Composer  Jeffrey  Mumford

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Jeffrey Mumford was born (June 22, 1955) in Washington, D.C., and holds degrees from the University of California, Irvine (B.A., 1977) and the University of California, San Diego (M.A., 1981). He was a student of Elliott Carter and Lawrence Moss.

His music has been especially praised by The New York Times as being "a philosophy of music making that embraced both raw passion and a gentle imagistic poetry." He recently accepted a teaching position at Lorain County Community College, where he holds the rank of Distinguished Professor in the Division of Arts and Humanities.

Mumford's compositions, though thoroughly modern, are evocative, exploring the sensuous and tactile nature of sound in subtle and sophisticated ways.

Mumford has taught at the Washington Conservatory of Music (1989–99), served as Artist-in-Residence at Bowling Green State University (1999-00), and served as assistant professor of composition and Composer-in-Residence at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. He has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, American Music Center, Ohio Arts Council, and ASCAP Foundation, and has been awarded seven Meet the Composer grants.

Mumford's orchestral works have been performed by the National Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra.

Mumford's works have been recorded by the CRI label, and on Albany CDs, and his scores are published by Theodore Presser.

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

Jeffrey Mumford was in Chicago for a couple of days in March of 2001.  We both went to a concert of the Chicago Symphony, which had Sir Andrew Davis conducting the Haydn Symphony #104, the Symphony in Three Movements by Stravinsky, Lyric for Strings by George Walker, and Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings by Britten, with tenor Kurt Streit, and Dale Clevenger, Principal Horn of the CSO.

After the concert, Mumford and I went back to his hotel for a conversation.  One of the things we mentioned was his Filaments (1990), which was being done the following evening by two flutists of the CSO, as part of the regular new-music series Music Now.

Here is that chat . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You mentioned that your wife is a painter, and that you wanted to start out in visual arts.  When and why did you make the decision to move from visual to aural?

Jeffrey Mumford:   It’s a circuitous route.  When I was a child, my brother and I were given record albums called The Child’s Introduction to the Symphony, and we used to play around with little excerpts from the repertoire.  We had those little yellow records, and we used to associate football teams with the excerpts.  We used to watch football every Sunday, so the Chicago Bears were the Swan from The Carnival of the Animals, and another excerpt was the New York Giants, the Baltimore Colts were something else.  We used to just play these games, and sing these tunes while these football games were going on.  It was a black & white television, and each game and each locale had a different quality of light about it, so I could always tell from what city certain games were called.  I’ve always been influenced by light.  Then in college I was starting as an art major, and I did a lot of style-studies, both as a composer and as a painter.  During that time, I used to live in the National Gallery.  I love Washington DC.  All the museums were free, and you could just spend your life there if you wanted.  So, I would do style-studies of Old Master paintings to develop my technique.  I loved the Seventeenth Century Dutch Landscape School, the Impressionists, and everything.  Later, I was doing a copy of a François Boucher painting at University of California Irvine, where I was in undergraduate school, and that was very much frowned on.  They didn’t like that.  I even had a professor who was assigned to us to teach painting, who walked in the first day and announced to all of us that he did not believe painting was a valid art form, but he was assigned to teach it to us anyway!  [Both laugh]  That’s kind of a kick in the head, isn’t it?  My painting career was sabotaged when, one day, I came into the studio, and white paint had been splashed all over my piece.  That was very upsetting.  So, I went over to the music department for solace.  I started banging on the piano, and making friends there.  I got welcomed over there.  I was already studying composition with Peter S. Odegard, who also taught me the viola, and I owe him a great deal for that.  He took me under his wing, and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.  I realized music was indeed the best way I could express myself.

BD:   It was actually a good thing to steer you away from the art and into the music?

Mumford:   It appears that way.  It certainly was a kick in one direction, that was for sure.

BD:   You’ve never regretted that change?

Mumford:   No!  Absolutely not!  I love painting, and I wish I had time to do it, but I don’t.  You always want many more hours in the day...  I did a landscape painting of the school one day when we were living in North Tarrytown.  My wife and I went to Kingsland Point Park, which overlooks the Hudson River, and we did some painting together.  It was very nice.  I wish we could do more things like that.

mumford BD:   When you compose music, do you feel that you are painting in sound?

