Composer / Flutist  Katherine  Hoover

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Katherine Hoover (December 2, 1937 - September 21, 2018) was born in West Virginia and resided in New York during her active career as composer, conductor, and flutist.

She was the recipient of a National Endowment Composer's Fellowship and many other awards, including an Academy of Arts and Letters Academy Award in Composition. Four of her pieces won the National Flute Association's Newly Published Music Competition. Her works are published by Theodore Presser, Carl Fischer, and Papagena Press. Recordings of her music have been issued on Koch, Delos, Parnassus, Gasparo, Summit, Centaur, Cantilena, Bayer, Boston and Leonarda.

 Ms. Hoover's tone poem Eleni: A Greek Tragedy, has been performed by many orchestras, including the Harrisburg and Fort Worth Symphonies. Stitch-te Naku, for Cello and Orchestra, written for Sharon Robinson, was presented by the Long Beach (CA) and Santa Monica Orchestras, the Women's Philharmonic, and Orchestra Sonoma. Her Clarinet Concerto, written for jazz virtuoso Eddie Daniels, was premiered with the Santa Fe Symphony. The Colorado and Montclaire Quartets, Dorian, Sylvan and Richards Quintets, and the Eroica Trio have featured her work. The New Jersey Chamber Music Society premiered her Quintet (Da Pacem) for piano and strings at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. Julius Baker, Eugenia Zukerman, Jeffrey Khaner, Mimi Stillman, Carol Wincenc, and Metropolitan Opera bass John Cheek have also presented her pieces.

The commissioning, rehearsing, and premiere of her Dances and Variations at Kennedy Center are the subject of an Emmy-winning documentary, called New Music, by Deborah Novak. "Classical Pulse," Jan. 1997: critic Leslie Gerber picked Hoover's Quintet (Da Pacem) [shown below] as one of the five best recordings of 1996. In November of 2002 Ms. Hoover's Requiem: A Service of Remembrance for chorus, soloists, speakers, brass, percussion, and organ (featuring poetry by Walt Whitman) was premiered at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in New York City.


Ms. Hoover attended the Eastman School of Music and holds a Masters in Music Theory from the Manhattan School, where she taught for many years. Her main flute study was with Joseph Mariano and William Kincaid. She has given concerto performances at Lincoln Center, and performed with ballet and opera companies in New York's major halls, as well as recording solo and chamber repertoire. Ms. Hoover also attended the Conductors Institute and led performances in Wisconsin, West Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania.

==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

Katherine Hoover was in Chicago in May of 1988, for Eleni: A Greek Tragedy, an orchestral work which runs about fifteen minutes.  She told me about the program...  
“My tone poem for orchestra, Eleni: A Greek Tragedy, is being done on Saturday at Orchestra Hall by the Classical Symphony Orchestra with Joseph Glymph conducting.  This is a very exciting thing, because the piece means a lot to me, and this is its third performance.  The rest of the program has the Firebird Suite (Stravinsky) and Don Quixote (Strauss) with Ko Iwasaki playing the cello.  It’s quite an interesting program, and the kind of program that I love to have my music on.”  Her work was subsequently recorded in Europe, and the box below has more information.  She continued, What’s also interesting about this concert is it’s brought very diverse groups together, because they’re having a Japanese cello soloist for Don Quixote.  My piece is about Greece, and Nicholas Gage (the son of Eleni, and author of the book) is coming.  We find all this very exciting, and it’s very kind of him to do so.  The Greek organizations here are going bananas, so we’ll have everyone converging.”  I asked the composer about rehearsing the work, and she said, This conductor’s very bright, and he must have worked with composers because he’s really got this down to a fine science.  We have a certain few minutes to work on my piece, so he’s got me under control, and I respect him for that.  It means he’s also got his rehearsals under control, which is very, very important, and is as it should be with an orchestra.

