Composer  Dorothy  Rudd  Moore

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Dorothy Rudd Moore.  Born on June 4, 1940, in New Castle, Delaware; married to cellist/conductor Kermit Moore from 1964 until his death in 2013. Her mother was a singer, and Dorothy would make up her own songs as child. She knew she wanted to become a composer at a young age, and took piano lessons as a child. She learned to play clarinet so that in high school she should join the previously all-male band.

Education: Howard University, BMus, 1963; received the Lucy Moten Fellowship to attended the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, where she studied with Nadia Boulanger in 1963; private study in New York with Chou Wen Chung, 1965; private voice lessons with Lola Hayes, 1972.

Memberships: American Composers Alliance; BMI; New York Singing Teachers Association; New York Women Composers. [The ACA has raised funds to make new engraved editions of many works by their composers, and can be contacted for scores and parts at]

Career: Composer; Harlem School of the Arts, teacher, 1965-66 [photo below]; New York University, teacher 1969; Bronx Community College, teacher, 1971; private piano, voice, sight-singing, and ear-training teacher, 1968- ; a co-founder of the Society of Black Composers, 1968; sat on the Music Panel of the New York State Council of the Arts, 1988-90.

Considered one of her generation's leading woman composers of color, has received commissions from such orchestras as the National Symphony, Opera Ebony, and the Buffalo Philharmonic.


--  Throughout this page, names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

Composer Dorothy Rudd Moore was in Chicago in February of 1990, and it was my privilege and pleasure to be able to spend a half hour with her.  Besides her knowledge and understanding of the topics we discussed, it was a delightful encounter with much laughter and interesting banter back-and-forth.  

moore I was able to use portions of our conversation a few times on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, and now the entire chat is presented on this webpage.

At the time, she had only a couple of recordings, and I asked her to send them to me for use on the radio.  She did this, and included a lovely note, which is reproduced at right.  The jackets of those two LP recordings (remember that distinctive old format?) are shown on this webpage, as are some newer ones, which are available on CD.

Bruce Duffie:   Tell me the joys and sorrows of being a composer of concert music as we head into the ‘90s!

Dorothy Rudd Moore:   It’s very interesting.  The joy comes in hearing a composition of yours performed well.  As for sorrows, I can’t really speak of any.  I’ve been so fortunate to do the thing that I chose to do, and when you consider everything else that goes on in the world, to write music is a luxury.

BD:   You say you chose to do it.  Did you really choose to do it, or did it choose you?

DRM:   That’s another interesting question.  When I was growing up at home, in New Castle, Delaware, I used to be amazed that all these sounds could come together.  When I was very young, it didn’t occur to me that a human being did that.  It was like sunset, or something that just happened in nature.  Then, of course, you get older, and you understand that this is something that someone has done.  It’s come from someone’s mind.  I would go to my local orchestra, which was the Philadelphia Orchestra, and I thought that’s the way all orchestras sounded.

BD:   It’s a pretty good model!

DRM:   They were mostly men playing, and then it occurred to me that somebody put all that together, so it was the fascination, really.  I was studying piano at a young age, and it seems as though I’ve sung my entire life.  My mother is a singer, and I thought I could write music as an avocation because writing music was something that men did.  [Both laugh]  I was still very young, and when I was growing up, I felt that all composers were white, male and dead.

BD:   That’s the conception most people have.

DRM:   Exactly.  So then it occurred to me when it was near time for me to go to college, that if every pupil can do this, I can stay and do it just like anybody else.  Why not make it my vocation?  This is what I want to do, so when I went to college, I majored in music theory and composition.  I don’t know which came first, but by the time I went, it was a decision I had made that that’s what I wanted to do.

BD:   You’ve never had any regrets?

DRM:   I have never had any regrets.  To me, there’s something so special about it.  My minor was voice, and I liked singing, but I didn’t know if I would like doing that all the time.  There’s something so public about that, and in spite of what friends might think, I am very private, and I like the creative end of things.  I also wrote poetry.

