, and again in 1992 and 1997.  A copy of the unedited audio was placed in the Archive of Contemporary Music at Northwestern University.  The transcript was made and posted on this website in 2014.

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

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

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