In 1948, toward the end of the Greek Civil War, Eleni Gatzoyannis was tortured and executed by Communist partisans for smuggling her children out of Greece to join their father in America. Her son, Nicholas Gage, who was eight at that time, became an investigative reporter for The New York Times, and in the early 1980s he returned to Greece to trace the events leading to her death. The result was the extraordinary book, "Eleni". I was extremely moved by Mr. Gage's book; Eleni was a heroine, and, like many in the old Greek dramas, an archetype as well. In so many lands in our time people's lives and communities have been brutally torn apart for this or that 'ism' - for reasons or ideas often foreign to those victimized. Those like Eleni who refuse to abandon their convictions and act to protect others were, and are, heroic. To construct this piece, which is both a lament and a tribute, I turned to Greek folk music, in particular from the northwest area of Epiros where Eleni lived. Much of this music is based on intonation and harmony that are foreign to Western ears. Melodies move in a rhapsodic manner, flowing freely between the notes we recognize, while harmonies change little, following the melody closely. Rhythms based on 5 and 7 are common. The clarinet, played in a style resembling that of klezmer music, is a constant presence. I used this sound to begin the piece. The folk materials, the dances and songs of the first section eventually dissolve into an area of growing tension, climaxing with the full orchestra. Out of this climax, the clarinet reappears, followed by an alto completing the moirologhia, or funeral lament, which was begun by a solo cello in the first section. The piece ends with an orchestral lament based on motives drawn from the earlier materials.


While she was in Chicago we arranged to meet for an interview.  She was in very good humor throughout, and there was much laughter as well as deep insight.

Portions of the conversation were used several times on WNIB and WNUR, and now it is my pleasure to present the entire conversation . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You are both a performer and a composer.  How do you divide your time between those two demanding activities?

Katherine Hoover:   Actually, they’re complementary in many ways.  Composing is cerebral, and it’s also very inactive physically, while performing is very active physically, which is really nice.  The more time goes on, the more time I spend composing, and the more I have to marshal carefully time to stay in shape on my instrument.  But I find it very valuable, and a very important part of what I do.  My understanding of performance keeps my feet on the ground, so to speak, in many ways.

BD:   Is it something you recommend for other composers
that they be involved in performing?

Hoover:   Absolutely, especially when people are young.  It’s something every composer should know about.  Certainly, one’s composing is much informed by knowing the nitty-gritty of what goes on, and what is necessary to put on the performance.  It
s also helpful to know what a performer needs from the composer in terms of time, and scores, and help, and so forth.  When you know that from the other side, it’s very, very helpful.  There’s one particular thing...  When I was doing more playing before I was composing, if I got a part for a new piece that had mistakes and was badly written, I became extremely resentful quickly because it was going to be blamed on me.  I wasn’t going to sound good, and the music wasn’t going to sound.  This is very real, and I don’t think non-performing composers often understand the kind, or the basis, of the resentment they get from performers because of those things.  They think it’s just resentment, or that they dont like the work.  Everybody is so sensitive, but it comes out of a sensitivity that could be made to work for everyone.  So, that is one very important reason, and just one of many reasons where it’s important for composers to have some real performing experience.

BD:   Are there ever any cases when you’re playing your own music that you, the performer, gets mad at you, the composer?

Hoover:   Not too much because if there’s a part that’s awkward for flute, I can always rewrite it.  [Both have a huge laugh]  I don’t stick myself with impossible things!  What happens when you’re playing your own music is the real case of split personality.  You’ve got two heads working at the same time.  The analytical part is sitting back working from the head, and the actual active music-making is coming from the other head, and that’s very hard at first.

BD:   Have you ever based any musical decisions upon technical proficiency problems?

Hoover:   Oh, absolutely.  For flute I certainly have.  I want the ultimate sound to be clear and to be musical.  The more someone is hung-up on technical things, the less clear and musical the end result is.  I like things to be playable, because then people get much more of what I’m trying to get across on other levels, rather than just technical.  So, if something is really awkward, or impossible, I will change it.
BD:   What is it that you’re trying to get across in your music?

Hoover:   Music interests me only when it works on a number of levels.  It is intuitive and emotional and intellectual.  There is that connection, those things to begin with, which you have if you like a piece when you’re playing it for the tenth time or hearing it for the tenth time.  If it hasn’t worn out, then presumably it’s got some fairly good connection with those ideas.  Music also can also be spiritual.  I don’t know really what to call it, but it has other dimensions at times, even moral dimensions.  Certainly in opera that’s true.

BD:   Do you write much for the voice?

Hoover:   I have not written a great deal for the voice.  I got involved in chamber music because that’s what I played, and then I got into orchestral music.  I’ve written some things for voice, but you go where it’s happening for you, and what has happened for me has been more in chamber music and orchestral music.  A couple of people who are very involved in opera have asked me about writing more for voice recently, and when those opportunities come, I probably will.

BD:   Will you go hunting for a libretto, or wait for a libretto to be handed to you?