BD:   Do you set your own poetry to music?

DRM:   I never have.  As a matter of fact, my husband set five of my poems to music [Five Songs for DRM for soprano and piano], and it’s a work written for me.  He just went through all of my poems very objectively and professionally, and chose the five that he liked.  Now I’ve written an opera, Frederick Douglass, and I wrote the libretto, so in that sense, yes, I have set my own words to music.  But that was written with that purpose.  But my poems are entities unto themselves, and I can’t be the one to set them.  For me they’re complete the way they are.  Someone else can set them.

BD:   Being a singer yourself, does that give you a special insight into how to write well for the voice?

DRM:   I hope this doesn’t sound immodest, but that’s what singers tell me.  They appreciate the way I write for the voice, and they think that it may be because I am a singer.  There are other people who write for the voice, though, and they write well for it.  So, I don’t know if that’s the only reason, but it probably doesn’t hurt.  

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   We have this general misconception that musical composition is by white males who are dead.  [Both laugh]  How is your music by a black female, who is very much alive, different from or similar to our conception of music?

DRM:   What Schubert and I have in common is that we both have some manuscript paper, and the desire to write music.  That’s the thing that makes it the same.  I really don’t think that previous times were much different than they are now when it comes to someone involved in this kind of music.  It’s something that you do.  You don’t do it because you’re seeking fame and fortune.  You do it because you really think you have something that you want to communicate through this medium.  It comes from an inner place that I don’t begin to know anything about, but it’s something where the music itself and the idea takes precedence over any kind of egotistical ‘I, I, I, me, me, me’ thing.  That’s what similar.  The only thing that’s similar is the audience, the people who like concert music.  The audience of 1850 might have just as much in common as the audience of 1990 in terms of its desire for that kind of spiritual reaching out in musical terms. 

BD:   When you’re writing a piece of music, are you always in control of that pencil, or are there times when that pencil is controlling your hand?

DRM:   This sounds so terribly dramatic, and I probably shouldn’t even say it, but when something has come to me, I have to put my head down and cry.  That really has happened to me.  It’s a feeling that I cannot verbalize.  When I was writing the opera, Frederick Douglass, which was premiered in New York in 1985 by Opera Ebony, I’m mentioning it because that’s a very big thing in my life.  

BD:   Of course!

DRM:   I wrote, as I said, the libretto and the music.  I’m not a religious person at all, but there was a moment which was as though he were sitting around my shoulder.  It was something just uncanny.  When one is dealing with ideas as represented by words, such as if I’m setting up a poem, they’re images that are already suggested.  But when you’re writing purely instrumental music, something like that can happen too, and that’s even more mysterious in a way, because you’re dealing only with the image of music and sounds, and not with some other thought that contains a poem or text.

BD:   When you’re working with these ideas, and you get them on paper, you know some of them are good and some of them must be discarded.  As you work with the piece of music, how do you know when you’ve arrived at the finished product?  How do you know when to put the pencil down and say it is ready to be launched?

DRM:   That’s another interesting question.  All I can tell you is that you know.  Some composers don’t mind going back and revising what they’ve done after it’s been premiered.  They go back and make changes, but I literally cannot put the double bar on until I say,
“This is it!  This is why I’m not what I’d call a fast composer.  I have to feel completely satisfied because this is what I’m putting out; this is what I’m presenting.  I’m not going to say whether this is true or not, but even if later I say, This wasn’t quite as good as I might have done it, I still won’t change it because that piece is an entity which is done.  It has made its entrance; it has its own life, and I’m always looking forward to the next piece.

BD:   So rather than tinker with the old, you’d rather write a new piece?

DRM:   Yes, that’s right.  

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you get commissions for most of the pieces you write?

DRM:   I’ve gotten commissions for just about all of them.  It’s very difficult to write music and consider the possibility that it won’t be performed.