Mumford:   Well, I think so!  I know that my work is very visual.  My work’s about light, and different intensities of light, and foreground and background
cloud images particularly.  The idea is that there are structures that combine all this, and reshape the sights as they march across the sky.  I used to look at thunderstorms outside my window in DC, with lots of thunderstorms in the summertime, and many times that was very influential to me.  I’ve always loved clouds, and I made three or four cloud-filled paintings of the landscape.  Clouds always spoke to me, even when flying as a kid to different places.  I always said that I wanted a window seat on the plane, and I just imagined living in the clouds.  So, that is an offer of an analogy to what I do.  There’s lots of different layers of activity, and I develop them at different rates of speed.

BD:   Do you look at something visually, and then translate it into the aural medium?

Mumford:   [Thinks a moment]  It may not be as literal as that.  Right now, the work I’ve been doing is very much based on my own recollections of my childhood.

BD:   When people hear your music, do you want them to get images in their minds, and, if so, are they to be your specific images, or their own images?

Mumford:   I’m very happy when they listen to it with attention, period!  People have come up to me and told me all kinds of things, and I would never want to direct exactly what they heard.  I’m very flattered and honored when they do hear what I intended, but I’m also very touched when they have other images.  The fact that they get anyting out of it is great, and then they
re not bored!  [Laughs]  You want some kind of response.  I’ve gotten lot of positive response, and I’m very grateful for that.  I also get some negative response, but I want people to be engaged.  I would rather someone hate the piece than be bored by it.

BD:   You want a reaction?

Mumford:   I want a reaction.  It’s very visceral what I do, and I want them to be transformed, and taken on a journey.  Coming back to what I was saying about my childhood, I remember certain lenses.  Certain light came through the windows of my room, and that was endlessly fascinating to me.  I saw the vistas that I used to look out across the neighbor’s roof, and past the roof I would imagine worlds out there.  I never could ever drive to them, and get there, but I knew they were out there, and I had whole scenarios all devised for what those places were.  I just finished a big piano piece, and the next piece I write is a string quartet for a wonderful young quartet called the Corigliano Quartet.  The title is called The Promise of the Far Horizon, and I already know what it is going to be about.  It’s going to be more revisiting those kinds of images and feelings.  [CD of this work is shown at left.]

BD:   It’s interesting that you work from the title to the music, rather than get the music and then put a title to it.

Mumford:   It also works that way too, but for the next few pieces I already have a solid idea about what I want to do, so the titles just came pretty quickly.

BD:   The ideas are germinating in your head?

Mumford:   Right.

BD:   Do you sketch some of them so as not to forget details?

Mumford:   Always.  I haven’t attended to this piece yet, as I just finished this big piano piece.  I’m taking a bit of a break so my family can see some of me.  [Both laugh]

BD:   When you’re working intently, do you isolate yourself?

Mumford:   I try as best as possible to get into my own space.  [Much laughter]  But I love my family, and my five-and-a-half-year-old daughter, so it’s a balancing act when you have a family and kids.  You want to get your work done, and also teach, and also be present for your family.  You don’t get much sleep.  That’s pretty much what it is.

BD:   Since you bring it up, do you get enough time to compose?

Mumford:   There’s never enough time to compose.  There’s no such thing.  I guess some people might, if they have fewer other things to do, but if you have a family, and you have teaching obligations, and you have other things, there’s never enough time.  There’s never enough time for your family, either.  I have a colleague who’s a pianist, and he has a family, and he says it pretty much boils down to doing some of the three things badly, and it just depends on which things you’re going to do badly at any given time.  What do you give less attention to?  Do you practice less today?  Do you see less of your family today?  If you teach, do you not prepare so well for your courses?  What has to give, or what has less attention?  I’m always thinking about my music twenty-nine hours a day, so the thing I give up is sleep.  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Right now you’re in Chicago briefly.  Did you bring scores to work on, or do you try to get away from it all a little bit?

Mumford:   If something comes to me, maybe I could sketch it out, but I didn’t bring materials with me because I have enough to do here.  I love to go to the museum across the street, and recharge my batteries and my soul.  I also get to see my good friend, Augusta [Read Thomas], and it’s a treat to see Bernard [Rands], Augusta’s husband, who was one of my teachers in graduate school.  So, it’s time to take a little break and just hang out.

mumford BD:   Is it safe to say that while you’re taking a little bit of a break, these ideas are steeping in your brain?

Mumford:   Oh, absolutely.  Yes, very much.

BD:   So, when you put them down a week, or a month from now, will they be different because of this weekend’s experience?

