Composer Jon Polifrone
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
|Jon Polifrone, born in Durand, Michigan,
January 10, 1937, died March 11, 2006, at Loyola University Medical Center.
Polifrone retired as professor of music from Virginia Tech in 2002,
and then taught part-time at Judson College, Waubonsee Community College,
and Wheaton College. He received a BM and MM from Michigan State University
and a D.Mus from Florida State University.
He was on the faculty of Jordan Conservatory (Indianapolis, 1963-1977),
Indiana State University (full professor of music, 1963-1977), the University
of Nebraska at Omaha (chairman, music department, JJB Isaacson professor,
1977-1980), and Virginia Tech (music department chairman, 1980-1983,
full professor, 1980-2002).
Polifrone was a fellow of St. Joseph's College (Indiana), a Rockefeller
Grant recipient, and four of his compositions were nominated for a Pulitzer
Prize. He received commissions for compositions from many musical groups,
including the Indianapolis Symphony, the Audubon Quartet, and Ars Viva.
He was a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Geneva.
He is survived by his wife, Sharon, and daughter, Alisa.
We met in March of 1994, and the subject turned to computers and
other new-age devices . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: We’re talking about technical gadgets
and gimmickry. How much does the technical wizardry of the 1990s
and heading into the twenty-first century impede your teaching of the
actual craft of music making?
Jon Polifrone: I’m not much into the new stuff,
where Virginia Tech has a lot of it. We have state-of-the-art everything.
Basically, what I find that it does is invade my privacy.
BD: Does it help with the working out of music,
or is this more for performers rather than composers?
Polifrone: A lot of my students use the computer to
print their music. They send it to me that way before their lessons.
It prints out the scores, and I can look at what they’re working on.
If you put a pen in their hand and ask them to make a correction in
a part, I don’t know if they could. Logistically,
they’re so used to punching buttons.
BD: If they get to a rehearsal, and they need
to make a correction, they have to take it back home to the computer???
Polifrone: I guess.
BD: You’re both a composer
and a teacher. How do you divide your time between those two taxing
Polifrone: About 90% composition and 10% teaching.
I spend a lot of time composing.
BD: Do you find that working with students helps
in your composing?
Polifrone: Yes, it does. Being around students
is a wonderful experience. They always have fresh ideas. They’re
always just a little bit on the edge, and it’s
good. It keeps me young.
BD: Are they ever over the edge?
Polifrone: Some of them are over the edge, some are
on the edge, and some are back further.
BD: As a working composer, how close to the
edge do you like to be?
Polifrone: I’m not very
close to the edge. I like other people to walk along the edge, and
then I try to pick up from them what I think works.
BD: You pick up the pieces?
Polifrone: Yes, I pick up the pieces that really
BD: [With a gentle nudge] That’s not to
say you steal everything, does it?
Polifrone: No, we don’t
steal everything, but composers aren’t very honest really.
BD: Should they be?
Polifrone: No. They should write music about
other music. I really believe that.
BD: [Genuinely surprised] Write music
about other music, rather than music about what’s
inside of you???
Polifrone: It is inside of you, but still you’re
always influenced by what other people have done. We are strongly
influenced by it more than one might want to admit.
BD: Do you feel you’re
part of a lineage of composers?
Polifrone: I think most composers are, yes.
BD: Do you like where you fit into that lineage?
Polifrone: I’m comfortable
where I am. I wasn’t when I was younger, because I always felt that
there was that camp that I had to belong to in order to be considered
one of the group. But as one gets older, you don’t
think about that so much anymore. You write what you like to hear.
Polifrone: Yes, I do now as I get older.
BD: In the ’60s, everyone
was trying to push you into the atonal camp and the twelve-tone camp. Is
it a good thing that we’ve broken out of this?
Polifrone: I think so in a way. I love the
variety of things. I know that a lot of composers feel that what
they’re writing is absolutely right, and what other
people are writing is not right, but I’ve never really felt that way.
I actually really like everything pretty much that’s
going on in the contemporary scene. I enjoy it all even though I
might not do it. It wouldn’t be my cup of tea, but I can appreciate
BD: We’re talking about
BD: Do you also include rock music, and jazz,
and rap, and all of the other things?
Polifrone: Well, I suppose I’m
a little bit of an elitist that way. I enjoy some jazz. People
tell me that I’m actually very influenced by
jazz, although I don’t see it myself particularly.
BD: It’s a subconscious thing?
Polifrone: It’s subconscious. If you live here,
you can’t help but emulate the sounds of your country and your surroundings
to some degree.
BD: Is there anything particularly American
about your music, or is it music of Western society?
Polifrone: I would say it’s more Western than it
is typically American.
BD: Is the music that you write, for everyone?
Polifrone: Probably not. You look at TV at
night and they have the weather forecast on. They pan a map of the
United States, and they have the State of Illinois outlined, sort of highlighted.