BD:   How do you decide which commissions you’ll accept, and which you might either delay or turn aside?

moore DRM:   First of all, there is the track record of the performer.  I have to respect the performer.  That goes without saying, but then if I believe the performer will really do the work, that’s another thing.  Then, when that performer tells me that he or she has a date, that’s it.  Then I’m really committed, because I don’t have a romantic idea about writing musicthat I’m going to write all this stuff, and it’s going to be in a drawer, and then one day it’ll be discovered.  To me music on paper is not music.  It’s not until it’s performed that it’s really realized.  I don’t feel that I have the leisure to just doodle, but sometimes I get ideas for really dumb funny things.  It would be great to do that, like the great brilliant things that Peter Schickele does, but I don’t have the leisure to do it.  Everything is serious with me.  When I sit down and write something, it has to be for something specific, and it’s not just for fun, generally.  But that could change!  Let’s say I get a commission to do something just like that.  That would be different.  I don’t mean to say that my music is all humorless, but I’m just talking about just writing something that’s just a ditty that you can just throw off and have fun with.  I generally don’t do that.  

BD:   No parody music for you?  [Vis-à-vis the poster shown at right, see my interviews with Miriam Gideon, and Elliott Schwartz.]

DRM:   Right, even though I come up with ideas for all the time, but I can’t do it. 

BD:   Have you basically been pleased with the performances you have heard of your works through the years?

DRM:   I’ve basically truly have.  I have been really lucky from that point of view.  When I came to New York, I met the man who was to become my husband soon after, and we got married very quickly.  He’s a musician, named Kermit Moore, and he’s a cellist, conductor and composer.  I met other musicians through him who were just so wonderful, but really I was spoiled in the beginning.  So, the first time when I had a performance that didn’t go too well, it was devastating [laughs] and I realized I had to mature.  But I will tell you, purposely I’m serious about my music, and I seriously do not want someone who’s not a musician but who just plays a little bit, to go and get my music and try to perform it.  I don’t like that.  I think it’s related to why I haven’t written the little ditty music.  I just started a project to write some piano music for children in the intermediate level of study.  I only wrote one piece, but I like it.  It’s just that other things interfered, and I haven’t gotten around to doing any more of it.  But if I’m writing a song cycle, and I’m setting poetry by Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen, and all these people dealing with usually serious subjects, they’re not for just fun and games, an afternoon at home playing music and amusing friends.  It’s music for the concert hall, and I want serious artists to do it.  

BD:   In amongst all the artistry that you put into your music, is there an entertainment value at all when it’s being performed by professionals?

DRM:   A long time ago, when Pablo Casals was invited to the White House by John Kennedy, the president made a statement thanking Casals for coming to entertain us, and he used that word.  I was in college, and I thought,
“Oh, how gross, the great Casals entertaining.  I went to school in Washington, by the way, at Howard University.  Then later on I thought about it, and I said, “Well, that is an element of it.  It’s not that the audience should sit there and be tortured, or crinkle a brow in thought.  Everything has great moment, but the only problem is the problem with the word itself, and that’s because of what it’s come to mean.

BD:   The connotation?

DRM:   The connotation.  I’m entertained by lots of things.  I watch television like everybody else.  I like rap music, I like some pop music.  I find a lot of today’s pop music is just so boring because it’s one theme and two or three words, and then it’s just repeated over and over and over again because it’s dance music.  It’s okay when you’re dancing, but those things are entertaining, and I like to think that in concert music what we do is different.  I hate making this distinction, but I like to think there’s another level of involvement that goes beyond just the entertaining, which is basically a superficial level.  It’s like going to the movies and eating popcorn, and I like popcorn!  I like movies, but I don’t really go anymore because, first of all, I’m always coming out saying,
I could have done that better, probably!  I don’t mean as the actors or as the writer or as the director.  The movie sort of dissipates five minutes later, just like the memory of the popcorn, whereas I don’t have that feeling if I come from a really good play, or the opera, or something that just engages me more.  So, from that point of view, these things I just mentioned are more than just entertaining.  