Mumford:   Invariably they will be.  As they’re percolating, who knows how they actually manifest themselves once they
re committed to paper.

BD:   A little further on in the process, when you’re writing down the notes and everything, how do you know when you’ve got the right notes down, and not to tinker with them anymore?

Mumford:   That’s a very good question.  You just have to know.  You just know.  I go through a pretty large compositional process of arranging the harmony, so because I know it’s the right thing to start with, sometimes pieces suggest themselves right away, and other times they’re more laborious.  When you work into it, the best situation is when a piece writes itself all along.

BD:   Then there are there times when the pencil leads your hand?

Mumford:   Yes, it does, absolutely.

BD:   Are you surprised where it goes?

Mumford:   Sometimes!  [Giggles]

BD:   Have you ever tried to rein it in, and steer it in a little different direction?

Mumford:   Constantly.  You’re going with it, and commenting on it, and figuring.  You always generally think you should have a strong core idea from which other flights of fancy can take place.  But the idea itself has to be strong.

BD:   When you get a commission, I assume they want a piece of about a certain length?

Mumford:   Sometimes.  The commissions can vary.  I had a commission last year from a patron in Washington, who, before that, had collected regular art.  His girlfriend suggested that he commission music.  So he put out a call, and I submitted some stuff.  He liked my work, so he commissioned me.  Part of the commission’s stipulation was that it couldn’t involve piano.  He said it could be for any instruments I wanted, but no piano... or if I did write for piano, it could not have a major role.  So I just decided to leave it out entirely.  I knew that I wanted a violin, and possibly percussion, but I was at Bowling Green State University last year as composer-in-residence, and they have a wonderful saxophone studio.  There, Marilyn Shrude is married to saxophonist John Sampen, and all of his students can play anything.  I was very impressed and inspired particularly by one them, Rhonda Taylor, and she advised me on the possibilities of her instrument.  She’s wonderful... very hyper, and encouraging, and she wants new pieces every day!  She plays the hardest stuff possible, and she wants more hard stuff written for her, and doesn’t like wimpy easy music.  So, I was very inspired to make the work for violin, saxophone and percussion.

BD:   Does she give you the ideas, or does her enthusiasm shape the ideas?

Mumford:   I would like to think that each of my pieces is idiomatic for the instruments, and the instruments suggest ways of treating them.  So, I would have to say that, yes, the saxophone has solid capabilities, and informed me how the piece was going to evolve.

BD:   Coming back to the idea of time, if the commission does stipulate a certain amount of time, do you know while you’re writing it that it will take that amount of time, or are there eventualities where it’ll stretch out too far, or be a little too compact?

Mumford:   Sometimes I don’t know.  It just does evolve, and you know it’s finished when you know it’s finished.  I have some idea, and if I wanted it to be fifteen minutes, maybe it will be just that.  I got to commission for the National Symphony a couple of weeks ago, which is very gratifying as it’s my home town orchestra, and I love it.

BD:   Will [Leonard] Slatkin conduct?

Mumford:   Yes.  They want an eight-minute piece, so I know I’m going to write eight minutes.  I don’t know what it
s going to be yet, but it’s got to be eight minutes.

BD:   What if it turns out to be something that you can’t control, and it becomes twenty minutes?  Does that become a twenty-minute piece, and you go back and do a new eight-minute piece?

Mumford:   [Laughs]  If this piece became a twenty-minute piece, then I guess I’d have to have a discussion with Slatkin!  [Gales of laughter]

BD:   When you’re writing a piece, do you often get ideas that you know would work well in another piece?

Mumford:   Sometimes, yes.

BD:   Do those ideas go into your sketch books?

Mumford:   In my head.  Sometimes I put things down, but pretty much it’s in my head.

BD:   No matter what amount of time is requested, do you know before you start about how long it will take to accomplish the compositional process?

Mumford:   That will vary because of other commitments in one’s life.  If you had a completely blank slate, and no dishes to wash, no diapers to change, no laundry to do, no people to see, that would result in a time-frame.

BD:   Can we assume that you don’t want your life to be just composition?

Mumford:   As I said, I cherish my family.  I cherish life, so you just weave stuff into stuff, and you carve out a secret space for yourself all the time.  Then you have other spaces for other things.  I’m working a little bit every day, and some days are longer than others.  My teaching schedule allows me to have certain days that are more devoted to composition than others, but I work every day, and then I work late at night when everybody is asleep.  That is when I have ultimate privacy.

