Conductor  John  P.  Paynter

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


John Paynter, 67, Authority on Marching Bands
Published: February 11, 1996 in The New York Times

John Philip Paynter, who became a leading authority on marching and concert bands in 43 years as director of bands at Northwestern University near Chicago, died last Sunday in Glenview Hospital at the age of 67. A resident of Glenview, Ill., he had been admitted on Jan. 23 after suffering a stroke.

Named for John Philip Sousa, Professor Paynter was a professor at Northwestern's School of Music, where he taught band music arranging and conducting to thousands of students. He had intended to retire at the end of the year, the 70th anniversary of his Wildcat Marching Band.

Since 1956, Professor Paynter had also been the conductor of the 115-piece Northshore Concert Band, which he led in a repertory that ranged from standard polkas to modern composers like Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud.

Professor Paynter was a stickler for sonority. "Any fool can play loud," he insisted. "It takes a good musician to play soft."

His avocation was proselytizing for an American tradition, community bands of music teachers, dentists, bankers, sales clerks and other adults, and he helped organize dozens of such bands around the country. "The bands were there years ago but disappeared during the World War II years," he said. "Then came television."

Professor Paynter was born in Mineral Point, Wis. His father played in amateur bands, admired Sousa and saw to it that his son received music training early on. He earned a master's degree in theory and composition at the School of Music at Northwestern, in Evanston. At age 23, in 1951, he was appointed to the faculty full time as director of the marching band, assistant director of bands and an instructor of theory. Two years later, he became director of bands.

Last month struck a sentimental note for Professor Paynter when the Northwestern football squad played in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for the first time since 1949, when he had been with the Wildcats as an advance man and a student member of the band.

He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Marietta Morgan Paynter; a son, Bruce, of Glenview; a daughter, Megan Anderson of Lake Forest, Ill., and four grandchildren.

My own time at NU (1972-73) was as a Graduate Student in Music History, and I never had the opportunity to play under Paynter
’s direction.  But I knew him and his huge reputation, and had played some of his arrangements earlier in my career as a bassoonist in various bands and orchestras.  Thus, it was a special pleasure to have an excuse to interview him as part of my long series on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, and now to give the conversation new life on the internet.  [Note that names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.] 

We got together on the Ides of March, 1993, in anticipation of an event ten weeks later . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    First off is the concert in May 29th, which is a special day for you.

John P. Paynter:    That will be my 65th birthday!

BD:    You began teaching at Northwestern in 1951?
JPP:    I came here as a student in 1946.  I did a bachelor
s degree in composition and stayed on and did another year in  the same subject, and I’ve been here ever since.

BD:    How has Northwestern changed over this many years years?

JPP:    It’s changed a little several times, though I don’t think there’s been a major change.  It still has the profile that it had when I came here
a school of excellence and high standards, with the high costs that go with it.  I’ve served under four presidents here, and each one has taken it with a certain thrust.  I haven’t seen a major change that wouldn’t also be reflected among the general culture of our peoplethe certain phases of what we’ve been through.  The wars we’ve fought had a major change on all young people, and those throughout the university level, too.  Culturally I don’t think it’s changed as much over all those years as it has over the last couple of years.

paynterBD:    How so?

JPP:    The arrival of Dean Dobroski brought a whole new visibility to the music school.  He’s interacted with the whole Chicago metropolitan area more than anyone before him.

BD:    What should be the role of the school of music in a multi-cultural metropolitan area?

JPP:    I don’t know that I can be specific about it, but in general it must serve at the highest level of the art.  It must have performance, and it must prepare the young people to take their place in musical society.  Here we have a particularly fertile role to play, and we bring in a certain kind of population to see and hear what we’re doing.  We can also take our performances to those people.  That’s what Dean Dobroski has done.  He’s made it so we can do many more performances.  He’s made Pick-Staiger Concert Hall a favorite place for people to perform, and we’re now in the process of surveying other great spaces around Chicago, with the idea of taking our wind ensemble or one of our string groups or a singing group to play in The Daley Center or a museum or theater.

BD:    I assume it is a very good thing to let young people play in different areas so they get used to performing their specialties in different sounding areas.

