Composer  Normand  Lockwood
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


NORMAND LOCKWOOD (1906-2002) was born in New York City, but grew up in Ann Arbor. His uncle, a pianist, and father, a violinist, headed their respective departments at the University of Michigan's School of Music.

In his late teens, he began to study composition under Ottorino Respighi in Rome and, for three years, in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. A year later, he won the Rome prize from the American Academy in Rome. He taught at Oberlin College, Columbia College, Union Theological Seminary's School of Sacred Music, Westminster Choir College, Yale School of Music, Trinity University, San Antonio, the Universities of Oregon and Hawaii, and at the University of Denver until retirement from that institution as Professor Emeritus.

Lockwood was active at Yaddo (Saratoga Springs), and the Composers' Conference and Chamber Music Center (Middlebury), and in the National Association for American Composers and Conductors, and the American Composers Alliance.

He was a Guggenheim Fellow, and counts among his honors the Marjorie Peabody Waite Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

In anticipation of his upcoming eightieth birthday in 1986, I arranged with the composer to call him at his home in Colorado to speak about music in general and his own works in particular.  We were chatting briefly about a few of the pieces which had been commercially recorded
— which I could use on the radio (!) — and I specifically asked about one which seemed most intriguing . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    Why the accordion?

Normand Lockwood:    A former colleague of mine at the University of Denver, Robert Davine, is a magnificent player.  He’s quite well-known around the country; a magnificent accordionist and musician, and his playing is something else again.  So I became interested in the accordion.  I’ve written a number of things, and this work [Fantasy for Accordion] he’s had great success with.  He’s played it many places, even in China! 

BD:    Is it for solo accordion? 

NL:    Yes.

lockwood BD:    I just wondered if there was any other instrument that could be used with an accordion.

NL:    Oh, yes.  I’ve written some other pieces, and David Diamond has written for others with accordion, but this is a solo, and for that reason all the more unusual.

BD:    When did you write this piece?  Did Davine ask you to write it, or did you just decide you wanted to give him something?

NL:    In the late sixties I decided I wanted to write a work for accordion.  Of course I had him handy to teach me things.  Another record has To Margarita Debayle for soprano and piano.  The performers are Phyllis Bryn-Julson and Donald S. Sutherland.  The S. must be in there for reasons I will tell you.  It’s a setting of a remarkably fanciful, yet very human narrative by the Nicaraguan poet, Ruben Darío, and the translation is by Donald Sutherland, an American poet and author, who died in 1979.  That’s a funny coincidence.

BD:    Two men with the same name, unrelated.

NL:    Yes, completely unknown to each other.

BD:    How did this piece come into being?

NL:    I had worked with Donald (the poet) before.  He was a very dear friend, and I was very much taken always with his writing.  We’d written an opera and other things, and I came across this translation in a literary magazine and was so taken with it!  So I got permission to use it and consequently did so.

BD:    When you’re writing music, do you mostly write what you would like to write, or do you wait for commissions?

NL:    Oh, both.  I’ve had loads and loads of commissions, and mostly there are things I wanted.  I had no objection to my assignments in any way.

BD:    Have you refused some commissions?

NL:    I have refused a few.  There was one that was very, very hard to refuse, and I’m regretful, now, that I did.  It was Joseph Krips who suggested it to me.  He was very much pleased with a work that he performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic.  He used to also conduct and the Schola Cantorum there, which is a very fine choral organization.  He was much taken with my piece, and he suggested a work to me but I could not see it.  I could do it; I could do anything, but I could not see doing it the way I wanted to, and so I turned it down.  Okay, maybe I’m glad I did.  I still can’t see how to do it, so I guess I’m glad I did.  [Both laugh]

BD:    You enjoy writing music?

NL:    Well, yeah, I better!  I’ve been at it for a good many years.  They say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but you can’t take away his old ones either.  It’s been my life.

BD:    Are you also a performer?

NL:    No.  I can’t play.  I never could.

BD:    Most composers either tend to be pianists or fiddlers, or something.