*     *     *     *     *

mumford BD:   What do you teach
composition and theory?

Mumford:   It’s just composition at Oberlin Conservatory.

BD:   Are you pleased with what you see on the pages of your students?

Mumford:   Sometimes!  [Bursts out laughing]  Not always, and that’s my job
to hopefully impart whatever I have to offer, to get them to ask hard questions of themselves so they can get the most out of what they can do.  But a lot of them come with very, very raw ideas, and the challenge is to sculpt those ideas into art.

BD:   But you’re not doing the sculpting!  You’re getting them to do the sculpting?

Mumford:   Right.  My job is to ask them the hard questions, so that they can ask them of themselves.  That way, they know why they make every decision.  They can do that, I’m sure, but I can guide them into certain ways of asking those questions.

BD:   Do you usually get through to them?

Mumford:   Sometimes!  I have a pretty good track record, but everybody’s different, and some people come to things later than others, and you have to allow for that.

BD:   I assume that you ask those same tough questions of yourself?

Mumford:   Oh, yes, I
m very, very critical.

BD:   Are there ever times when you sit there and wonder why you did that?

Mumford:   Hopefully not after I’ve written it.  [Gales of laughter from both]

BD:   This brings up another question.  Once you get the piece written, do you then tinker with it and revise it?

Mumford:   I have done that, but it’s a slippery slope.  You sometimes really have to let the piece be done, but other times, after performances you realize maybe this could be there, or this could be done.  But you really have to monitor yourself very carefully about that, because you could spend the rest of your life tinkering with stuff you’ve already done, and never write anything new.

BD:   You want to get on to the next piece?

Mumford:   Yes.

BD:   I assume you have a little backlog of commissions?

Mumford:   This is a good year.  I have a few coming in for now and the next year.

BD:   When you get a commission, how do you decide if you’ll accept it, or you will turn it aside?

Mumford:   It depends on how much it engages you, how much you really want to write for those instruments, also your time, and who you’re writing for.  If you’re writing for a particularly hot player, it’s incredibly inspiring.

BD:   Do you write for the player, or do you write for anyone who can play that instrument?

Mumford:   Generally, the commission will be for a certain person or group, so then you know that you’re going to write for that person.  Hopefully, the piece will have a life beyond that person, but you know that the premiere will be in the hands of this inspirational person.

BD:   Can it then translate to and transfer to yet another performer of slightly different talents?

Mumford:   I certainly hope so, yes.  You never want to write yourself into a corner where only one person or one kind of group can play it.  That’s death.

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

Mumford:   Yes, I have to say I’ve gotten some really good ones.

BD:   Is there anything you can do about ones that are less than good?

Mumford:   Forget about them.  [Both laugh]

BD:   Hopefully those are few and far between.

Mumford:   Yes, and we all have to deal with that.  Hopefully in the maturation process you can be more philosophical about such things.  When I was younger, it used to devastate me, because you never thought you’d get another performance.  This performance was bad, so you can’t walk out of the house because it’s embarrassing.  When you’re older, and you’re more philosophical and wiser, and you know that, yes, you can get more performances of it, then it’s not so devastating, and you can be more understanding.  You know that some people have bad days, and no one does it purposely.  You have to realize that they’re doing their best, and if it’s not what you want, then you move on to get another performance by better people.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Is the music you write for everyone?

Mumford:   I can’t say that.  I’m not the proper person to say that.  I’ll leave that to other people.  I write for people to hear.  I want to communicate, but I can’t say it
s for everybody because I don’t know everybody.  [Bursts out laughing]  I would love it if people came to it with an open spirit, and were allowing themselves to be taken on a journey that they thought was interesting.  But I’m well aware that there are people who won’t care for it.

mumford BD:   We’re sort of dancing around it, so let me ask the real easy question.  What’s the purpose of music?

Mumford:   The purpose of any art form is to communicate, so music is like that.  With any art form, its practitioner has a wonderful opportunity to speak in a way that will hopefully move people, and I want to do that.

BD:   This relates to what we were talking about earlier, but you have certain images in your mind.  Do you want to communicate specific images, or just images in general?

Mumford:   I have certain images that I know drive the piece, and if people get those images, that’s a real bonus.  As I said before, I’m not expecting it necessarily, but I like to think the piece has enough of an evocative aspect to it that it will engender some response.

BD:   Have audiences generally been warm to your pieces?

