Composer  Frank E. Warren

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Frank E. Warren (born February 27, 1950) is the founder and president of Frank E. Warren Music Service and Earnestly Music. He is also a well-respected, award-winning composer, educator, and adjudicator. While retired as an educator, he is active with everything else!

A versatile composer and arranger, Frank E. Warren’s passion is rooted in early 20th century music. Influences however range from Monteverdi to John Coltrane to Ralph Vaughn Williams and Erik Satie. Of course Bach and Beethoven are very high on his list yet the people he respects most are those teachers who helped him find his own voice. Chief among them John Bavicchi, Jeronimas Kacinskas, Tom McGah, Bill Maloof, Hugo Norden and Alma Espinosa were each essential. This versatility is evident in his choral, chamber, orchestral, jazz, and vocal works - as well as in his collaborations with poets, visual artists, and with modern dance companies throughout the United States and abroad.

Frank E. Warren graduated Berklee College of Music with two Bachelor of Music degrees: one in composition and the other in music education, marking him Berklee’s first student to graduate with a double major. While there, he also founded the Berklee Student/Composer Organization, which later became part of the school’s curriculum. After graduation, he began a professional teaching career while pursuing a Master of Music degree in Theory/Composition at the University of Lowell (MA).

As a guest composer and clinician, Warren has been a participant in guest artist programs on college campuses and at libraries as well as in various art and music clubs. He’s been a guest composer at Berklee College of Music, Chicago Musical College, Eastern Connecticut State University, Manhattan School of Music, Memphis State University, Newton, MA (Meadowbrook Jr. High), Russell Sage College, University of Saskatchewan and has appeared with Thursday Musical Chamber Series of Minneapolis as well as other organizations.

Profiled in the summer 1991 issue of Chamber Music magazine, interviewed for a series of articles published in the Boston Classical Guitar Society Newsletter, and participating as a guest of Bruce Duffie for classical radio station WNIB-Chicago, Warren enjoys sharing his experience and ideas with a wide range of audiences. The composer offers a variety of seminars and clinics in composition and related subjects for music majors as well as for general audiences.

In 1994, Warren established a new music company focused on promoting the works of emerging U.S. composers. The Frank E. Warren Music Service and its subsidiary, Earnestly Music, has since grown to include the music of established and master composers on an international scope. The catalogue includes writers of chamber and choral music, as well as educational materials and transcriptions of the masters. The publisher represents both ASCAP and BMI writers, and has been elected to membership with the Music Publishers' Association.

Warren has been selected as an adjudicator at numerous competitions and panels, including:

  • The Illinois State Arts Council
  • Boston Choral Consortium Composition Competition
  • New England Reed Trio International Composition Competition
  • William Roberts Guitar Composition Competition
  • His Majestie's Clerkes International Choral Composition Competition
Frank is open to invitations and collaborations to work on new commissions.

==  From the Frank E. Warren website  

When starting out, most performers and creators must accept menial jobs to keep body and soul together.  Composer Frank E. Warren followed this route, but while doing rather typical tasks, the locale and situation were quite unusual.  The details will be found early in our conversation.

Fortunately, his talent was such that he was soon able to adjust his life to concentrate on his original works.

We met in mid-January of 1993, not long after his change of routine . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   When did you quit working on the railroad?

Frank E. Warren:   September, 1992.

BD:   Is that because composing has finally become lucrative?

Warren:   No, it was not really my decision to leave the railroad.
BD:   They were cutting back?

Warren:   Yes.  But I did find the opportunity where I could concentrate more on doing music, and trying to promote my work, and just doing a lot of correspondence to get in touch with different people, and to really focus on it.  I didn’t want to turn eighty and wish I had taken advantage of that opportunity years ago.  So, I’m going to focus on the music for as long as I can.

BD:   When you were working on the railroad, I assume that when you weren’t busy you were actually doing some composing?

Warren:   Yes.  From time to time, I could do that.

BD:   Was there an inherent regularity of rhythm that crept into your music because of the clickety-clack on the tracks?