NL:    Yes, I know.  Well, I play piano after a fashion; after a fashion, but decidedly after it.

BD:    Then how did you go about learning about the rudiments of music, and what each instrument could do, not having played them yourself?

NL:    Oh, for heaven’s sake!  Keep your ears open!  I was reared in a musical family, and Ann Arbor was my home.  My father and uncle were on the faculty there.  My father played violin and was conductor of the orchestra, and my uncle was a very fine pianist.  So from infancy I was surrounded with music.

BD:    So then it was not foreign to you at all.

NL:    Oh, no, it was not foreign to me.  One of my very early influences
from my late teens to twenties or sowas Frederick Stock.  He was very supportive.  At the May Festival at Ann Arbor, the Chicago Symphony came every year.  It is a great week’s event, and he always stayed with us in our house.  So we got to know him very well, and he was a wonderful man and a marvelous musician and conductor.

BD:    But you always wanted to be a composer rather than a performer?

NL:    As far back as I can remember, yes.

BD:    What do you as a composer expect of the public?

NL:    The composer can expect no more from the public, beyond and on the basis of, what music it is exposed to.  As far as the listener, the slimmer the fare the public has been exposed to, the less qualified it is to choose or to give.  What can be expected?  You expect the public can give something to the composer, but I don’t think it can give anything more than it knows.

BD:    So is it the responsibility of all the performing organizations to expose the public to as much as possible?

NL:    Well, that is number one.  [Both laugh]  That is all there is to it, yes.

BD:    We seem to have a preponderance, especially in recordings, of the same old repertoire over and over again.

NL:    Oh yes, and as a matter of fact in concerts it is the same thing.  That’s one reason I don’t go to many.  I don’t go to concerts just to go to a concert.  I go to hear something, and if I hear some of the great works and favorite works over and over again, it’s as if you’re having one diet every day without any variations.  You need and want other things, especially modern works.

BD:    Is there any way to get the public to be more accepting of modern works?


NL:    Yes, I think to let them hear them!  That’s exactly what I mean.  Plan for the public, but don’t scare the public by announcing sententiously that it’s a contemporary work; the word ‘contemporary’ really means nothing in the loose sense.  It’s used so much nowadays, but it scares off people.

BD:    Why?

NL:    Because they’re just afraid it’s going to be something they won’t like.  In fact, they already don’t like it before they hear it!

BD:    This seems to be a twentieth century phenomenon.  Before the twentieth century, the public always wanted something new, new, new.

NL:    Of course, but not now.  The public is very, very conservative.  I wouldn’t give them even that much credit, because it’s not an intellectual conservatism; it’s just that they’ve gotten into certain habits, and if they hear something outside of those habits, then they go berserk.

BD:    Can we put the responsibility or the blame at any one place, or is it a combination of factors?

NL:    No.  I think schools are pretty conservative, too
at least the teachers are.  They study the same, same, same piano works over and over again generation after generation!  My Lord, I’ve been a teacher in many schools all around the country all my life; it’s the way I’ve made my living, and I know what of I speak.  You go out and you hear the same teaching, the same piecesthe few Brahms pieces, a few Chopin pieces, most of which are too difficult for any kids — and little else!  Maybe there are some modern works, of course, but mostly the same old thing ‘til you could scream.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You say that you made your living being a teacher.  Would you rather have made your living as a composer?

NL:    Well, yes.  I’ve done a lot of work in composing, that is I used to.  I’ll make something now, of course, but not really in any great shakes.  I worked in New York.  I used to work in radio; I worked for CBS.  I did a lot of shows for them like “Studio One” and “Columbia Workshop.”  Those were very high-extended programs.  I was absolutely delighted to do that.

BD:    Was that too confining, having to write a segment of music that would run exactly a minute thirty seconds?

NL:    Oh, heavens, no!  A composer has to be able to do anything
short, high, low, loud, soft.  It doesn’t matter.  A composer, first of all, if he’s to amount to anything eventually learns to discipline himself.  He does anything except what he refuses to.

BD:    Let me turn my earlier question around.  What should the public expect of the composer?