JPP:    I think it is, though that would be secondary to getting them used to playing for a culture which has not been necessarily receptive to their kind of music, and see how it takes to introduce people to new ideas and new sounds in their ears.

BD:    Chicago, obviously, is a very fertile ground for receptivity for music of all kinds.

JPP:    Approximately five years ago we were asked to bring our symphonic wind ensemble to play in the Daley Center.  It came right after a performance we’d done on the campus, and I really didn’t have time to start something new.  So I had to take something from that concert, which was the Strauss E Flat symphony.  When we arrived at the center, it was clear there were only two kinds of people waiting for us.  One was office workers that were on lunch break, and the others were mostly there just to stay warm.  I thought it was going to be a disaster because this isn’t an audience for what we had.  The Strauss doesn’t have a bouncy dance feel or anything like that, but it turned out that it was very successful and the people were very excited to hear us!  We thoroughly enjoyed doing that concert.  The students got a kick out of playing for people who did not come expecting to hear this music, but left having enjoyed it.

BD:    The music of the college-aged group has changed so much over the years.  How has that changed the attitudes of the students who’ve come to the university?

JPP:    The bulk of the music students are not affected by popular music at all, or if they are they never tell me about it.  It’s not a case of them coming up and saying they just heard something by the Grateful Dead we should play that in concert.  I’m sure they have favorites they like to listen to from their own culture.  Occasionally there’s someone out there who says we should do the music of Philip Glass, and we would if there was something that he wrote for our genre.  But I can’t think of anything that would fit what I conduct.  That would get more into the contemporary music ensemble.

BD:    You’ve made some transcriptions... you’re not interested in making a transcription of a Glass piece?

JPP:    I think not because it would be a little like doing a transcription from a Beethoven String Quartet.  It’s such a completely different sound, and I’ve not gotten involved in the electronic kind of thing.  I’d have to think quite a little bit about it.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  Ahhh, but there are some great string quartets transcribed for string ensemble or wind ensemble.

JPP:    Yes.  I remember playing the Ravel Quartet on saxophone when I was going through school.  I had to get used to it both ways
I had to get used to Ravel, and I had to get used to the saxophone.

BD:    Is there anything a symphonic wind ensemble should not play if it had proper arrangement?

JPP:    If a symphonic wind ensemble is willing to trim their size to a certain size and dimension...  I’ve done transcriptions where I’ve specified 16 instruments or a group of 14 or something like that.  I did one of the Mozart piano concertos not too long ago for one of the faculty who wanted to play that piece, and it worked very well.  It took using B flat clarinets instead of A clarinets, but they had them so we did it and it worked out very successfully.  I was just playing a CD this afternoon which was given to me by my friend Peter Tiboris.  He works in the New York City area, and he comes up with some of the most unusual works by established composers not just of today but as far back as 200 years ago.  On this CD on which was a symphony by the Russian composer Taneyev, and when I heard it and I thought right away that this would make a wonderful piece for band
— just as Mr. Bainum did years ago with the Kalinnikov Symphony, the finale of which fits the band almost better than it does the orchestra!  My transcribing has been more in the direction of late romantic and 20th century composers.  I’ve done five works of Sir Malcolm Arnold, and they worked very well for band.


BD:    Are we to the point, though, where transcribing symphonies is almost superfluous because of the availability of performances and recordings of these works?

JPP:    That’s one of the reasons.  The other reason is we don’t really have to go borrowing.  We have the greatest amount of output (for band) going on right now.  We have so much new material that we don’t have to play a transcribed Haydn or Beethoven symphony.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    From this large repertoire for the wind ensemble, how do you decide which pieces you’ll play for each concert?

JPP:    I don’t think it’s a different process from what any other conductor goes through, except that you have to feel something stronger towards its validity.  I would not hesitate to conduct an orchestra tomorrow if someone wanted me to.  I could do a Beethoven Sixth Symphony or a Sibelius Seventh.  It doesn’t take any great work on my part to validate it.  The conductor of a good wind ensemble has to be careful that the music he plays is of a quality, and has the integrity of any music.