BD:   When you write your music, are you expecting it to last?

DRM:   So long as the paper it’s on lasts.  I don’t really dwell on immortality.  Whether there is or there isn’t, if a person achieves immortality, it is through creations like this.  I do believe that, but I never dwell on,
Oh, will they remember me when I’m gone, because I don’t think I’ll have any awareness of it, one way or the other.  I’m interested in what I’m doing now.  If it should last, that would be wonderful, but otherwise I don’t think about it.

BD:   Do you have any expectations of the audience that comes to hear a concert on which your music is included?

DRM:   Only that they’re there by their own free will.  That’s all.  I make no demands on an audience.  That would be just absolutely too snooty.

BD:   Well, maybe not
demands, but what about hopes?

DRM:   I hope they’ll like my music, of course!  That’s it.  Nothing more than that.  I hope they like my music.

BD:   You mentioned you like rap music, and other things too.  Because you have accepted other styles of music, should we try to get those who only know the rap sound into the concert hall?

DRM:   Oh, I’d love to.  What I’ve discovered is that on some occasions, especially when we go around to colleges, there would be young people in the audience who’d never gone to a concert before, and they would just be dumbfounded because they’ve been used to hearing this other kind of music, and they didn’t know this existed.  I don’t know how they didn’t know, but they didn’t know.  They would come and ask questions, and they’d be fascinated by whatever the instrument was.  Of course, some would be interested just because I’m female, or some would be interested because I’m black, but they had never heard that consummate of sounds and rhythms, so it’s new for them.  No one is born knowing this.  It’s all learned reaction.  I probably wouldn’t have the interest that I have if I hadn’t gotten the interest of my own parents, or if I hadn’t had music in schools.  That’s extremely important.  It doesn’t mean that every child must be a musician, but we have to be introduced to it somewhere.  A lot of what the young kids do today in music is just snap your fingers and shake your behind by it, and that’s it.  I think that’s too bad.  I really do, because that there’s so much more.  I like sports.  I like basketball, I like football, I like baseball.  The more things I like, the more I get out of life, and you can only like things if you know something about them.  I used to be exactly the opposite.  I hated sports, and I thought anybody who did sports was dumb jock.  It wasn’t until after I was married that I realized my husband liked sports, so there must be something to it, and I just started to learn about.

moore BD:   He gave it a credibility for you?

DRM:   He gave it a credibility for me.  That’s really true.

BD:   Do you feel you are a pioneer, or a prophet in giving credibility to music by black women composers?

DRM:   No.  I feel I am a recipient of what has gone on before; that I’m benefiting from what happened before.

BD:   Are you not crusading, now?

DRM:   [Thinks a moment]  It really would be a false thing if I said I was crusading.  If the result is that it seems that way, that’s fine, but I can’t say I’ve done anything other than write music.  I really can’t say any more than that.  I have the unfortunate opinion that I am unique just because I am me, period.  I think that about everybody.  Now if it happens that someone finds inspiration from the fact that I’m a female and that I’m black, that’s wonderful.  There are some women who don’t like to be categorized as women composers, and there are some people who even have a problem with being called a black composer.  The distinction for me is not that a person’s music is female or black, it’s past the identification.  So, when people have asked me if I mind, I’ve said,
Number one, I am female, and number two, I am black and I’m a composer.  All three might as well stick to me, so I don’t mind being called that at all.  

BD:   But you would rather be just a composer?

DRM:   I don’t even discuss it because there are so many things to think about in the world.  I decided not to worry about this.  Suppose I had never known that Duke Ellington existed, and that he was black?  Two of the people who influenced me when I was young were J.S. Bach and Duke Ellington.  I just thought what they did was just so magical creation-wise.  

BD:   In very different ways?