That’s because people who are looking at it don’t
really know where Illinois is, and a lot of people don’t
really know where they are. If they don’t
know where they are, they don’t care where they
are, and if they don’t care where they are, they
certainly aren’t interested in art, and literature, and music.
BD: Where is music these days?
Polifrone: I wish I knew. There’s a lot of
it in my head, but I don’t know. I had a teacher once who said that
music was dead. His name was Carlisle Floyd. He
shocked the class terribly by saying that, and I don’t really know that
he meant it. I didn’t ask him when he was here for his Lyric performance
[Susannah with Renée
Fleming and Samuel Ramey, led by George Manahan] if he
still believed that or not. The only thing I did say to him was that
I knew I was a rather disturbing student to have, but I wanted him to know
that at age fifty-seven I absolutely agreed with almost everything he said.
BD: He’s one of the great tonal composers.
Polifrone: He’s a tonal composer, even probably more
tonal than I.
BD: Thirty years ago, was he lamenting the death
of tonal music?
Polifrone: No, I don’t believe he was. I never
got that feeling. He just thought that the art of music was pretty
much dead, and everything that could be done had been done. Of course,
it hadn’t. It still hasn’t been, I’m sure.
BD: If you’re starting to agree with what he
says, do you think that the art of music is dead?
Polifrone: No, I don’t. Not really.
BD: Did it ever die and we had to jump-start,
it or did we just not realize that it was still a living, breathing organism?
Polifrone: Maybe we didn’t realize it, but it’s around,
and it will be around a long time. People keep experimenting and
get tired of some of it, and they keep some of it, and incorporate it, and
it will go on.
BD: Who decides what is kept and what is discarded?
Polifrone: The composers. It’s a very small
community. You’re supposed to be interviewing me, but do you think
that the audiences would really control this? [Answering his own
question] I don’t know. I suppose, economically to some degree
they would, and maybe that’s why a lot of orchestras are museums. It’s
very hard to put new music on a program. You put it first and people
come late. You put it in the middle, and they leave after the first
piece. It’s hard to know.
BD: Is there any hope?
Polifrone: Sure. There’s always hope.
BD: Are you optimistic about the whole future
Polifrone: Yes, I am, very much so. Composers
have to be, because they’re obsessed about writing. That’s what they
do. They suppose it will always last, but it’s still here.
I watched the CCP [Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago]
for instance, which is always very interesting. They program a lot
of interesting things at the University of Chicago, including a lot of music
that I, myself, would not be inclined toward as far as being a composer
is concerned. But it’s interesting to hear the stuff, and there’s
a hard core of people who come out, and listen to it, and support it, and
there always will be.
BD: Are you of two different minds
— what you would want to write, and what
you would want to listen to?
Polifrone: I write what I would like to hear in my
own little world. However, I do enjoy concerts, and I do attend
a lot of them.
BD: When you’re writing, sitting with the page
partially blank and partially filled in, are you conscious of the audience
that’s going to be listening to those little black spots when they become
Polifrone: Not really. I’m very pleased when
somebody likes a piece that I’ve written. Sometimes I’m even surprised,
but on the other hand, I don’t think I am conscious of them. Subconsciously,
you take in the audience, but whenever I’m making a decision, I never
feel that no, I can’t really do that because somebody may not like it.
BD: Have you ever consciously put something
in because you know they will like it?
Polifrone: Yes, I’ve done that. I have a pragmatic
view of things. I’m not above being slightly commercial if I feel
I must add this or that.
BD: Something which will send them home with
smiles on their faces?
Polifrone: Yes. There’s a movement of the Requiem
that everybody picks out. It’s the movement, actually, that I like
the least, but I’m delighted that they love it. It is very tonal,
very sweet, and very simple.
BD: Is it the most accessible part of the work?
Polifrone: Yes, the most accessible. I didn’t
put it in because I felt at that point I needed that sort of thing, but
it’s there and that’s all right. I’ve resisted having people do it
separately. A lot of people who looked at the score said, “This is
just much too hard. We can’t take the time, but we could do, for
instance, these three middle movements,” but I’ve nixed that idea so far.
BD: It’s the whole thing or nothing?
Polifrone: Right now, yes. Maybe later on...
BD: Do you view that as the hook
— that if they listen to this movement, maybe
they’ll listen a little more intently to the rest of your music?
Polifrone: No. I didn’t do it intentionally,
but it’s going to be the hook, I’m almost sure.
* * *
BD: We’re talking about the Requiem, so
tell me the joys and sorrows of writing for the human voice.
Polifrone: I love the human voice. It’s probably
the greatest instrument because it’s part of the body, so it’s connected
somehow in my mind, in a very romantic way, with the soul and everything
that we are. I’ve always been partial to the voice, although I went
through a period of almost ten years when I didn’t write anything.