Mumford:   Generally, I’ve gotten really positive experiences with people.  Some people have come up to me and told me that they have been very moved by what they’ve heard, and sometimes they’ve even told me they’ve gotten even more vivid images in certain respects than I intended.  So, that’s even better.

BD:   Would you want to put your own visual images in the program books so that the audience could look at them while they’re listening to the piece?

Mumford:   No, because it’s not that cut and dried.  It’s through a lens, and it’s my lens.  They never experience it directly, so, as I said, I’m dealing with these kinds of experiences.  I’m translating them into sound as I have experienced them and as I remembered them, which may be completely inaccurate, but it’s what I remember, so it’s valid, and it’s my reality.  For them to come to it, and experience that reality exactly as I did would be impossible, but hopefully it will engender their own reality, and their own identification with whatever experience they call up and it elicits in them.

BD:   There are a few recordings of your works.  Are you pleased with them?

Mumford:   Yes, they’re good.

BD:   I assume that more are going to come out?

Mumford:   Yes.  I’m working on one now, and hopefully, when the funding comes through, this Trio for Cello, Piano and Percussion will be done for the summertime.

BD:   Do you wish that you would not have to worry about the funding and just get them onto the discs?

Mumford:   Oh, absolutely, always.  That would free up everybody.  [Much laughter]

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

Mumford:   I have to be, because there’s too much life out there yet to be expressed.  If I wasn’t, I couldn’t get up in the morning.  Every art is an optimistic pursuit.  You have to be able to get up and do it, because we’re not in it for the money.  We’re in it because we love it.  You communicate as people, and you have to believe that people still want to have moving experiences in their lives.  Otherwise, life would be a pretty drab place.

BD:   Are we getting enough new audiences, and enough diverse audiences?

Mumford:   It’s spotty.  On one level, when you look at statistics you find more people are creating pieces of art now than ever before because there’s just more people doing it, and schools are graduating people who are doing it and studying it.  So, it’s encouraging, but the audiences vary.  The demographic is as such that in this country the concert-going audience is fifty-five and older, whereas in Europe it’s thirty-five.  That’s problematic, but I’m very happy that whoever goes, goes, and it’s a challenge to get more people to go.  I love the aspect of hearing live performance, especially hearing what we heard tonight in this wonderful hall.  I’m very old-fashioned.  I like people to go to a concert hall as a beautiful place, and hear beautiful music.  The idea of getting it over the internet or even the radio is a wonderful thing, but the radio is dropping the ball big time from what they used to do.  In the old days, you heard all kinds of different things on the radio all the time, day and night, even during the drive time, but now they’re falling pray of those stupid audience surveys, and playing Vivaldi every day, all day long.  That’s the problem.  Nothing against Mr. Vivaldi, but there are other things to play.

BD:   [Defending WNIB, Classical 97]  We never did that, but I can see your point in other stations around the country.  As to your live performances, do you get your music played on new-music programs and also mixed programs?

Mumford:   Yes.

BD:   Do you have a preference for one or the other?

Mumford:   Oh, definitely a mixed program.  I like to be in the mix of my forbears and continuum.

BD:   Do you feel that you are part of a lineage of composers?

Mumford:   Yes, I do.  I’m very reverent of that lineage.

BD:   Just composers in general, or black composers specifically?  [To see a list of the black composers and performers I have interviewed over the years, as well as links to the transcripts made so far, click HERE.]

Mumford:   Oh, both.  We’re all in this pot together, but I’m very sensitive and aware and committed to people understanding that there’s a whole lineage of black activity that needs to be heard.

BD:   There are a number of names that precede you, but not a whole lot.  There’s Ulysses Kay, and William Grant still, and William Levi Dawson...

Mumford:   There are more than people think!  There’s Chevalier de Saint-Georges, and José White, and Robert Nathaniel Dett, but it was harder for them to gain ground.  They weren’t taken seriously, nor gained acceptance, but they still did it.  More people did it than we think, and I’m sure there are more than we know, but it’s a matter of scholarship to unearth it all.  On the other hand, we have this rich trove of people who are living and breathing today, that don’t require a lot of scholarship, but just require opportunities to get their stuff done.

BD:   I assume you’re a big proponent of others’ new music?

Mumford:   I do my best to champion people that I believe in.

BD:   I hope there are enough champions of your music.