DRM:   In very different ways, and that’s the thing that interests me about writing music
the creative aspect of it, what comes out of my own mind.  I think it made a difference to know that Duke Ellington was a composer, and, by the way, that’s how he thought of himself.  We used to know him, and he thought of himself not as a jazz composer but as a composer.  He was very much aware of the fact that jazz was a derogatory term, and he didn’t consider himself writing something that was derogatory.  He considered himself writing music!  Jazz, now, is a respectable term.  It’s gone through the fire and come out to mean something else.  As I’m sure you know, there was a time when peopleblack and whitetalked about jazz, they were talking about something that was low down, and not respected.  As to human beings, no matter when they live, or where they come from, what continent they live on, what century they live in, everything that we do is as a result of learning something, and having some kind of a model.  So finally, in answering your question, if a young woman is inspired to become a composer because I am a composer, that’s great.  And if a black person is inspired, that’s great.  From that point of view, I like that, and I don’t mind the terms.  But I don’t like them to be used to set me apart from anybody, and say it makes my music better, or not better.  It’s just a fact of life and nature.  That’s what I am, and that’s what I do.

BD:   So you would not be unhappy even if you inspired a white male composer?

DRM:   Absolutely not, though it would be wonderful.

BD:   What advice do you have for young composers coming along?

DRM:   The one thing they really must have more than anything is the desire to write music.  I really believe that.  I also think that if they want fame and fortune, then they should go on to the entertainment side, which is a perfectly fine thing in the field of music.  But if they want to write concert music, they should not be looking for fame and fortune, which is something I’ve never looked for myself.  I liked having the result of what I do, and that’s important to me, but in terms of my being famous, I don’t care about that.  But they must first really want to write music because it’s sounds great.  I’ve had people who’ve said to me,
“Oh, aren’t you fortunate God gave you this gift?  I may be fortunate, but I don’t know what the reasons for that fortune are.  It’s a lonely business.

BD:   Too lonely?

DRM:   No, not too lonely.  Lonely is not a negative word for me.  It just means that it’s something you do when you’re alone, and some people can’t stand being alone.  I happen to like it.  It’s funny... my husband and I are together practically all the time.  This is one time we’re not together, and I really miss him.  But in being together, we can also be alone, and I like being alone.  I like being alone doing what I want to do, and I like his being able to be alone to do what he wants to do.  But at the same time, we have the cushion of knowing that the other one’s in the next room.  It’s just a lonely business, and there’s no approbation necessarily.  You don’t know what’s going to happen until the piece is performed, and the whole thing could possibly turn out not at all the way you wanted it.  I don’t know if they still do this, but when I was at Howard, the National Symphony Orchestra had a contest for the five universities in the Washington area.  You had to use pseudonyms on your composition, and they would choose ten of them.  Mine was one of the ten chosen, and it was done in a concert.  It wasn’t a formal concert the way they did it, but Howard Mitchell was the conductor, and here I was!  I was twenty-years old, and I wrote this whole symphony, and something happened.  I don’t remember what it was, but something wasn’t played exactly the way I’d like it, and I got very upset, ran out crying.  [Laughs]  But I think that it was just the emotion of the whole thing.  My parents were there, and it was a very big deal for me to write a symphony
having taken twenty-three hours of courses, and staying up late copying the parts.  Then the work finally was done, and I guess it was just the emotional thing that came over me.  But that’s the loneliness I’m talking about, and you have it whether you’re crying out of joy or crying out of frustration, or crying out of fatigue.  It’s a loneliness that’s not negative, but it’s just something that’s so personal to me when you create something.  Anyone who creates anything has that feeling, and, in a way, it’s really putting yourself out on a limb.  In some ways its easier to be a performer and to be part of a whole group.  You’re cushioned that way.  But think of the audacity of saying, I’m going to write an opera, and it’s going to be three acts, and there’s going to be all these people.  It’s just too much work writing an opera, but it’s still an audacious thing.  You’re setting yourself up one way or the other.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’ve had a couple of recordings made of your music.  They carry a little more universally because the performances can then be heard at any time.  Is this pleasing to you?