BD: Just because it didn’t come up, or because
you were purposely avoiding it?
Polifrone: I wasn’t avoiding it. No, it just
didn’t come up. I had written several hundred songs, and all kinds
of choral works, and operas [Wicked Sam and the Devil (1965), premiere
Evanston, IL, February, 1966; Kentucky Story; premiere Union College,
Barbourville, KY, (also) February, 1966.]. Then I just stopped.
It was probably just due to the sort of life I was leading, and the musicians
that I knew. They were all chamber music players, so I went through
a period of just writing sonatas, and duos, and string quartets, and trios.
Recently, I’ve gone back to vocal music. I started with Rilke. I
was reading Rilke, and I set several poems for baritone and piano.
This choral director that I know suggested I write a work for community
chorus in Blacksburg. They were not professional, but a very good
sounding chorale in town. I ended up writing this Requiem.
I’ve always wanted to write a Requiem because I love the
text. The interesting thing is that the text means nothing to most
people, just because we’re just not oriented to it. No one’s scared
of the Day of Judgment these days, and I just thought there must be something
I can do to that text. I should be able to breathe some life into it
that will make people stop and think about life and death.
BD: [Somewhat confused] Breathe some life
into the text of the dead???
Polifrone: Yes, make it of the present. Give
somebody something to believe in and hold on to.
BD: Are you trying to start your own religion
Polifrone: No, not at all. I just felt that people
are very secular today. That’s all right if they want to be, but
there just has to be some way to make them stop and think about the seriousness
BD: Not in any organized religious sense, but
is music secular or is it sacred?
Polifrone: It is sort of my religion.
BD: Coming back to the human voice, is there
a major difference setting a text for the choral group as opposed to the
Polifrone: Yes. You have to know your soloists,
and the possibility that you can hide a lot in a choir. It’s like
the difference between writing a string quartet or writing a symphony.
Except for the copy or the logistics, a quartet is much harder to write
than a symphony.
BD: Because everything is exposed?
Polifrone: Yes, it is. By the way, just to say
the string quartet is hard because no humbug could go on during the composition,
you can hide a lot in that beautiful lush sound of an orchestra, and, if
nothing else, you can confuse everybody having all kinds of things go on.
It’s the same way with voices. A chorus has such a wonderful nice,
big, beautiful sound. You can cover a lot.
BD: Do you specify the size
— whether it should be a small chorus or a large chorus?
Polifrone: No. I’ve never done that, but the piece sometimes
forces you to. When Craig Fields, director of the Blacksburg Chorale,
started working on the Requiem, he said, “Our group is not going
to be big enough. I’m to require at least sixty-five voices because
I need more power here.” So, we added the concert choir of Virginia
Tech, which is another sixty-five or seventy voices, and it made it really
BD: You’re like Tim ‘The
Tool Man’ Taylor [from the TV sitcom Home Improvement].
His catch phrase was, “More power!”
Polifrone: More power, yes. He wanted more
power, and I know why.
BD: Was he right?
Polifrone: I think he was right. We use a lot
of semi-chorus where half the people sing, and then all the people sing.
We would have one choir of about sixteen, where we just had them
sing solo sections.
BD: Considering that these are students, are students
like students all over the country?
Polifrone: Yes, they are. The bad ones are as bad.
The good ones are as good. The average ones are as average, and the charming
ones are as charming.
* * *
BD: Putting on your other hat, how long have you
Polifrone: Since 1960.
BD: How has your method of teaching changed,
if at all, over more than thirty years?
Polifrone: When I first began teaching, I didn’t
know what I was doing. You used to watch the clock and think, “Oh,
my God, I hope this hour is over with before I’ve told them everything
BD: This of course implies that you know what
you’re doing now. Is that a correct assumption?
Polifrone: I’m not sure. I don’t think you’re ever
sure of that. I still have qualms when I first walk out in the fall
or spring semester.
BD: What are you teaching?
Polifrone: I teach composition, and music history.
BD: Are the students that come to you genuinely
interested in what you have to say?
Polifrone: Not always. There’s a certain amount
of work to try to get them interested, especially in a class. If
they come for private lessons in composition, it’s a little bit different.
Generally, they’re interested, or seemingly so. But I don’t
think students are as well-prepared as they used to be. I’m speaking
in generality. That doesn’t mean some aren’t.
BD: What advice do you have for the aspiring music
student to be more prepared?
Polifrone: Listen to a lot of classical music. A
lot of it. I always tell my students, “There’s a library over there,
and it’s the seventeenth largest university library in the country. It
has thousands and thousands of records, and thousands and thousands of
CDs. It doesn’t matter where you start, just start listening. Get
the scores out and start listening.”
BD: Do they follow that advice?
Polifrone: No, not always.