Hoover:   It will be a mild combination of both!  [Both laugh]  I keep my ears out, and I read a lot, so if something comes my way, fine.  I have some ideas.

BD:   Coming back to this duality, are there ever times when you, as a composer, listen to someone else playing your music, and know they’ve found something you didn’t know you’d hidden in the score?

Hoover:   Yes, and it’s wonderful.  That has happened a few times.  When you’re writing, you’re very, very involved on a number of levels, including small levels and bigger levels.  Then, as you get away from the piece, and it becomes other people’s, and you’re writing other things, you lose some of that.  What will happen with a good performer is suddenly things will come back to you that you have thought about that no one ever got before.  Then they have suddenly been realized.  There was some little hint that you left that somebody just picked up and ran with that you’d forgotten.

BD:   This pleases you?

Hoover:   Oh, it’s wonderful.

BD:   When you’ve picked up a piece that’s a few years old, do you ever wonder how you could possibly have written it?

Hoover:   I’ve only been writing seriously for thirteen or fourteen years, and because of performances I’ve been brought back to my early work again, and again, and again.  I don’t have that many pieces lying fallow that just aren’t played.  Actually, most of my work is played a fair amount.

BD:   This is good!

Hoover:   It’s wonderful, but it means I haven’t really had those surprises of going back and rediscovering something.

BD:   Do you ever go back and revise scores?

Hoover:   Very seldom.  This spring I had a piece which I did not think was all that good, but I thought I had some interesting parts.  Someone approached me about a piece like that to record, and so I gave it to this person saying,
If you want to do this, I will revise it, because I feel large parts of it, especially the orchestrations, are not satisfactory to my ear now.  So, if you like it, I’ll do it, and she liked it, so I did the work, and I now have a new piece that I’m happy with, whereas before I’d given up on it.  [Musing about another work]   I wrote a big clarinet concerto for Eddie Daniels.  He did it with the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra.  A funny thing about that piece... I had to rewrite the last movement because I had used a quote from Yes, We Have No Bananas, and it’s copyrighted.  So, I had to rewrite a third movement, which I had wanted to do anyway.

BD:   On the other hand, would you want your music quoted by others, and not be paid for it?

Hoover:   Actually, it would be very flattering.  If somebody could recognize a piece of mine from just a few notes here and there, imagine what that implies!  I like that.  [Much laughter]

BD:   See, you are trying to be a populist composer!

Hoover:   Sure.  I have what I have to say, and if it speaks to a lot of people, that would be wonderful.  I’m not big on ivory towers.

BD:   But you don’t want to be in elevators?

Hoover:   Correct!  Some place between ivory towers and elevators, that’s right.

BD:   We’ll put you in the stairwells...  [Much laughter
]  Being a composer as well as a performer, do you approach performances of other people’s works in a different way than someone who doesn’t also compose?

Hoover:   Yes, but there’s another influence there.  For many years I taught theory at the Manhattan School, and this was really composition teaching as well.  I analyzed scores from several centuries and styles.  The more I taught there, the more I became one of the specialists in this century’s music, and helped design the curriculum for that.  I did a tremendous amount of analysis of scores, which brought me back into composing, but it also had a tremendous effect on my approach as a musician to the music that I play.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   In listening to your music, I noticed that it is considerably more tonal than much of the music you must have analyzed over those years.
Hoover:   Yes, it is.  I’ll listen to anything and I’ll play just about anything, and I’ve recorded some things certainly that are, shall we say, much further out than a lot of my music.  I don’t know whether other people find this, but I try very hard to make my music extremely clear.  When my music is clear, people will say it is tonal, but very often it is not.  If you start looking for a commanding note or tone, it is simply not there for long stretches of time.  But if my intentions in the music are clear, and if the gestures of melody and harmony I’m using are clear, people react as if it’s tonal, and they call it tonal.

BD:   Does that please you?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Nancy Laird Chance, and Ursula Mamlok.]

Hoover:   I find it very interesting.  I have a feeling it’s about the way that words are used in describing music these days.  I wrote a small article, which has not been published yet, about how words like ‘tonal’ and ‘atonal’ are used to split people apart, and to set up schools when, actually, they should be used to help us all understand, and bring us all closer to the music that we’re listening to.  The words are used in the wrong way, so that’s really my reaction to your question.  Do I like it?  If it’s something that causes people to understand the music, or feel that they they understand it, fine.  If it’s something that’s used to pigeon-hole me in my work, no.