BD:    What advice do you have for someone who is writing music for the wind ensemble these days?

paynterJPP:    I don’t give that much advice.  The one thing I do notice is the carryover they have in their mind or in their ears from a Sousa band or a Goldman band.  I loved that writing and they’re both good composers, but the formula for that writing was to make the overall color of the band very gray, and the new composers today must discard that.  Those older masters would use so many couplings and doubles of instruments that a flute might not sound as much like a flute as it might a flute mixed with a clarinet and so forth.  I’ve seen several works of that kind where the character of the instrument has been omitted.  I want to have a chance to use them for the colors that they produce, and not make them all blend.  That’s a lazy listening kind of thing.  I like to see a lot of open spaces in the upper winds.  I like to see a lot of people taking a rest so that when they come in, it’s a fresh sound and it takes on a new meaning.

BD:    So you’re not concerned that everybody work all the time?

JPP:    I find I’m much happier when they smile, and when they’re playing I like to see that they’re enjoying it.

BD:    How can you ensure the audience will smile each time?

JPP:    I think I’m on the right track with that.  I really believe that the audience does relate to the individual sounds of instruments, and as I sit in the house while someone else conducts I see the audience.  I see them pick their heads up when they hear  a piccolo or an English horn or a flugle horn.  There’s just an awful lot of color and sound to work with, and I try to take advantage of it.

BD:    What would you say to someone who would like to have a career in conducting?

JPP:    I have talked to a lot of those people because each year for the last fifteen years we’ve had a conducting class with various levels ranging between four and seven students.  We’ve now granted our seventh doctorate in overall conducting and we’ve also had two wind band conductors graduate.  My advice to them is also part of my everyday teaching, and that is to expose them to as much literature as I possibly can to have them develop that sense of selectivity about the standards of music of all kinds.  That way they’ll come to select their music more carefully and with more judgment.  I also have to put them on the path to seeking it out.  Every university that I know of with a conducting program does a lot with seeking repertoire, and I emphasize this over and over again.  I find that when students come in, they may have graduated from a large university with a strong music program but they still have to have their effort put towards finding good music.  It’s very interesting how little of the music available for wind ensemble is known by the candidate.

BD:    Should someone who wants to go into orchestral conducting also spend a little time learning about the wind band?

JPP:    I think they should.  My colleague at Northwestern, Victor Yampolski, believes that too, and we oftentimes trade students for that reason.  I feel they should have orchestra instruction, and he feels they should have wind band experience.  So we scratch each other’s back on that issue.

BD:    Do you find some resistance from a string player who thinks they’ll never conduct a wind ensemble?

JPP:    I have never encountered resistance, but I have encountered that person later on at some location and they’re honest enough to come to me and say, “Can you tell me something more about the winds?  I can’t do this, or I would like to do that better.
  We have several at Interlochen every summer.  Some are graduates from our university who feel they should’ve spent a little time with the winds.  It happens that right now we have two doctoral students in orchestral conducting.  One of them is Mitch Arnold who had great success conducting.  He’s very competent with the winds and he’s a very good conductor.

BD:    Will conducting the wind band help an orchestra conductor deal better with the wind section?

JPP:    There are ways that it can help the orchestral conductor and even the choral conductor.  I used to be chair of the conducting department, and I would urge the persons who were not doing wind band to do it just to get comfortable with it.  In a couple of cases they happened to be choral conductors who really gained a lot from that session by  being familiar with winds.  They so often feel they can’t control them, or that they’ll need to break the ice or something.  It helps them a lot to get in and work with them.

BD:    Should a conductor be a conductor no matter what group you put in front of them?

JPP:    Yes.  That’s true, and I think all my colleagues feel that way.  One of my very favorite people was Margaret Hillis.  The time she spent with us was a wonderful example of not only how to conduct, but demonstrated a woman who could conduct anything and conduct it well.  Her integrity was so fine, it didn’t matter what she faced.  She did the job.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    When you have a score in front of you, how much interpreting do you do, and how much is it just teaching the notes and making sure that everything is proper as shown on the page?

