Conductor John P. Paynter
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
John Paynter, 67, Authority on Marching Bands
By WOLFGANG SAXON
Published: February 11, 1996 in The New
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
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 people — the
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.
BD: 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
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
BD: Chicago, obviously,
is a very fertile ground for receptivity for music of all kinds.
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.
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
JPP: 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
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?
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
* * *
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?
JPP: 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???
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
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
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’?
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.
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
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’s — have 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
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
BD: Are you jealous
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
JPP: If I move
in any direction it will be staying more than going. I’ve done that
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
© 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.
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.