DRM:   Totally because they are two of my favorite pieces.  The Cello Sonata is called Dirge and Deliverance [shown immediately below] and it’s the second work that I’ve written for my husband.  Actually, I wrote From the Dark Tower for him, too, and for Hilda Harris [shown farther down on this webpage].  It’s for mezzo, cello and piano, but the very first piece I wrote for him is called Baroque Suite for unaccompanied cello.  I was influenced by two things
meeting him, and loving the Bach Suites.  That eventually became his wedding present, and he has played that piece several times.  It’s a three-minute work, but the Dirge and Deliverance is very close to me, also, as is From the Dark Tower.  So, I am very pleased that those two works are on the recordings.  I’d love it if everything were recorded, but it’s difficult.



BD:   You said earlier that you were a very private person.  Isn
t the act of writing a piece really exposing the inner self, perhaps in a different way than a performer shows himself or herself?

DRM:   Yes, I think I show myself in my music.  It’s like the difference between the director of the movie and the actors.  I’d want to be the director or the writer.

BD:   Be a writer/director together?

DRM:   [Laughs]  Why not?  I like the creative end of things.  It probably has something to do with being bad at taking instruction.  I’ve been in some opera scenes, and whenever the director was doing something that didn’t make sense, I would always tell him... which you’re not supposed to do!  [More laughter]  I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t get along with people.  When I do perform, it really is something that I’ve decided to do, and that I’ll have some control over.  It’s not something that somebody else has control over.  I prefer performing my own music.  Don’t get me wrong, I like performing Schubert, but I don’t generally do the standard recital things anymore because I don’t really perform that much.

moore BD:   When you do perform, are you the ideal interpreter of your pieces?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Lowell Liebermann, and Mary Jeanne van Appledorn.]

DRM:   Actually, the only works of mine I perform are songs for voice and oboe, and the text is called Twelve Quatrains - Songs of the Rubáiyát.  
[Settings of 12 poems from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, in the English translations by Edward FitzGerald.]
  I only performed those, and that was due to the fact that my husband put on a concert of my music in Carnegie Recital Hall.  There were ten musicians involved, and I was looking forward to sitting in the audience.  That’s what I love to do, just sit in the audience!  He said, “No, you should really be on this program.  I said that I didn’t want to be, and the only thing that I’d written that I could perform were these songs for voice and oboe.  So he twisted my arm, and I ended up being a nervous wreck just because I had to perform.  They were premiered in France, by the way, in Fontainebleau.  The other work that I wrote which I could perform is Sonnets on Love, Rosebuds and Death for soprano, violin, and piano.  That work was written for a wonderful soprano, Miriam Burton, and for Sanford Allen, who was a violinist.  He used to be in the New York Philharmonic, and that premiered in the Alice Tully Hall in 1976.  At that time, I wouldn’t have even thought of touching those songs, because I couldn’t.  I thought technically I could not have sung them.  But by 1980 I was a little better.  I worked on them just the same way as I would work on Schubert or any other composer.  I had to be a different person.  I wasn’t the composer here, because it’s one thing to know every single notewhich, obviously, I do in those songsbut it’s another thing to sing something and get into your instrument.  I said, God, these songs are hard!  [Both laugh]  Miriam kept telling me that, but I said, “Oh, no, Miriam, they’re not hard at all!  But they really are.  They’re a group of eight songs altogether.

BD:   So it’s a whole cycle then?

DRM:   It’s cycle.  So, to answer your question, I don’t know if I am the ideal interpreter, but I have sung them now since 1980, and every time I work on them, I do them the way I’d like them to be done.  I don’t know if it’s the best singing, but interpretively I do know that I like them the way that I do them.

BD:   When other people are performing your music, are there times when they find things you didn’t even know you’d hidden there?