JPP:    I’d say it’s at least 75 percent interpretation.  I’m working with this group and there isn’t any need to teach notes.  They are pre-professionals and they’re very competent players, wonderful players.  So it’s not only an obligation to know the score, it’s a privilege.  You really have to dig in and find out what it’s all about, and know what you’re going to do with it before you ever step on the podium.  They’ll take one look at it, and the second time through they’ll have all the notes.  Maybe that will happen even the first time, so there’s much more than that to do.  Much more than that can happen.  My criticism, if there is any, of other conductors of the band or orchestra is they sometimes learn on their groups.  Their groups provide sort of a laboratory on which they learn the score, which is something they should’ve done before they ever go into the rehearsal.

BD:    When you come to the podium should you have every idea and every nuance already in your mind before you start?

JPP:    You can go there thinking that’s what you have, but obviously reacting to the sounds will change your feelings about certain things.  That’s always possible.  Years ago I bought a stack of scores at a garage sale for $5, and at the bottom of the pile was a little miniature of the full score of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik which had been the property of Frederick Stock.  [Stock succeeded founder Theodore Thomas as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony upon his death in 1905, and remained there until his own death in 1942.]  I lit up right away when I first saw this, but I tried not to let the garage sale person know that I was excited about it!  On the flyleaf of that score were Maestro Stock’s comments to himself, and for every date on which it was performed he wrote his formula for the strings.  I use this example in teaching conducting to describe the open mindedness of a person when they’re trying to interpret.  For instance, in a little square he says,
At letter A use only one and a half stands of viola, or, “Whole viola section but no celli.  It is like this all the way down the flyleaf.  It just amazed me that with everything he knew about music, it was quite clear that he re-studied the score each time to find a better way to interpret what he wanted to have.

BD:    Is this difficult for conductors to know that once you learn a piece it’s just the beginning and not the end?

JPP:    I don’t think it
s difficult.  It’s the nature of the conductor to want to try and improve on himself or herself, and I doubt any would disagree with that.  Even the top people working today go back and study it again to get a clean feeling for what they’re conducting.

BD:    How much interpretive pull and push can you get out of a score?

JPP:    I think there’s no limit to what one can get out of music.  I’d say it’s how much can you influence the score without influencing people listening to it.  We could go on at length about the way ‘so and so’ conducted it and that his recapitulation was ‘outrageous’, but there has to be an element of good taste.  After we have studied everything we can about a piece and the composer and the time that the composer lived and the things that influenced his life, we still have to have integrity and play it in good taste.  Here is one example... the bass drum in the third movement in the Second Suite in E Flat by Holst with an immense boom that Fred Fennell allowed in the recording.  Is that in good taste?  I’m not going to say whether or not I think it is one way or the other, but the fact is that’s the kind of thing that can be considered excessive.  Then you’re at odds with your audience.

BD:    I assume that’s an idea that might change over the years.  Some years you think it’s right, some years it’s wrong, so there is no final, definitive version of any piece of music, is there?

paynterJPP:    No, because if nothing else has changed, it’s the maturity of the conductor, and the maturity of the players.  Doctor Albert Austin Harding (1880-1958) at the University of Illinois is the one whom I regard as the patron saint of the modern concert band.  I had the great thrill of knowing him through the conversations that he had with his student, Glenn Cliffe Bainum, who was my teacher.  I would be sitting back in the corner of the back seat of the car as they talked to each other en route somewhere, and I remember him saying that he had discovered about himself that all of the slow tempos that he knew had gotten slower, and all the fast tempos that he knew had gotten faster.  They concluded, then, after some discussion of that subject, that really is what happens to people.  The slow gets slower, and the fast gets faster.  I don’t know what the basis of it is.  Maybe they discovered that the attractive music for them, in their maturing years, was that which goes at a slow and expressive pace, and the fast music has to be done away with quickly to get to the next slow piece!  [Both laugh]  I don’t know just what it is, but I find myself doing the same thing.  I find myself each year playing the adagios a little more adagio, and the fasts simply get as fast as can be.

BD:    So that’s neither good nor bad; it’s just there?

JPP:    That’s right.  You can actually find that in conductors, in the classics that you listen to.  You can hear Toscanini’s change, and Reiner particularly changed a great deal that way toward the end.