NL:    [Long pause]  I’m just thinking how does the public know what it can expect of the composer simply on the basis of what is presented, what it hears?  I don’t know, unless the composer is out to cash in on current fads, whether they’re eclectic or novel musical fads, you know, fashions.  The composer’s best bet is, I think, is to compose what strikes him at any given time as being aesthetic, and be prepared for the public’s
or anybody else’srejection.

BD:    When you’re writing a piece, do you write for a specific public?

NL:    I’ve never written for a specific public.  I often write for specific performers or a specific group
orchestra or chamber group or whatever, but not a specific public.  It’s up to the composer to write what he wishes, taking into account whatever he wants to, of course, but mainly that he be independent.  Then he’s got to be sporting about it if his music doesn’t take.

BD:    When you’re writing a piece, do you expect your music to be understood the first time, or the tenth time, or even the hundredth time?

NL:    No, I don’t expect it to be understood.  I think musicians do, for the most part, but not always.  There are disasters when they don’t, but for the most part, musicians do.  But the public, the listeners?  No!  They don’t understand anything, and furthermore I don’t think they should be expected to!  Music is something one can enjoy without knowing a darned thing about it, and the public, in a way, is taught too much.  They learn about shallow kinds of technical things that are important to a composer, but they don’t do anything for a public listener.  I think he should be free to listen.  This goes back to your first question
he should simply be exposed, and if he likes the thing or not, that’s his business.  If he’s exposed enough, he may come to like it.  A great deal of music in history that was not accepted at first, but later on some of it was wholeheartedly.  Educating the public is a superficial idea, and I don’t think this works.  It never will.

BD:    There’s sort of an artificial dividing line between serious music and popular music.  Is that a mistake?

NL:    No.  I don’t think the line is necessarily artificial because there’s an awful lot of rubbish.  The scads of popular music that you hear, all of the rock business and the awful chanteuses — this is trash, absolutely sheer trash!  If the public likes it, great!  It’s there for the public.  It’s also a reflection on the kind of people, the entrepreneurs and the publishers and so on, who present it to them.  Somebody is selling his soul.  The public isn’t; they don’t know anything!  I’m serious about that.


BD:    In an earlier conversation, you mentioned that it’s very rare that you get a good performance.  Why is it rare to get a really good performance of one of your works?

NL:    Usually a first performance anywhere is apt to have shortcomings.  I don’t know why that is, even with fine orchestras like Chicago or Cleveland.  Partly they’re so overworked that they don’t give a new piece sufficient time at first, and until they get familiar with a piece, it’s apt to be tentative.  Even when they get all the right notes, as we know that’s not enough.  With acquaintance, performances always get better.

BD:    Is there, perhaps, too much new music being written today?

NL:    Sure.  I think there’s always been too much music written, period.  My God almighty, the output in the nineteenth century in Europe is absolutely incredible, and you musicologists just don’t know, you don’t have any idea how much there is.  There are such quantities of music, therefore we don’t hear it all because we don’t know.  There’s already too much music, if you’re going to think only in terms of quantity.  But if you’re going to think about the human being who composes music and the human beings who play it, then no, I don’t think it can ever be too much.  But it is too much to be digested.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    What did you learn from Respighi?

lockwood NL:    I don’t know.   I was so young and inexperienced at the time.  In spite of being musical, which I certainly was with my background and all, I don’t think I got a great deal from him.  It’s a funny thing.  I don’t believe a word of it, but musicians repeatedly speak of my having a very keen sense of instrumental of orchestral writing and treatment.  So I must have, and this must have had an influence on me.  My music doesn’t come out like Respighi’s.  It never did, but that doesn’t matter.  There are certain principles that one can learn without putting on the clothes of someone else, so it must have had a great effect.  I got the most out of Nadia Boulanger, whom I studied with for a few years, and then again a few times off and on.  She put me through some disciplines; she made me work the hell out of counterpoint.  That’s what I needed, and also the study of musical analysis.  Those two factors are what I got most out of her.

BD:    Do you feel that you are part of a long lineage of composers, or do you just write in isolation?