BD:   When you’re working on a piece of music, are you in control of the pencil, or are there times when the pencil seems to control your hand?

Hoover:   Oh, both!  One of the things I really feel strongly about, and one of the reasons I feel music’s so undervalued in our society and in our education, is that music synthesizes and brings together the intuitive and analytical parts of the brain
the left brain and the right brain.  The arts in general force these two areas of the human abilities to work together, and to learn to work together.  That certainly happens in composition.

BD:   Are you ever surprised where it leads you?

Hoover:   Yes!  Every once in a while, I do something that I like to call ‘dream music’, which is just really that.  I have no idea what’s coming next.  From the first this is always tonal, and I love it.  Those series tend to be very structured, but who knows what’s coming next?  It’s full of surprises.

BD:   Are we creating a new genre of aleatoric tonal music?

Hoover:   No, I wouldn’t say that.  These areas are almost always non-tonal when they do come.  Aleatoric tonal music has hit us very heavily in the last couple of years under many names and guises.  There’s a lot of that around.

BD:   Do you write mostly on commission?

Hoover:   Yes, I do.
 Once in a while there are projects I want to do, so I just do them myself without a commission.  I hope I never lose that sense.

BD:   When you get a commission, how do you decide if you’re going to accept it, or postpone it, or even decline it?

Hoover:   I have declined some.  It has to fit in with what I want to do over the next two or three years.  I’ve reached a point, I’m happy to say, where there are enough people who like my work.  So, I have no hesitation in calling someone, or some group, and saying that I’d really like to write a piece for such and such, and then I ask if we could work out something.  Generally, the reaction is that it’s a wonderful idea, and they quickly get back to me.  I don’t know how many composers do this.  It is an under-utilized thing.  If you have groups that really, really like your music, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that you love the way they work, and ask if we can work together on another project over the next two or three years.  A group which likes you and your music, and wants to play it, is going to be delighted.

BD:   So it needs to be a group that’s already played something of yours?

Hoover:   Yes.  I go to people who I know like my work if I want to do something like that.

BD:   What do you expect of the performers and then the audience that come to hear your works?

Hoover:   What I want is enough rehearsal time, so they will not look at it quickly and figure they can learn it, then put it off, and then get into trouble at the last minute... which has happened.  I want performers simply to commit themselves to proper rehearsal time.  I also want them to come to me freely if they have problems or questions.  I feel strongly about that, and I always encourage them to do that if I can.

BD:   Do you make alterations at their suggestions, or requests?

Hoover:   For perfomers, usually, with a piece that’s been done more than a couple times, it’s just a matter of explanation
that what I wrote is what I want for this reason.  Often, if they’ve heard someone else do it, they’re very influenced by that, and then presume everything from that performance or on that tape is just what I wanted.  I like to have questions brought to me because I like people to understand what the music’s about, and what I wanted.  For audiences, I only ask that they come with open ears.  That’s all.  I actually am much more of a respecter of audiences than many people are nowadays, and I find them very open.  I often find that all they need is some little trail to follow.  Then they’re very willing to follow you into all kinds of places, and thoughts, and ideas.  But they deserve the respect of that handout if it’s something difficult.  Tell them that this is what I had in mind, and it usually doesn’t take any more than that.  Audiences are open, I have found.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Have you basically been pleased with the performances that you’ve heard of your works over the years?

Hoover:   Yes, generally I have, and that has a lot to do with my having been a performer for so long.  That has crept into my writing in a way that’s caused this whole area to be healthier than it is for a lot of people.

BD:   What about the recordings?  You’ve got a number of pieces that have been recorded.  Are you pleased with these, knowing that they will have perhaps a wider distribution than a single performance?
Hoover:   In general, I am, yes.

BD:   Have you supervised them all?

Hoover:   Most.  Generally I have.

BD:   Then are they the absolute definitive way to do your music in that piece?

Hoover:   No, not necessarily, because recordings are made under all kinds of time pressures.  What are you going to do if somebody’s recording your work, and they’ve got the flu?  They’re doing the best thing they possibly could, and [laughs] that’s it!  They’re trying, and you’re trying, and what comes out may be good, but not the best.

BD:   But you’re still pleased with the recordings?

Hoover:   Exactly! I am pleased with my recordings.  I like people to use their head and their minds. I count on them for that.