Warren:   I hope not!  [Both laugh]  I hope that the music was self-sustaining, and the influence of whatever was happening on the train didn’t affect what I was writing.  Since the time I was a student, I developed the habit of being able to write just about anywhere.  I don’t know if that’s good or not, but when you don’t have a lot of time to write, it’s useful.  The train has been pretty busy for the last several years, so there weren’t that many opportunities to write.  I would maybe get in four or five notes, and then I’d have a line of people again.  So, I just got down whatever I could.  The first time I did it was about ten years ago.  I wrote a Mass for a local chorus near Boston, and it was written almost entirely on the train.  I was very concerned that when the piece was done it would sound like I wrote a few notes, then served a hot dog and beer, and wrote a few more notes.  But as it turned out, the piece was very well connected, and the method in which it was written didn’t show at all in the final performance.  I was really pleased that I was able to concentrate in that way.

BD:   Well, a composition I assume doesn’t come out fully formed, so even if you weren’t working on the train, it would be a few notes today and then a few notes tomorrow, so the result would be essentially the same.

Warren:   Every composer works differently, but a lot of writers have to have somewhat of a full image before they can start, in order to know where everything is going to fit in.  I think it was Hindemith who said that inspiration is like a single lightning bolt strike, and all of a sudden you see the whole landscape, and it’s immediately gone.  A lot of writers start with that flash, and try to keep it in their memory.  Then they work a few notes at a time into building the whole.

BD:   Would it be better for you if you could actually instantaneously write down everything you see at that moment?

Warren:   I suppose it would, but I don’t fit into that category of person.  [Both laugh]

BD:   You see the whole flash, so then you know the shape of the piece, and its approximate length?

Warren:   Yes.  One of the main factors for me is to know the length of the piece, and the number of movements.  Once I decide that, it’s not very often that it changes.

BD:   How much adjustment do you make as you’re putting the notes down?

Warren:   It would all depend on how each section fits in proportion to all the other sections.  I may just have an idea that the first section has to be, say, roughly two minutes long, and as I work on it and get a better understanding of the piece, I decide I’ll make it two minutes and twenty seconds, because then the proportion will be better for the rest of the movement.

BD:   Are you making it two minutes and twenty seconds, or are you making it so that the line shapes just a little bit differently, and it just happens to be an extra twenty seconds?

Warren:   That’s a good question, because I have an internal clock which tells me exactly how long it’s supposed to be, and the clock told me this should be two-twenty.  If I need to build something, I look at the spot where something is missing.  The best part is that now I have the leisure to stay home and write, instead of trying to jam notes in between customers on the train.  It gives me more time to explore and decide where these additions have to be made in the composition of a piece.

BD:   The pieces are not necessarily going to simply get longer?

Warren:   Right.  It doesn’t really help the piece to just make it longer.  There has to be a place where it feels the need to grow and affect the rest of the music that comes after it.

BD:   You feel the first movement runs two minutes and twenty seconds.  When someone plays it, and it runs two minutes and thirty seconds, or just two minutes and ten seconds, can you be lenient?  How much leeway do you expect on the part of the interpreter?

Warren:   [Thinks a moment]  I don’t know if
lenient is the right word.  In the music I write, I like to think there is space for the performer to put in his or her own personality.  If I write a piece which is two minutes and twenty seconds long, and the performer interprets the music in a way that they best express it, and it comes out a little shorter or little longer, then if through their interpretation and their expression with their instrument they have made a nice communication with the audience, that change in time is not going to affect my sense of their performance.  This is because I’m the only person in the world who knows what it is, and the performer has to look at that music, and see what it means to them.  As performers, they can only perform what it means to them, because they don’t really know what it means to me.

BD:   Are you not trying to communicate what it means to you through all those little spots on the page?