Mumford:   [Laughs]  That would be nice!  I’ve been very grateful for people who have, like Augusta, who have been good friends.  We all need to support each other.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What advice do you have for other performers who want to play more new music?

mumford Mumford:   Open yourself up to it.  Just listen.  Find a composer you like, and support them, and ask them to write pieces for you.  Commission them.  Just keep your ears open.  It’s important... collaboration between performers and composers goes back millennia, and it’s always been wonderful.  Look at Brahms and Joachim.  Any composer is fortunate to have someone who’s a champion of you, and a composer can, in return, identify people whom they love to work with.  They want you play this piece, and they‘ll write it, and then suddenly it becomes wonderful.

BD:   You started out in visual art.  Did you also play some instruments when you were younger?

Mumford:   I started out playing the clarinet in fourth grade, and then I was fascinated with the guitar, although I never practiced because I thought it was cool to play the guitar.  I had a good teacher, but I didn’t practice.  The idea of it was more present than the reality of practicing.  Then I took voice lessons, and I’m self-taught on the piano.  I also took the viola from a composition teacher because he thought it was important that I played a stringed instrument.  So, am really grateful.

BD:   So, you have mastered a few instruments, and that way you know the technical problems?

Mumford:   [Laughing]  
Mastered is absolutely the wrong word.  I know what to do with it, but mastery is not correct.  It’s an ongoing evolutionary process.  I’d love to take harp lessons, and I want to take cello lessons.  Again, there’s only so many hours in the day, but I want to do it.

BD:   You’ll be like Hindemith, and play all of the instruments.

Mumford:   It would be interesting to be able to do that.

BD:   What advice do you have for other composers
especially the younger composerscoming along?

Mumford:   Never give up, for one.  There are many more opportunities for younger composers now than there were when I was growing up, and that’s good.  There are competitions for people X-age and under.  I’m constantly setting newsletters on fire because I’m too old for this one or that one.  [Laughs]  But that’s fine.  Then, make friends with the performers.  That’s probably the best thing, to make friends with good performers.  Get to know really good people, and develop relationships that are really strong.

BD:   What is it that makes a performer ‘good’?

Mumford:   Someone who speaks through their instrument really compellingly, and that says something important.

BD:   What is it that makes a 
‘good’ composer?

Mumford:   Someone who speaks through their heart through their pencil.

BD:   Are you a good composer?

Mumford:   I like to think so, and I hope everyone else thinks so, too.  [Laughs]  I do my best.

BD:   Is that all we can ask of you
that you do your best?

Mumford:   That’s all we can do, I guess.  We just always set the bar really high, and go for it.

BD:   Is there a chance that we, the public, are asking too much of the composer?

Mumford:   That depends on who the public is.  If they are people with profound axes to grind, then they’ll never appreciate what we do, as with any art form.  If you go to a Museum and expect only to see Nicolas Poussin, and you see Mark Rothko, then you’re going to be hopelessly disappointed.  But if you’re open, and you can be moved by something you haven’t heard or experienced, and feel it’s something you have to experience, and need to take on a journey you might not know where it ends, then that’s a good start.

BD:   Are you at the point in your career that you want to be right now?

Mumford:   [Laughs]  You’re sure you always want more.  I’m forty-six in June, and I’m certainly grateful and happy where I am.  Would I want to be further along now?  Sure!  Would I want to have seventeen orchestral commissions?  Sure, but I’m happy with the ones I have.  But every composer wants more, and wants to communicate more, and to have a solid footing.  They take it seriously, and appreciate it.

BD:   In the end, is it all worth it?

Mumford:   Oh, I think so.  Absolutely.  You have got to enjoy it.  You do this because you love it, so that means it’s worth it.

BD:   Your piece tomorrow is not a world premiere, is it?

Mumford:   No, it’s from 1990.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  So, it’s a fairly old piece, actually?

Mumford:   [Laughs]  It’s a classic, right.  It’s last century’s music!  It’s old music!

BD:   Does it bother you to be straddling two millennia?

Mumford:   It’s the joke... when we got past the year 2000, people are playing Twentieth Century music more easily because it will be last century’s music.  It won’t be new anymore!  [Both laugh]  I’m very happy for series like this that are run so well.  The Chicago Symphony is a very visionary organization.  I’m grateful for that.

BD:   Thank you for coming, and thank you for the conversation.

Mumford:   Thank you for asking such good questions.

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© 2001 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on March 15, 2001.  Portions were broadcast on WNUR the following year, and again in 2005 and 2016.  This transcription was made in 2021, 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.