NL:    I suppose in isolation.  Don’t most composers, really, unless they’re obsessed with a fad or a fashion that’s going on?  I never have been.
  But I’ve been a teacher all my life; I’ve been teaching in the university and music schools.

BD:    Can you teach someone to be a good composer?

NL:    Yes. I think so, but not if he hasn’t got something to start with.  You can teach him to be a good composer; you can teach him the craft.

BD:    But the inspiration has to be from within?

NL:    Oh, sure.  You have to have gift.

BD:    Are there some of your students who have become professional composers?

NL:    Oh, quite a few of my students.  I might start with Peter Mennin, who was a student of mine at Oberlin in the years I taught there.  I’ve had good people and some of them are in fine teaching positions.

BD:    Should you encourage more people to be composers because you yourself are a successful composer?

NL:    You ask me questions about things I’ve never thought about.  I don’t know whether I should, and I don’t know my being a composer has to do with it!  I will say one thing that pleases me very much.  It’s often been remarked that I’m a good teacher because my music does not ever enter into my teaching of it.  My principle has always been to bring out what seems to be in the student, irrespective of my own style or idea.  It’s not that I’m impersonal about it at all, but I do try to keep wires from getting crossed with the students.

BD:    Are recordings a good thing?

NL:    I think a great many people rely on recordings extensively.   I never have.  I’m not speaking only of my own music; I’m very much given to live performances for some reason or other.  Of course, recordings are better and better nowadays, but even so, there’s an unreality and a distortion to it that disturbs me.

BD:    Is it, perhaps, the fact that the recordings can be too technically perfect?

NL:    This is true of a great many.  I think they can be cold and lifeless, and in that sense they are too technically perfect.  But I wouldn’t think about that; recordings are a remarkable thing.  They’ve revolutionized music audiences and study.

BD:    Have they helped to build audiences?

NL:    Oh, of course they have; naturally.  However, I don’t think that our concert and recital audiences ever listen to any modern works
contemporary works that they’d hear on concert or recitalso there is no connection there.  So when they walk into a concert hall and hear a seventy-five year-old work of Stravinsky, they go to pieces.  It’s because they don’t coordinate them.  I say you can’t teach them; you can only suggest what they might listen to in recording and over the air, things that would broaden or maybe excite their interest.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let us talk about opera a little bit.

NL:    My thoughts on opera are pretty hard to condense.

BD:    Then let’s start then with a real easy question.  Where is opera going today? 

lockwood NL:    As far as opera’s effect, I think there are two conditions.  One of them is viewing opera.  After all, it’s a staged work and it has to be seen either on the stage or on television.  Listening to the music of opera on records or over the air is an entirely different matter because there is one essential ingredient missing.  That being the case, I think where opera is going is rather to be accepted.  It must be highly lyrical and attractive from a purely orchestral, instrumental standpoint, because you don’t have the vision there.  This is what opera will need and therefore is what it should have.  The Italian operas have taken a crack at it by a great many people since Wagner and Strauss, and most of all by Debussy, whose remarkable Pelléas and Mélisande is totally foreign to bel canto Italian opera.

BD:    Is one style better than the other, or is it just different?

NL:    No, not better.  We need new music with lyric interest today if opera will survive to simply listen to.  If we go on the stage, we get the whole bit and it’s not as essential, perhaps.  But we were talking about listeners before, and if we need opera listeners, they’re going to hear a lot of records and they’re going to hear a lot over the air, not television, you see.

BD:    Does opera belong on television?

NL:    Oh, sure.  Some things come out better than others, and the operas that have been performed purposely to be televised usually come off better and less visually cumbersome than televising stage performances.

BD:    I just wondered how you balance the shortcomings of the television with the expansion of an audience that would not see it in the theater.

NL:    I don’t know, but they are exposed to it.  After all, we see other things on television that we don’t see live.  Some things we don’t care to!  [Both laugh]

BD:    What about translations?  Do you think opera should be translated into the language of the audience?