Warren:   The attitude I’ve developed over the years is that music is a definite source of communication, but it’s such an abstract form of communication that a specific idea is not relevant.  Let’s say I’m thinking about the sun coming up over Lake Michigan, and that inspires me to write a piece of music.  What I feel about the sun coming up over Lake Michigan is going to be put into that music, but when a performer or a person in the audience listens to the music, I don’t necessarily want them to be programmed to think that this is the sun coming up over Lake Michigan.  I want them to respond to the music and create their own images of what it says to them.  To me, that is a more meaningful sense of communication than just making them believe what it means to me.

BD:   So rather than calling it Sun Coming Up Over Lake Michigan, you might call it Abstract Number Two?

Warren:   Yes.

BD:   Would it please you immensely if someone said to you,
Gee, I thought of the sun coming up over Lake Michigan”?

Warren:   I’d probably think it was a neat coincidence.

BD:   Would you be upset if someone said,
It sounds like a car wreck on the expressway?
Warren:   No, because if that’s what it means to them, that’s ultimately what it means.  Part of the excitement of writing music is getting the audience to respond, and I don’t wish to control how people respond.  I want them to respond in their own way.  This is because each person is an individual, so everyone is going to have an individual response to what they hear.  It may sound like a car wreck to some person in the audience, and if that’s what it is to them, that’s fine.  The important thing is that they responded to the music, and they’re not indifferent.

BD:   I was trying to find something that was diametrically opposed to a peaceful sunrise.

Warren:   For some people, I suppose a sunrise may not be that peaceful.

BD:   So there I am adding my own interpretation!

Warren:   Probably.
BD:   When you’ve got the outline and shape of the piece, and you’ve worked on the notes and phrasing, how do you know when the work is finished, when it’s ready to be launched?

Warren:   What I do in my process is when I feel that the piece is done, I’ll go back and spend a considerable amount of time just singing it through.  This is not just to sing the notes, but to get a feel of it internally.  For me, deciding when the piece is done is when everything is in proper proportion.  It is more a spiritual decision than an intellectual decision.

BD:   You just have a feeling it’s ready to go?

Warren:   Yes.  As I sing through the piece, I’ll make notes to myself that I need to add something here, or there are too many notes there, or something has to change at this point.  Then I go back and make whatever changes I feel are necessary.  Until I can get through the whole piece and feel satisfied with it inside, it’s not finished.

BD:   When it gets finished to that point, and you give it to the performers, are you ever surprised by what you hear?

Warren:   At a good performance, I’m not surprised!  [Both laugh]  I’ve been to some performances where I didn’t quite recognize the music I had written, but I’m happy to say that type of occurrence doesn’t happen any more.  I’ve been lucky enough to meet good performers, and they always seem to do a good job with the music.

BD:   Do you litter your scores with lots of indications, or do you leave a lot up to the performers?

Warren:   I would guess I’m in the middle.  My personal feeling is that too many indications might inhibit the performer.  The other side is that the more you let the performer know, the more they can understand the music.  I like to give as much information as I can with as few instructions as needed.  So, the simpler the presentation the less they have to be concerned about when playing the music.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   How did you get started in music?

Warren:   When I was five, the Boston Symphony used to tour around to the different schools.  Instead of the students having to go to Symphony Hall, the orchestra went to the schools, and I went with one of my older brothers to listen to the performance.  The William Tell Overture was on the program.  I was sitting near the trumpets, and got all excited.  When you’re five, you’re smaller than everybody else in the audience, and I remember walking out of the performance among all these tall people, and it seemed for a moment that everyone just disappeared.  That
s when I got the idea that I want to be a composer when I grew up.  It’s a romantic story, but that’s how I remember it.  I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood, where the proper thing to do was to get a good job at the machine shop, marry the girl next door, and have six kids.  So, I put my desires aside for a long time.  When I was twenty, and trying to decide what direction I wanted to take in life, I felt that if I really wanted to be a composer, I should do it.  I went out and bought a trombone, and started taking lessons with a fabulous guy named John Coffey, who was very enthusiastic and really got me going at the beginning.  The next year I enrolled in Berklee, and started my music studies.
BD:   Had you been doing anything else in music all the time you were growing up?