BD:    Does that then mean that someone whose tempi are essentially the same throughout a career should be suspect?

JPP:    Oh, I think he should be applauded, probably!  [Both laugh]  Listeners come to expect certain things, too.  If you’re going to go to hear a Solti Bruckner symphony, you expect it to be just exactly the way he did it thirty years ago.

BD:    And yet it’s going to be subtly, and not so subtly, different.

JPP:    That’s the trademark of a great conductor, really, that they can get you excited, still, about a composer that you thought you knew everything.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  You mean you guys are not robots up there???

JPP:    [Laughs]  I hope not!  I was talking with our great trombone teacher, Frank Crisafulli.  He has had a long and distinguished career with the CSO, and at Northwestern as a teacher.  He’s a marvelous teacher and a marvelous man.  I saw him in the parking lot one day in the summer, and he was coming in like a young guy twenty years old, with a spring in his step and swinging that trombone case.  I said, “Boy, you must be in a good mood.  I thought you’d be all worn out.  You were doing the Brahms Second Symphony, and I thought you’d heard that so many times you wouldn’t get worked up about it.”  But he said, “Oh, no!  Paul Hindemith is our conductor this week.”  I said, “I’ve seen him conduct and he didn’t seem to be particularly ostentatious or exhilarating.  Isn’t he hard to follow?”  He said, “Oh, no, not at all!  We just look at his ears.”  I said, “You look at his ears???  Is he somebody that was wiggling his ears at the orchestra?”  “No, no, no.  We’re looking at that pair of ears, and we know that we’ve got a very distinguished person to listen to.  We just do what he tells us.”

BD:    Are you able to get distinguished guest conductors to come and work with your wind ensembles?

JPP:    Yes, we’re able to do it.  We don’t do a lot of it, but we have had Karel Husa, who is a very fine composer, but maybe not so well known as a conductor.  He’s a wonderful conductor.  Of course, Dr. Fennell has been there a number of times.  Some time ago we had Dr. Revelli in and he did some work with the band.  It’s hard to find people who can come in and conduct at their best without the incentive of a concert, or even with the incentive of a concert.  It’s difficult for them to walk right in and feel at home with any group.  They don’t do as much guesting as orchestra conductors do.

BD:    When you are a guest conductor, how long does it take before the ensemble in front of you is really your own?

JPP:    I don’t know if I can measure it in rehearsals or hours, but it takes about a third of the time that you’re going to be there overall.  If I’m doing, as I recently did, the Arizona State University Symphonic Band, the first rehearsal went well, and they were very, very cooperative.  But it still didn’t feel comfortable to me.  They weren’t as supple as I expected them to be.  Maybe I had no right to expect it, but about the middle of the second rehearsal they were my own!  Then I could do my things and not be concerned that they won’t pick them up.  By concert time, of course, you feel right at home.


BD:    So when they become your own, that’s when the real work starts?

JPP:    That’s the point.  They’re at a point where that’s all that’s left to be done.  As a matter of fact, walking into that program they were just ready to be shown what to do in terms of interpretation.  They had everything mastered.  There wasn’t anything to teach except the subtleties of the interpretation.

BD:    Is all your work done at the rehearsal, or do you leave something for the spark of the performance day?

JPP:    I always leave something.  In fact, I’m often accused of leaving too much!  [Laughs]  But I think I’m a good concert conductor.  I’m not as fond of my rehearsal technique as I am of my performing technique.  There’s nothing about vanity or modestly involved with any of that; it’s just the way I view the way I work.

BD:    Do you need
the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd?