DRM:   That’s the wonderful thing about that kind of collaboration.  On the page, music is nothing but black stuff on white paper with lines.  As I mentioned before, it’s not music until it’s performed.  Another composition I want to mention is called Weary Blues, and it’s a setting of Langston Hughes.  My setting is for baritone, cello and piano.  I’ve heard by now by probably eight baritones sing that work, and I’ve heard something different in all of them.  The funniest thing is that I had to sing it once, and I’m a lyric soprano!  It was due to the fact that the Langston Hughes Library in New York was opening a music section.  They were dedicating that part, so they wanted me to speak because I’ve set his poetry.  It was a busy time for me, and every baritone I knew was out of town.  As it kept getting nearer the date, I kept thinking that I would find a baritone.  Well, the day came and my husband was playing cello, and so I just worked with my teacher and found these chest notes.  I sang Weary Blues, and it almost killed me!  [Both laugh]  Music is a living thing for me.  I mentioned to you earlier about not listening to tapes because they’re just like a film.  A tape is a record, and that’s the finish to it.  If I have to use it for reference, I will, but I know my own music already, and if I was there to perform it, it’s already in here [points to her head].  Each tine something is done, it’s a live, living thing.  That’s why I don’t listen to records much, as a matter of fact.  A recording cannot do for you what sitting in a hall, hearing a symphony orchestra can do, because the vibration comes through the floor, and goes up through your body.  There’s just nothing that a recording can duplicate.  Even the most advanced CDs can’t do that for me.

BD:   So they’re second best?

DRM:   For me, yes.  I’m glad they exist, and it’s not that I never listen to records.  But if I do, it’s generally for some reason other than just listening.  Some people like to read while they’re listen.  I’m either going to be listening to the music, or I’m going to be reading.  So when I’m reading, I have to turn off the radio.  It’s not background music for me.

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BD:   We were talking about interpretation.  How much do you expect of the performer when they get a piece of your music?

DRM:   Oh, I’m glad you asked that question.  I go to great trouble to edit my music very much, so what I expect from the performer is yes, I did mean to write that note; yes, I did mean to write that it was that tempo; leeway can be discussed; and yes, I did mean that decrescendo.  So, I just ask that they get the notes right and get the rhythm right, and they observe my markings.  It’s a blueprint, that’s all it is.  The other things comesfrom them.  But if I say in my music that I want this to be such and such a tempo, and then the person decides no, it shouldn’t be 96, it should be 66, I’d be very upset.  That kind of leeway I don’t get, because to me that’s part of the creative thing.  But if he thinks that 84 would be better, that’s okay.


BD:   That’s close enough?

DRM:   Yes, because what often happens is you don’t know until the first performance.  It takes me a long time to edit because you’re making decisions there.  I can spend two hours trying to decide on just a metronome marking, and then you hear the things out and realize that isn’t it at all!  You can discover things that way.  For example, Weary Blues is a concert piece.  It honors the idea of ‘the blues’, and certain musical aspects of ‘the blues’, but it’s not meant to be taken by a person who sings ‘the blues’, and interprets it in his own way.  It’s meant to be done exactly as it says.  I don’t want to get technical, but I have a lot of rhythmic things
triplets with quarter and eighth, for exampleand that is not to be done in some other way.  And if I have two straight eighth notes, I don’t want that done as though they are a quarter and an eighth.  In other words, there’s a reason for this creative thing that I did, and it really works immensely if these things are adhered to.  But if someone decides that he’s going to just swing it, or just do it in his own style, that’s going to ruin the integrity of the piece.  You’ve got the baritone, you’ve got the cello, and you’ve got the piano, and they really are three soloists, and they’re really telling a story about this wonderful old, sad, black man sitting there playing ‘the blues’ under a gaslight.  Then he starts singing, and this is Langston Hughes’s poem ... [begins singing] ‘I’ve got the weary blues, and I can’t be satisfied!’  If you’re going to set those words, you’re not going to use something like John Cage, or Schubert, or anything like that.  You’ve got to make it sound right, and that’s where I use ‘the blues’ thing.