Warren:   When I was a teenager, I marched in a drum and bugle corps, which I thought would satisfy my urge to do music.  As it turned out, it gave me something to do, but still didn’t complete the need to do music.

BD:   So, rather than satisfying, it whetted the appetite?

Warren:   I guess so, yes.

BD:   Then you bundled off to California?

Warren:   No, I went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

BD:   [Slightly embarrassed, since the names of both schools sound alike]  Sorry, I thought you meant the University of California at Berkeley.

Warren:   Oh, no.  [Laughs]  I don’t think with just a year’s experience I would have been accepted there.  But I was lucky enough to know some people at Berklee in Boston, and they encouraged me to go to school there.  When I looked over the programs that were available, I liked what was offered, because I still felt that I needed to do something practical.  So, I started school as a Music Education major.  In my second semester, there was a course called Introduction to Composition.  I think it was a required course for every student in the school, and for the final project I got a very nice grade from the teacher, with a very encouraging comment.  So I got the bug from there, and switched over to composition.  Then I decided I needed to be practical again, and switched back to education, and eventually I decided to do both.  By the time I finished school, I had finished both programs.

BD:   Did you find that any of the education courses helped with your composing later on?

Warren:   A lot of it helped me to think in practical terms.  People listening to my music might consider it pretty conservative, and I think it’s practical.

BD:   Do you write it to be practical, or do you write it because that’s the way your heart feels it should be?

Warren:   I write the music that I want to write.  I’ve always had a hard time trying to come to terms with the idea of writing with the idea that there is an audience there that I’m speaking with.  It’s easy for people to say I’m writing just to please the audience, but essentially what I’m doing is writing, knowing that there’s someone else I have to communicate with.  I have to speak in a language that is understandable, or at least that they can relate to and respond to.  For me, that’s part of the solution
to be practical.  But in everything I do, I’m just a practical person, so it’s a reflection of my personality as well.
BD:   You’ve never compromised what you want to say just for practicality’s sake?

Warren:   No.  That just wouldn’t fit into who I am.

BD:   Have you had good responses to the music from the performers, and then from the audience?

Warren:   Yes I have, and it pleases me.  Because of the personal nature of being an artist, I get very nervous, especially at premieres.  I just lose it all, and I have no idea what’s going on.  I go there, wait until it’s all over, and hear how everybody responds.  I’m always pleased that most performances have led to other performances, either of the same piece, or a performer asking me to write something for them.  That tells me that people like what they’re hearing.

BD:   Are you conscious of the piece as you’re hearing it that first time, or is everything a blur until you hear the tape a few days later?

Warren:   At the first performance it’s all a blur.  I just get too nervous.

BD:   But when you hear the tape later on, then you’re pleased with it?

Warren:   Yes.  Actually I’m pretty critical with myself, and that also transfers into everything else.  So the first time I hear a tape, I hear things and think maybe I could have done this a little bit better, or maybe I could have written an instruction that could have helped the performer do something a little bit differently.  It takes me a little while to stop making the corrections, and just relax and sit back and hear the piece, and enjoy it for what it is.  That’s all part of just wanting to always make things better, and never totally being satisfied.

BD:   There is no ideal performance?

Warren:   I suppose the ideal performance would be one that sounds exactly like the moment when you got the flash.  In reading a book on aesthetics by the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce (1866-1952), his idea is that the moment of Art is the moment of inspiration, and any work that we do on that project beyond that moment is destroying The Art.  To me, that’s very interesting, because unless we have that skill
like Mendelssohn, who could get the flash and write everything downall we’re doing is trying to recreate that moment, and there may be things along the way that we leave out or change.  So, the ideal performance may never occur because the ideal composition may never occur.  So, I don’t really concern myself with whether the music is being performed exactly the way I want it.  You can’t please everybody, but when the performers are happy with their interpretation, when I’m happy with their interpretation, and when the audience feels good and they respond to what’s happening during the performance, that is the ideal performance.