BD:   And you want the audience to also use their heads and minds, and not be passive?

Hoover:   Oh, absolutely.  I don’t believe in music as being passive, and listening as being passive, no.

BD:   Then the easy question.  What do you feel is the purpose of music in society?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Joseph Fennimore, George Crumb, and Lowell Liebermann.]

Hoover:   Oh, that’s such a broad question.  It can be so many, many, many things.  As I said, it can serve to bring two parts of our minds together, and help people attack their creativity incredibly.  Actively listening can do the same thing.  It’s going to cause new reactions, new ideas, new thoughts, all kinds of new things that people have not had before.  Performing music means actually working on music, and honing the discipline of learning instruments, learning to read music, and playing with other people.  There are many areas of human endeavor that are made stronger by this effort, and certainly this kind of application and self-discipline will really stand you in stead in anything you try to do in life.  Learning how to do something well in music is something that is particularly crucial at this point in our society.  We’re losing that sense of the necessity of doing things really, really well.  We know that it runs through the whole culture, because we like to take it easy, so we don’t reach a certain level.  One thing we’ve lost with that is the incredible sense of satisfaction that you get when you do something very well.  I hate to see human beings of any age growing up without that.  That’s tremendously valuable.  Also, there are many other people who are using music for healing and calming.  On the other hand, some teenagers have used music for disturbing, for the opposite of healing and being healthy.  Their purposes are those of rebellion.  Music can stand for so many, many, many things.  It permeates us, and we must begin to think in a realistic manner about the effect it really does have on our lives, which is immense.  We must look at what we’re listening to, and how we’re thinking about it, and be realistic about the amount of time that is spent with music of one kind or another.

BD:   [Mildly shocked]  Is there any chance that people are spending too much time with music???

Hoover:   There is a tendency to use music as background... cows give better milk, that sort of thing.  It’s used on humans, too.  I’m not going to say that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I distrust it.  It teaches people not to listen in any way except extremely superficially, and when people learn that, then they lose all these other incredibly rewarding aspects of music.

BD:   We’re sitting in a room where there’s a set of the Great Books of the Western World.  What, for you, are some of the things that make a piece of music great?

Hoover:   I started about the age of three or four being a total music freak.  I did not grow up in a musical household.  I am the only musician.  But when I first heard certain recordings, I just turned on, and I still just turn on to sound, and really just all kinds of sounds.  Some of my friends think I’m much too open to too many kinds of sounds, but I don’t accept that.  I love it.  I just love it all!  So, I’m not sure I’m quite the right person to ask about something in music being great.  As I have gotten more and more into music over many years, it does continue to appeal to me over a long period of time.  All I can say is that it really has various layers of meaning.  It does have emotional and intellectual meanings, and those two are integrated.  No one’s going to tell me that the late Beethoven String Quartets, or the Bartók String Quartets don’t also have some kind of spiritual meaning as well, because I simply hear it.  That’s a very wide spectrum, and there’s an awful lot of music that fits those perameters, but that’s all I really require.

BD:   [Being genuine, not impertinent]  Is your music great?

Hoover:   Who’s to say?  I’m not the person to say that.

BD:   Who should say?

Hoover:   [Laughs]  I don’t know.  I haven’t the slightest idea, because I really don’t spend any time thinking about that.  It
s not my concern.  I want my music to be the best that it can be, and I want to keep trying, and that’s all that I can say about it.

BD:   Do you write for the performers, or for the audience, or for yourself?

Hoover:   All the above!  [Both laugh]

BD:   You’ve written mostly chamber works, and now you’re expanding into larger forms.

Hoover:   Yes.  Friends have warned me that when you start to write orchestral music, it’s addictive, and it’s true!  But I am doing more of that now.  I’m also writing bigger pieces.  When you start as a flautist, and you start writing for the flute, naturally you start with smaller things.  Then hear snide remarks of people who are used to symphonies and string quartets, and after a while you begin to want to try bigger things.  Along with orchestral pieces, I am also doing a big piano quintet now.  It
s a big work, and I’m stretching myself for it... whatever that means.  [More laughter]  I also have more time now, with no children at home, so, I am taking on bigger, more expansive projects.

BD:   Eventually you’ll come to the operas?