JPP:    [Laughs]  Yes, and you need to have the shape of the barrel, and the quickness of the trigger.  To me, the thing to teach is to have the players understand your gestures.  Through the rehearsal I may pick selected spots just to rehearse certain kinds of interpretive techniques, and maybe not even mention it before the concert or worry about where it’s going to occur in certain kinds of things.  This is especially fruitful when you’re working with high school kids, and I do a lot of that.  I go out on the weekend, and I’ll have the All New York High School Band, and the process of showing them what you might do gets them very closely attentive to what you’re doing.  Frequently when I’m out there in South Dakota or Florida, we’ll take a break in a rehearsal and one of the parents will come up to me and say, “Oh, you’re so good!  You’re so wonderful!  You really make them watch you, don’t you?”  I wasn’t intending that, but it’s a compliment, of course, and it also is something the parent has picked up on that this child who they’ve watched perform under other conductors before never was so attentive.  What we do there is to let them know that music is not metronomic, and that there is room for rubato and nuances of all kinds.  If we point that out and they know how to react, then we can interpret on the spot, and that brings the concert excitement.

BD:    We are dancing around it, so let me ask the big question straight out.  What is the purpose of music?

JPP:    I’m not sure that I’ll give you the right answer.  I think the purpose of music is to speak where words leave off.  It speaks to the heart and it speaks to the soul, and in many, many cases it simply can’t be described, but is an enriching of the life of the person who can enjoy music.  When I was younger I would say that everybody loves music, but I don’t think that’s true any longer.  There are some people who really were not given that little gift of reception, and for them, maybe stroking a golf ball is more enriching than stroking an oboe player.


See my Interviews with Vincent Persichetti, Hale Smith, and Ross Lee Finney.

BD:    Are you optimistic about the future of music?

JPP:    Very much so, yes.  Anyone who has been involved with the love of music has got a refuge to turn to, to get away from the daily tick-tock of the clock.  They can elevate themselves to levels that they never could have done without music.  I’ve had the experience with some of my family of sitting in a concert, or perhaps an opera or musical comedy, where we would just subconsciously hold hands and there’d be a little squeeze.  You couldn’t say it with words.  As I sit here now, I couldn’t express to you why the conducting and the performance of the Bernstein Mass just lifted me to a level that I never thought I could reach.  I mean that not for the accomplishment as a conductor, but for experiencing that music.  Some of the moments in it are so completely exhilarating!

BD:    Were you experiencing it as a musician, or as a human being?

JPP:    As a human being.  I don’t apologize for how quickly I weep, because I am very sentimental.  I was watching the Discovery Channel the other night when there was a mother elephant trying to get the little baby elephant to stand up.  It was the most magnificent photography.  The little elephant was starving, and then we were shown the mother deciding that she had to go on with the herd and not stay back just for the little baby.  She would go thirty feet or so, and then she would come back and push with her trunk again, trying to get the baby up on her feet.  It just moved me to tears!  It was a wonderful natural phenomenon.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Are you at the point now that you expected to be as you hit sixty-five?

JPP:    [Pauses a moment]  I’m at a point that I never expected to hit in my life.  I’ve had all the good fortune a person can have, as far as being at the right place at the right time and having the right teachers and inspirers.  I’ve had reasonably good health up ‘til now, and I must tell you that I really didn’t expect to do any of this.  I thought I was going to be composing for a living, but after five years of studying composition I discovered that it was better for somebody else to do it!  [Both laugh]  It has helped me a lot to have been a composer, and I still compose from time to time, but mostly it’s helped me to evaluate the works of others with a little more penetration.  Northwestern University not only allowed me to do a great many things that I wouldn’t have been able to do anyplace else, but they’ve encouraged it.  I’ve had the opportunity to be out.  Some winters I’m out every weekend conducting somewhere, everywhere, from Bar Harbor Maine to San Diego California.  I’ve had wonderful visibility through the organizations that I’ve served.  It’s just been a terrific time!

BD:    These are all high school and college level students that you’re talking about?

JPP:    Pretty much.  You never know what you’ll get!  [Laughs]

BD:    Has the availability of television and recordings made the interest level of children and young adults all over the country about the same?