BD:   And yet you wouldn’t want B.B. King to take it and make it into his own arrangement?

DRM:   No, I really wouldn’t because that would be B.B. King’s piece.  This is my piece!  [Laughs]  That’s where my ego comes in.  I know there’s a philosophical thing about this.  Some composers really just give blueprints, and then it’s up to the performer to interpret... here you can do this for so many minutes, and here you can do that for so many seconds, aleatoric music and all that.  Maybe this is my own ego that makes the difference, but if I’m going to call myself a composer, then I have to be the one who wrote it.  Jazz, as we all know, is very close in many ways to what Bach did with the figured bass, and everybody creating their own lines.  A lot of times I wonder how the real jazz composers who just write eight bars, can let everyone do his own thing.  I would feel funny saying I composed this piece and when there are six other people on stage really creating the sounds.

BD:   [With mock horror]  Your score is more than just a lead sheet???

DRM:   Yes!  [Laughs]  For me it is, and that’s just my own personal feeling for it.  But that doesn’t mean a person shouldn’t be acknowledged for contributing an idea.  Growing up in New Castle, Delaware, liking all the musicals by Rodgers & Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart, when I first went to New York it was really something to find out that Richard Rodgers didn’t literally sit down and do all that stuff!  And then to find out that somebody’s called a composer and someone else is the orchestrator... I found out a lot of things.  In the Rock
n’ Roll field, they didn’t know how to read music, and they didn’t know how to play the piano.  I asked how is it that he or she’s the composer, and was told that it was because he came up with the idea!  I thought, “Hey, I could write music all night long!  [Much laughter all around]  

BD:   Maybe we should have a new title of ‘idea-ist’!

DRM:   Exactly.

BD:   Thank you for sharing your time with me today.

DRM:   This was very nice.



If I may . . .

At the time this interview is being posted, in February of 2018, I am happy to report that about half of the interviews which I have done over the years have been transcribed and presented on my website.  While I am no longer doing fresh ones, during the period 1978-2006 I had approximately 1600 conversations with about 1450 musicians - some of whom I met more than once.  In looking at the entire group, I am pleased to note that of the 496 composers, 62 were woman (12.5%) and 16 were African-American.  Besides Tania León (who is originally from Cuba), only Dorothy Rudd Moore falls into both categories.  

Of those which have been transcribed and posted thus far, let me call your attention to the other Afreican-American composers: George Walker (winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music), Ulysses Kay (who also wrote an opera entitled Frederick Douglass), Olly Wilson, Anthony Davis (also a Pulitzer Prize winner), Jeffrey Mumford, and Hale Smith and T.J. Anderson.  For the other women composers, see the current list of my posted interviews HERE.  The group of African-Americans is HERE, and all of my interview guests are listed HERE.

Naturally, besides composers, my interview guests also included conductors, as well as vocal and instrumental performers.  Again, let me call your attention to just a few which have been transcribed and posted: conductor James DePreist (nephew of Marian Anderson), violist Marcus Thompson, sopranos Mattiwilda Dobbs, and Alpha Floyd, mezzo-sopranos Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett, and Florence Quivar, tenors William Brown, and George Shirley, baritone William Warfield (husband of Leontyne Price), bass-baritone Simon Estes, and basses Mark S. Doss, and Terry Cook.

While I have very rarely had my picture taken with my guests, in 1994 I was the emcee for the Opening Night Concert of the Chicago Sinfonetta at Orchestra Hall.  Below are two photos taken backstage that evening: with conductor Paul Freeman (left), and pianist Leon Bates (right).

freeman & bates

© 1990 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on February 10, 1990.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB that June, and again in 1995 and 2000.  This transcription was made in 2018, 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.