Hoover:   That’s a good question.  I’ve had the most interesting talks with some conductors and people I know who are very involved with opera.  A lot of people have written what are basically rather good American operas that don’t get done, and are not getting done.  Even ones that they get done, like Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah have not even been recorded, and this is just a shocking state of affairs.  [It has subsequently been recorded with Studer, Ramey, and Hadley, and a live performance was released with Curtin, Treigle, and Cassily.]  From large vocal pieces I have written, I know perfectly well that I could write something in a style that’s been well done by a number of people.  But works like that simply are not being performed, and I have no interest in that.  Until I see my way beyond that, of adding something which would have more reason for people to perform it, I don’t think I will.  In my search for a libretto or plot, I have three or four, but I’m not going to do them because I don’t see a way of doing something that’s really going to be relevant to our time now.  It’s really a very complex thing.  The operas we have that would be relevant, simply aren’t being done, or respected, so I don’t want to write more of those, no.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You have done some teaching.  Was this composition, or just theory?

Hoover:   First of all, I taught flute in the prep department of Juilliard for a number of years when I first came to New York many years ago.  Then I taught a great deal of theory at the Manhattan School, and I’ve continued to teach some flute.  Now I’m teaching graduate students in composition and flute to individual students.
BD:   Is composition something that can be taught?

Hoover:   Certainly, things definitely can be taught.  Standards can be taught.  Literature can be taught.  I’m not sure it can be taught at a really advanced level, but you can bring all kinds of new ideas and literature to the attention of people who come to composition with a limited knowledge.  You can encourage them to work problems through until they reach a solution, and perhaps give them suggestions on ways to work.  You cannot teach them to write music per se, but you can give them lots and lots of tools, and see if they take off.

BD:   Do some of your students take off?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Libby Larsen, and Marga Richter.]

Hoover:   Yes, a couple have.  The problem with the doctoral students, even the wonderful bright people I’ve had, their main focus in music is already directed elsewhere.  A couple I’ve had have come with some very real talent, and have gotten terribly excited, and then gone back to what they were about to do in the first place.

BD:   Is there a chance that there are too many people writing music these days?

Hoover:   I don’t think it’s a problem of too many people writing music.  There is a problem with too many people expecting the wrong kinds of things from writing.

BD:   What are the wrong kinds of things they are expecting?

Hoover:   [Thinks a moment]  College positions, degrees, certain kinds of grants, and then a foot up a certain ladder.  There’s an awful lot of that going on, and I’m not sure those are the right reasons for writing.

BD:   What are the right reasons for writing?

Hoover:   Simply because you have something to say, and you want to say it, because saying that matters tremendously to you.

BD:   Have we gotten to the point now where it is nearly irrelevant that some composers are women composers?

Hoover:   No.  I wish we had, but everybody is still counting.  The people who put on concerts are counting.  We’re still at a stage of tokenism to a great degree.  Even women conductors who want to back women, are counting.  They’re afraid if they put on too many, they won’t be taken seriously.  It is irrelevant, but most people don’t know it yet unfortunately.

BD:   Are we working in the right direction?

Hoover:   Definitely, as far as we can.

BD:   Is there really no difference between music that comes from the pen of a woman and the pen of a man?

Hoover:   The only answer I’ve ever heard to that is one that Ellen Zwilich made years before she won the Pulitzer Prize.  We were working together, and her idea at that point was that perhaps women and other people who have been kept out of the mainstream, are a little freer in what they do because they’ve not been affected so much by mainstream musical politics.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s the only idea I’ve heard on the subject that makes any sense.

BD:   Have you been consciously or unconsciously affected by the musical politics?

Hoover:   Once in a while, yes, but whenever I can, I avoid it.  [Gales of laughter]  You see me nursing this recent wound over here...  It’s bound to be political.  It’s political for the men, and it’s political for the women.  I wrote an article years ago, and basically what I said was that you’ve got this raft in the ocean, and there are too many people to fit on the raft.  So, the people on the raft are not feeling too good about letting other people on it, whether those people be men or women.  There’s not enough space for everyone who wants to write music and have it done in any establishment sense.  As far as the big orchestras are concerned, the grants are few, and all this stuff makes up our musical establishments.  There’s not room for everybody.

BD:   Should we build a new raft?

Hoover:   Definitely.  Absolutely, and in another part of the ocean.

BD:   How do we go about building a new raft?

Hoover:   I don’t know.  I have only really been concerned about swimming around the raft in my own way.  I’m not really terribly interested in getting on that raft.  I see an awful lot that I find unpleasant, and so I have just been trying quietly in my own way, to swim around it.