BD:   Are there ever times when performers discover things in the score that you didn’t know you’d hidden there?

Warren:   There are times when performers have pointed out a place in a piece, and said,
“What you really want here is lah, lah, lah, and I’d say, “You’re right!”  In shaping a melody, we automatically use the fundamentals of retrograde and inversion, and I may write something that fits well together with the melody, and seems to be right.  Then someone else will come along and say, “Did you notice that you have the retrograde inversion here?  That’s not what I was thinking about when I wrote it, but it’s there.  This reminds me of a piece I wrote called Mountain Interval on two poems by Robert Frost.  About three-quarters of the way through the piece, I have the sopranos singing a wordless melody as an accompaniment to what the rest of the chorus is doing.  When I first got to that point in the composition, the pen was telling me to write this out, but my hand was asking me why.  I didn’t understand where it came from, so I didn’t write it.  After about three days I finally wrote the melody.  All I needed was space and time away from the music to clear my mind, sit back, and try to be analytical about it.  Then, it popped right out that this soprano line was a weird inversion, and a variation of the melody from the first part of the song.

BD:   So, it was right?

Warren:   Yes, it was right, and it fits into the whole question of things that performers might find that we don’t know about when we’re writing them.  But this was something that was apparent to me at the time.  I questioned it myself, and had to bring it to my own attention that this was what I was doing.  So, I saved the performers a step there.  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

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

Warren:   To me, it’s the most natural instrument to write for.  It’s a beautiful instrument that comes in all kinds of colors, and every different singer has their own limitations.  However, there are some singers that seem to have no limitations.  When writing for the voice, the joy for me is the collaboration between the music and the text, and for some reason or other, reading poetry inspires me to write music.  The thing that surprises me most about that is when I was going to school, I always thought I would be an instrumental composer.  It turned out that my opportunities came in writing vocal and choral music, and so I’m surprised that I ended up doing so much for the voice.  It’s always nice to read poetry, but when I read something that says to me this has to have music, it’s a special moment for me.
BD:   Does it ever work the other way, that when you’re reading, you’re anticipating finding a poem that you want to set?

Warren:   There is one poem I found that I really enjoyed, and set, but it’s a short piece, only about four minutes long.  So, I thought it would be nice to find maybe two more poems by the same poet to do a set, and I went through all the anthologies, and tried to find books with his poetry.  I looked and looked, and I couldn’t find two more that I enjoyed enough that I wanted to put together with this first one.  So that was a little disappointing, because I was so thrilled with the first poem.  I thought for sure there had to be plenty of others that would go, but there was nothing that really hit me like the first one did.

BD:   Did you leave it as an isolated unit, or did you put a couple of other isolated units with it?

Warren:   I just decided to leave it as a four-minute piece, because I felt that if I went out searching for poems in any other way, then it would be forcing.  I don’t know if it’s a sense of inflexibility or what, but usually if I have an idea, it says to me that this is what I want to do.  Once I decide that this is it, it doesn’t change very much.  So the idea was to do two other poems by the same poet, and since that didn’t work out, I just decided it wouldn’t work any other way.
BD:   Have you done some dramatic music?

Warren:   For the theater, not really.  I’ve done music for dance.  I wrote a piece for Rosemary Doolas and the Chicago Dance Medium, and they did a very nice job.  I really like Rosemary’s choreography, and I had a chance to see a few performances, and watched some videos to get a sense of the type of movements she likes to create, and how she combines things.  She’s really very good because she’s more than just a choreographer.  She knows about colors, and lighting, and staging.  She can do the complete package, so I found it exciting to be able to write for that group.  At first, her instructions were just to write a piece, and I asked her to be more specific.  She said she didn’t want to be specific, she wanted it to be abstract.  In actual fact, telling me she wanted it to be abstract is a very specific instruction.  So, we had a little conversation about the instruments, and the length, and the final instruction was that she wanted some spaces of silence to be part of the music.

BD:   You had to actually compose the silences???