JPP:    It’s much closer than it was.  There are still some remote and rural areas where maybe the listening habits don’t ever get to what’s available, but certainly people like yourself and stations like WNIB have pushed our whole state of art along.  A moment ago we were talking about Frederick Fennell, and the great service he did to bands was to make them available through recordings that could be heard and listened to and modeled.  He’s doing it still today, and Eugene Corporon at Cincinnati Conservatory is doing the same sort of thing now.  He puts out a CD about once a month, and they’re wonderful performances of music that most listeners will not have heard before, but could very easily take to their hearts.  The students who come to us are greatly more sophisticated today than they ever were before.  If you mingle amongst them, they’re talking about the artists on their instrument, or the symphony they would like to play in, or the service band they would like to join.  They’re talking about all this with full information.  They know all about what they’re doing, and sometimes I’m amazed at what they know!  Somebody who is just starting to become worthwhile as a performer will know everything about every player and every piece of music that was written for their instrument.  They’re very much further along.  Videos and aural listening sources
tapes, recordings, CD’shave had a lot to do with the tastes of these people.  We know that’s true in the other kinds of music such as the heavy metal and things like that.  I don’t resent that at all, as long as they don’t make a habit of it!  But I think radio and television have changed the taste of the public.  The situation in Japan is interesting because they’re very far ahead of us now in recordings, and in ways to support music.

BD:    They’ve really taken to Western music?

JPP:    They have, very much so, and a lot of the American groups have gone over there.  Most recently, Eastman went over with their wind ensemble and toured up and down the coast.  Of course, they had band music long before most of the countries in Europe because the United Kingdom had gone over there in the 1800’s as an empire around the world.  The Japanese bands at that time were greatly influenced by the British military bands, and it took hold.  They still had that going until the Americans came in, and then they began to switch more to the American style and technique.  They do a better job of marching band and twirlers than we do in the United States, which is really odd, because they don’t play football!  They have festivals where these bands will go out on the field and do their thing as though it were a football game.

BD:    So the point of that is the marching band, rather than just being incidental to the football game?

JPP:    Absolutely.

BD:    Are you jealous of that?

JPP:    No, I’m not because what they do is something I wouldn’t care to do.  I saw a demonstration by a Japanese band when it visited this country, where they did a marching demonstration on the stage.  It followed a concert by a Japanese band that was seated and played beautifully.  They left, and this other group came on.  It wasn’t the same group of players, but I had a feeling it could have been.  They can do in uniformity what we couldn’t match in America, because they are almost all within three inches of the same height.  They all wore wigs, so that their hair looked exactly the same, and their weights were all the same.  They were all slender, very bronzed, and so on.  I don’t know how long that’s going to last.  I get a sense now, in talking with the friends I know in Japan, that they’re getting more deeply into concert playing.  They’re very good at that, too, when they take a notion.

BD:    When you look at either a marching band or a concert band of any size, is it a single entity that you’re dealing with, or are you dealing with a collection of individuals?

JPP:    It’s a collection of individuals, except when you might want to feature somebody outstanding such as a baton twirler or a trumpet soloist.  I don’t work as much with marching bands anymore, but when I did, the thing I appreciated most was that we had to be uniform.  We had to look exactly alike, and the excitement of seeing a line arrive precisely on the same space at the same moment is still as big as it ever was.  And the negative reaction for sloppiness hasn’t changed!


BD:    You’ll be staying at Northwestern, but are you going to be going off and doing even more guest conducting?

JPP:    If I move in any direction it will be staying more than going.  I’ve done that
going for maybe forty years, and it’s just as much fun as it always was once you’re there and once you get home, but everything in between I don’t mind giving up at all.  And there are so many projects that I want to do that are here, that I probably won’t stray as much.

BD:    Thanks for all that you have given to Northwestern and to the band community world-wide.  

JPP:    Oh, well, they’ve given much more to me!  When we were talking about the career, this was a wonderful spot to find yourself.  It’s a magnificent university, as good as any music school in the country.  The university has a wonderful ethic in giving the professor the opportunity to grow and to inquire and to investigate.  They’re very supportive.  You get the feeling that you’re doing something for the university that they need, that’s worthwhile.  So it’s been a good time.

BD:    I am glad you’ve enjoyed it, because we certainly have!

JPP:    Thank you.

BD:    Thank you for spending time with me this afternoon.  I appreciate it.

JPP:    I enjoyed it.


© 1993 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on March 15, 1993.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the ten weeks later.  This transcription was made in 2015, and posted on this website at that time. 

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

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.