BD:   Would you rather have your music done on an all-contemporary program, or an all-women’s program, or a mixed program?

Hoover:   Most of my music is done on mixed programs, and that is the best way.  That’s what I’m really after.  I always had a lot of questions about new music programs, and it seems that lot of people do.  They’re more interesting than they used to be, but I’m not sure that we’re really reaching out in the way we want to by doing that.  It’s necessary, but I think it’s a step.

BD:   A little step or a big step?

Hoover:   Actually, I really mustn’t answer that because I haven’t been to enough of those concerts recently.  If the audience for those concerts is diversifying, and if more people are coming to them
which I gather in some cases they arethen it’s a big step.  Then it becomes an important step if they’re really reaching out, and reaching more people, and spreading our Gospel.  That’s fine.

BD:   Do you keep up with new music of other composers?

Hoover:   Some.  I’m afraid in the last year I’ve just been trying to keep up with my own life, and it has stopped me from hearing as much as I would like to.  There’s just a tremendous amount of personal things happening in the last couple of years that has cut down my time to do things like that which I really want to do.
BD:   In the end, is composing fun?

Hoover:   I love it.  I’m addicted to it.  Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s not.

BD:   Is there enough fun to compensate when it’s not fun?

Hoover:   Oh yes, absolutely.  Definitely.

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BD:   I want to ask you about recordings.  From your standpoint as a musician, as a listener, as a performer, how is the sound?  Is it better, or worse, or at all different from the LP to the CD?

Hoover:   The CD is very, very clear.  You don’t realize how much surface noise you hear on LPs until it’s gone, and when it’s gone, you realize that it’s gone.  Other than that, I’ve never been the big audiophile.  Most of us composers are not.  We’re always listening for what’s happening in the music rather than the sound level.  That’s probably not true for people who are very involved in electronic music, but for most of us, it’s just not what we’re listening for.

BD:   Are you doing anything at all in the electronic field?

Hoover:   No, I’m not.  Not at this point.

BD:   Have you ruled it out?

Hoover:   No, not at all.  I had a funny experience years ago when I first started working in the electronics studio at the Manhattan School.  My friend, Eli Tanenbaum and I found it quite fascinating [LP of their work together is shown at right], but every time we finished working, I ended up with a headache.  It was a year or two later that I read in a magazine that most of this equipment does emit high frequency vibrations that can cause headaches, and that was enough to keep me away for a while.

BD:   They’re super-audible?

Hoover:   Correct.  You can’t really hear them, but they do affect you, and I was obviously getting a great deal of that
certainly enough to put me off for a while.  I hope to have a synthesizer within a year.

BD:   Will a synthesizer scare you at all?

Hoover:   I love them.  They’re sound machines, and as I mentioned, I’m addicted to sounds.  [Both laugh]

BD:   Are you optimistic about the whole future of music?

Hoover:   [Thinks a moment]  I am very concerned about the music in this country at this point, and about attitudes towards music.  Even some of our top music educators are so concerned about kids getting out of big music schools and not being able to find a job, that they’re taking students away from the music studies, and trying to teach them other things.  This degree of pessimism really frightens me, and if I’m pessimistic about music in this country, it’s only because there are a number of attitudes like that, and thoughts like that, on a very high level.  I find that very scary.  There is one good thing...  Over the last ten or fifteen years, just about every state in this country has developed a State Arts Council.  There is a tremendous amount of growth and interest everywhere in this country, so if certain things in some of the big old music centers are going as well as they should, we’re in a time of change.  I don’t think it means we’re all going to hang on to a bucket to bail out that raft.  Unfortunately though, there are a lot of people in positions of power and money who believe that music is totally unimportant to society, and so there’s less and less call for musicians, and for music.  That gives me great cause for pessimism.  Now in terms of the music itself, in terms of people’s need for music, in terms of the entire population’s attitude towards music, there’s really not a call for that kind of pessimism.  However, it’s coming from very influential areas, and that concerns me very much.

BD:   Is there hope?

Hoover:   There is hope.  Those Arts Councils are doing a lot.  There’s a lot of music going out all over this country.  People are playing their local composers and are supporting their local groups.  This is happening all over the country, and it’s healthy.

BD:   Thank you for all of your music, and for spending the time with me today.

Hoover:   Thank you.


© 1988 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on May 19, 1988.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1992 and 1997, and on WNUR in 2010, 2011, and 2019.  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.