Warren:   Yes, and it took me a little while to decide how I was going to put everything together.  But once I did, the writing seemed to go pretty quickly.  When Rosemary finally got to hear the music, she was really very pleased with it and the choreography she designed was really beautiful, and fit the music perfectly.  Where I thought the high-points of the music were, were high-points of the dance.  She just had the sense of getting that music inside of herself, and expressing her interpretation of the music in the medium that she did best.

BD:   It was a good collaboration?

Warren:   I felt so, yes.

BD:   Did that encourage you to do another collaboration?

Warren:   I’ve been trying very hard to find other dance companies to work with.  There’s something about modern ballet, or modern dance, that is very appealing to me, even more than classical ballet.  In modern dance, a lot of the choreographers are really trying to create a very fundamental and direct expression, rather than a formal presentation of an art form.  I don’t remember the person who wrote this book about dance, but in his introduction he said that dance was the very first art form, because when the cavemen decided they wanted to express themselves, they began to dance.  [Both laugh]  Of course, being a choreographer he had to believe that dance was the first art form.  But that sense of primitive expression is an important part of modern dance, and it’s appealing because it’s a direct expression.  There’s nothing like it.  Certainly there’s plenty that’s formal about it, but it doesn’t need to be thought of as a big academic thing.  If we go to the classical ballet, we watch the dancers, and we appreciate the different strength moves that they have, or the way they can do each type of movement, and the precision, and the exactness of those movements.  A person who understands the style of classical ballet can go to a performance and appreciate it better than someone who doesn’t have that background, whereas going to a modern dance performance, people with or without this background and understanding about dance can appreciate the movements equally.

BD:   Do you find same thing in the music
that people who understand a classical symphony would understand your music better, or do you make your music more accessible to those who might not understand all of the formal rigors that we have grown up with in the last several hundred years?

Warren:   I like to think that since I grew up in a neighborhood that didn’t generally listen to ‘classical music’, and that I was able to grow and appreciate it, part of my responsibility as a composer is to widen the audience, and to get that neighborhood where I came from into the orchestral halls, and listening to the music.  It is not just that I write, but I have that connection back to where I came from, and I feel it’s important that they can understand what I do, or least will give it a try.

BD:   We’re dancing around it, so let me ask the question straight out.  What’s the purpose of music?

Warren:   [Thinks a moment]  It’s not to pay the rent!  [Both laugh]  Music, like any other art form, is a means of communicating.  Every artist has something that they believe in deep inside, that is part of their core, and who they are as an individual, and as a spiritual being, if you want to go that far.  It is who they identify themselves as, and it’s important for the artist to express who they are to the rest of the world.  This is a good question.  The meaning of music, like the meaning of any art-form, is communicating what it is you have to say to every person on the globe.  For me, that’s what it is.  I’m sure everyone has their own idea, but it’s important to think that about important issues like world peace.  People have expressed to me that for them, my music expresses a kind of sadness, and they interpret that sadness to be a realistic look at what’s happening in the world.  It communicates an understanding of the human potential, and sees that mankind hasn’t quite reached that potential.  They also say they hear in the music a taste of optimism, meaning that with the proper direction, man can reach his potential, and that’s a message that goes way beyond the neighborhood where I grew up.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Is composing fun?

Warren:   Everybody has their own idea about what fun is.  It’s exciting in the sense that you put a blank piece of paper on the desk in front of you, and you’re not quite sure what to do with it.  There’s a certain liveliness which builds up as the ideas start to come, and it’s fun to watch the different ideas come together, and see the different steps of developing into a piece.  There’s also a great deal of satisfaction in putting the double-bar at the end of a piece, because I know that I worked hard, that I’ve tried my best to be honest and be myself in creating this work.  I’m tough on the demands that I put on myself, and it’s very satisfying to know that not only have I completed a piece that I hope will be enjoyed by many listeners, but that I’ve also satisfied myself.

BD:   Are you at the point in your career that you expect to be at this age?