NL:    That’s an old question.  Both have advantages; there’s no getting around it, so I wouldn’t say it in a general way one over the other.  I must say I don’t like to hear French opera in English.  I mentioned Pelléas and Mélisande; I don’t like to hear that in English.

BD:    If one of your operas were going to be done in Munich or Stuttgart...

NL:    [Interrupting]  I’d be absolutely delighted!  [Laughs]

BD:    Would you rather they be done in English, or should they be translated into German?

NL:    Well, gosh almighty, if you get a good German translation, of course!  Why not?  A language does change the character a great deal.  For instance, I’ve heard Götterdämmerung in Italian as Il Crepuscolo degli Dei.  It’s fine for Italians because their temperament does it better in Italian, even if they are positively bi-lingual and know German.  It does something for the temperament of the locale where it’s being performed.  When you get that extra understanding with it, you’ve got something else.  But of course the music is there, so I don’t know.  There are pros and cons.

BD:    Have you seen any of these operas with the supertitles in the theater?

NL:    Yes.  That’s very successful.

BD:    Do you think that’s the ideal compromise?

NL:    If a compromise is needed that is very, very good.  It is very, very successful.  One might not think it would be, but it is.  It doesn’t intrude.  It doesn’t disturb, which is the thing one might think it does, but it doesn’t.

BD:    Has the audience in the theater been a little bit pre-conditioned to seeing the supertitles because they’ve watched it on television, or have seen foreign-language films?

NL:    Yes, that may very well be.  I hadn’t thought of that.  They might be so pre-conditioned.  Generally the ones on television are sometimes very hard to read because they get obliterated partly by light and other factors in the line of vision.

BD:    Let’s talk about some of your operas.  The first one that I see is The Scarecrow, from 1941.  Where was this produced?

NL:    That was done at the Brandon Matthews Theater at Columbia University.  It had a run of four or five performances and was very well received.  It got very good reviews but has never been performed since, anywhere.

BD:    Is that something that you would try to interest other people in performing again?

NL:    I don’t know.  I am very productive; always have been and still am, believe it or not, and I’m acutely interested in what I am writing at any given time.  I am more interested in that than I am in promoting another work, even though I may think it’s a decent one.  So I don’t know.  I would certainly not stand in the way of it.

BD:    But you would rather have something new produced?

NL:    Oh, yes.  I do have other full-lenth operas.  There’s Early Dawn from 1961, and Wizards of Balizar, which is a comedy, and The Hanging Judge.  The Requiem for a Rich Young Man is a one-acter that’s had performances quite a bit.  I think it’s a great piece.  Superficially, it’s a farce.

BD:    With this one-act opera, what kind of thing would you choose to pair it with?

NL:    Any other one-act opera, maybe The Unicorn of Menotti, or something like that by Jack Beeson.

BD:    Would it be better to pair your work with another contemporary American work, or should it be paired with, say an old Rossini one-act opera?

NL:    Oh, old Rossini would be fine.  I think it was done once for one or two performances at Northwestern.  I think Robert Gay directed it; I wouldn’t swear to that, but I believe so.

BD:    You’ve written a couple of oratorios also?

NL:    Oh, yes, lots of choral music — probably more choral music than anything else.

BD:    What intrigues you about choral music?

NL:    I suppose I like the English language, and I like the singing of what I select to be sung.  What interests me is the fact of singing and the sound of it.

BD:    How do you select what will be sung?

NL:    It’s hard to say.  Sometimes commissions determine what it might be.  Again, it’s the prose or the poetry that particularly sends me and makes me want to present it in a musical setting.  Of course a great many biblical things are wonderfully strong, and I have done a lot of American poets
Sandberg and Whitman, naturally.

BD:    You are, of course, an American composer.  Is your music

NL:    Well, I’m not able quite to define what makes music
American unless we’re using folk elements that are American.  Then of course, we can say that that constitutes its being American.”  But even if music is not based on folk elements, there is something elusive that makes it, nine times out of ten, sound like an American work.  People tell me that mine is.  Naturally I’ve done lots of music with folk elements, and that’s not what I’m talking about, because that’s a dead giveaway.  But people have told me.  I’m not particularly conscious of that, but it’s been said and so I believe what I hear. Certainly, it’s no disgrace.