Warren:   It’s hard to say, because when I started school, my attitude was that because I was at least ten years behind everybody else, I really had to work hard to get to the level where everybody else was.  On my not-so-good days, I still feel as though I’m ten years behind everyone else.  But on my good days, I take the time to look back and reflect on the accomplishments that I have been able to make.  So, I feel as though I’m approaching where I’d like to be, and I don’t think that age really has much to do with it.  I hope I’m the kind of person who will continue to work until the end.

BD:   Your journey is your journey?

Warren:   Yes.  I seem to have a sense of what the end of the tunnel is, and all I can see is the distance between where I am and the end of the tunnel.  There are no gradations that dictate where I should be at a certain age, so I hope that when my lights burn out, I’ll be close enough to that end of the tunnel that I can be satisfied with what I’ve accomplished.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Like a train going through a tunnel?

Warren:   [Has a huge laugh]  I don’t know.  I suppose it could be.

BD:   I wish you luck with the performance that’s coming up.

Warren:   I’m looking forward to it.  This particular performance of the concerto is going to help me in a number of ways.  Dieter Kober has been extremely supportive.

BD:   Why did you write it for the contrabassoon?

Warren:   In the Fall of 1989, I had given a recital at Roosevelt University, where some of my compositions were performed.  One of the people on the program was the bassoonist Mark Lindeblad.  Later, in conversation with him, I found out that he’s also a piano player, and that he worked as an accompanist for Susan Nigro.  He said, “Why don’t you call up Sue, because a contrabassoonist is always looking for new music, and I think the two of you could make a good combination!”  So, I called up Sue, and I wrote a piece for contrabassoon and piano.  In the meantime, Lee Newcomer, who owns Performers Music [a sheet music store adjacent to Roosevelt, which is shown in the picture below], was having an anniversary performance out in the lobby in front of the store.  He was playing a different piece of mine, but invited Kober to listen.  Kober liked it, and asked me if I would write a piece for his orchestra.  I said, “At the moment I’m writing a piece for Sue Nigro, who happens to be the principal bassoonist in your orchestra.  Maybe we can combine something, and I could a write a concerto for the contrabassoon.”  He liked the idea, and that’s how it all started.


BD:   I hope it goes well.

Warren:   I’m sure it will.  It’s a very good orchestra.  I have had the opportunity to hear the orchestra perform in the past, and I’m really impressed with the ability of the musicians, and how well they work together as an organization.  So I’m quite sure it will be a good performance, and it will be very helpful for me to have them perform my work.

BD:   Contrabassoonists everywhere will thank you for the addition to their repertoire.  [Note: BD played both bassoon and contrabassoon throughout his years in High School, College, and Graduate School, studying with Wilbur Simpson of the Chicago Symphony.]

Warren:   I hope so.

BD:   You didn’t find the contrabassoon unwieldy to write for?

Warren:   When you’re writing for a performer as good as Sue, you don’t have anything to worry about.  When we first decided to work together, we sat down, and she described the difficulties of the instrument.  I decided that if I’m going to write for somebody that’s so good, I have to do something tricky in these difficult areas.  I didn’t go overboard with it, but these were just little things here and there that could be very difficult, and she played through them like it was nothing.

BD:   Does that mean you’re a success as a musician, or a failure as a technical writer?

Warren:   It means that Sue Nigro is a very fine contrabassoonist, and I feel very lucky for the opportunity that she’s helped provide.  Part of my success here in Chicago is thanks to all the good people who have helped me.  All I do is write the music, and the help that Lee has given me over the years, as well as Dieter Kober, Sue Nigro, Dave Schrader, and Mark Lindeblad have given me a lot of contacts that I probably couldn’t have made otherwise.  I feel very lucky to know these people.

BD:   I wish you lots of continued success.

Warren:   Thanks.

BD:   Thank you for the music, and for coming in today.

Warren:   It’s my pleasure.  Thank you for having me.

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© 1993 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on January 15, 1993.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1996.  This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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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.