BD:    Especially in the operas, do you tinker with them even right up to the last minute?

NL:    Oh yes, anything necessary.  I try not to tinker toward the end before a performance too much because it throws people off, but if there’s something absolutely that seems essential or advisable, certainly.

BD:    Have there been performances where conductors have found things in your music that even you didn’t know were there?

NL:    Let me put it this way...  I have found that sometimes conductors have conceived something differently than I, and that, of course, can be disastrous but can also be very, very enlightening and satisfying.  I’ve had conductors doing things that I did not think of with my very music — no changes, nothing at all, just the manner in which it’s done.  So, I don’t complain.  [Laughs]

BD:    Thank you so much for speaking with me today.  I look forward to putting together this program for your eightieth birthday.

NL:    I must say I appreciate so much this eightieth birthday celebration.  It’s very, very kind of you.  In general, it’s been a very nice thing.  It’s something to have lived for, and now it is something to live after.  [Laughs]  You’re a very good host, I would say, even over the phone.  Thank you so much.

Normand Lockwood was born in New York City on March 19, 1906, but raised in Ann Arbor, Mich. from the age of two. He was the son of Angelina (Normand-Smith) and Samuel Pierson Lockwood. Samuel Lockwood was a violinist, teacher, and conductor at the University of Michigan's School of Music in Ann Arbor, Mich. Angelina was also a violinist and played in the school orchestra and faculty string quartet at the University of Michigan though she was not a member of the faculty.

Normand Lockwood attended elementary school in Ann Arbor, Mich. While there, he began studying piano under Otto J. Stahl, who was the first to encourage Lockwood to write music. Through his father, Lockwood was able to pursue music classes at the University of Michigan. In 1924, Lockwood's academic education ended after two years at Ann Arbor High School.

Traveling in Europe with his uncle, pianist Albert Lockwood, Lockwood ended up in Rome where he studied orchestration with Ottorino Respighi for one year (1924-25). Lockwood next studied composition under Nadia Boulanger in Paris (1926-28, 1930-32). Under Boulanger, Lockwood's talent blossomed. During this period of schooling, Lockwood married Dorothy Sanders on September 21, 1926, with whom he raised three children. The marriage ended in 1955.

Lockwood was the recipient of the Prix de Rome fellowship in composition from 1929-32 at the American Academy in Rome. In 1932, Lockwood returned to the United States as Assistant Professor in theory and composition at Oberlin College, Ohio. From 1942 to 1948, he moved to New York as recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship studying and composing, holding faculty positions and lecturing at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary, and composing and arranging music for CBS.

In 1948 Lockwood was appointed Head of Composition and Theory at Westminster Choir College, Princeton, NJ. From 1950-52 he was visiting professor and lecturer at Queens College and Yale University. He also received many awards for compositions during this period. In 1953-55 Lockwood was named Chair of the Music Department, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas. From 1955-57 he moved to Laramie, Wyoming, where he composed many pieces of music. He also met and married Vona K. Swedell.

From 1957 to 1961, Lockwood was visiting professor at the University of Oregon, University of Hawaii, and began his relationship with the University of Denver. In 1961 he received a joint faculty appointment in the departments of Music and Drama at the University of Denver where he produced many operatic/theatrical works. Lockwood retired and became Professor Emeritus at the University of Denver in 1974.

Normand Lockwood lived in Denver, Colorado, with his wife, Vona, and continued to compose music from the time of his retirement in 1974 until his death in 2002. He has composed over 500 works in all traditional musical genres, including choral, keyboard, chamber music, solo songs, works for large instrumental ensembles, operas, and incidental music for drama. He died in Denver on March 9, 2002, ten days shy of his 96th birthday.

© 1986 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded on the telephone on February 12, 1986.  Portions (along with recordings) were used on WNIB two months later, as well as in 1991 and 1996.  This transcription was made and posted on this website in 2012. 

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.