BD: Is this a general trend across the country,
that there’s a lot less listening to classical music these days?
Polifrone: I don’t know. They say that the advent
of the CD has caused people to listen a lot more. I don’t know how
carefully people listen, but I think there are more people listening.
BD: More people listening less intently?
Polifrone: Maybe, except for a few.
BD: We’re dancing all around this, so let me
hit you the big question. What is the purpose of music in society?
Polifrone: Do you mean from a musician’s standpoint,
or from a listener’s standpoint?
BD: A then B.
Polifrone: I don’t know, but I’ll take a guess. For
the musician, music exists for their pleasure and their self-education.
For the general public, music exists partly for their education, and
partly for serenity and thoughtfulness. Those are not necessarily the
same thing that it gives them. It gives them a chance to think about
something other than their normal work. It enriches their lives.
It’s a very important part of life. Even the young people who
just love acid rock are very wound up in it. Music is very important
to them and their life. They identify with these works, and they all
have a great deal of meaning, just like certain Beethoven symphony, or
a Brahms symphony, or a piece by Ravel has a great deal of meaning for me.
BD: Should we try to get more of the acid rock
crowd into the concert hall?
Polifrone: Oh absolutely, we should.
BD: Is there any way to do it?
Polifrone: I don’t know. I get a few converts each
year. From a Survey of Music class of seventy-five or eighty students,
I might actually get three or four who are really serious converts. Then
I feel I’ve done pretty well. Too bad it’s not more...
BD: Is listening to music substantially different
when you do it in a concert hall with live players, as opposed to a small
room with either speakers or headphones?
Polifrone: It is to me. There was a time when the
organization of music was everything — the
way it was put together, all the chords that were used, all the sonorities,
and the orchestration. I had an enormous collection of records, but
I wasn’t so aware of who particularly played them, or who had recorded
them. Then I went the next step, which was was very important, and
I was very fussy about which recording I bought. Now, I don’t really
care so much to listen to canned music as I call it. I want to see
it. I want to hear it, see it, and feel it. I like the physical
reinforcement of what I hear. I love live music, and I almost exclusively
listen to music live now. I go to concerts. I only use the
recordings and the CDs in the class. I try to even bring more and
more faculty in to play. I use film, and I use all kinds of things,
such as VHS tapes of anything I can find of rehearsals and performances.
I make my students go to concerts, lots of concerts. Anyone in my
class must attend at least ten recitals of my choice during the semester.
There are twenty or twenty-five, of which they must go to ten.
BD: That’s more reasonable than insisting on
any one particular concert.
Polifrone: I think it’s very important, and they
seem to enjoy it. They like to go to concerts. They gripe
about it at first, especially if you get someone who is not a music major.
I’d get some sort of tough student who is in the college of engineering,
and he’s elected to take this class because he thinks humanities is elective,
and it’s going to be easy. But you can convert them.
BD: Should we really be shoving humanities down
Polifrone: Sure. Absolutely.
BD: [Sternly] You’re to like it whether
you enjoy it or not!
BD: But once they have tried it, they find it
* * *
BD: Let’s go back to your composition. When
you’re working with a page and all the notes and your ideas, and you’re
polishing up everything, how do you know when you’re finished, and it is
all set and ready to go?
Polifrone: I’m never finished. It’s just that I
get very tired, and I draw the line. I don’t think there’s ever
any end to it.
BD: Do you go back and tinker with the piece?
Polifrone: Not once I’ve said it’s the end. I
don’t tinker much. A performer may make me tinker a little bit with
it. They’ll say, “This is harder than its worth,” or, “What did you
really mean here? I’m going around in circles.”
They’ll force you to zero in on something. But generally, when
I’m finished I’m ready to write the next piece.
BD: Do you allow for interpretation on the part
of the performers?
Polifrone: Absolutely. The ideal thing for me is
to just give them the piece and walk out the door. I like to have
them read it through for me once, so I can catch any errors in the parts
or things like that. This can be slowly, or up to tempo. It doesn’t
matter. If they can play it up to tempo first time, fine, but then
I leave them basically alone. It’s their piece. It’s not mine
BD: Do you then come back for the performance?
BD: Are you always pleased with what you hear?
Polifrone: Not always, but mostly yes. If I’m not
pleased, I’m not usually surprised. In fact, very seldom am I surprised.
It sounds like it was supposed to sound.
BD: That’s good. Then you just let it
go? You don’t go back and revise?
BD: [With a gentle nudge] You don’t want
lots of versions of pieces lying around?
Polifrone: [Smiles] No. I’m not a Bruckner.
BD: Do you take advice from other people?
Polifrone: Yes, I do, especially if I’m writing
a solo piece, or a sonata, or something along that line. I do like
advice, and I like feedback.
BD: If someone asks you to write a piece, how
do you decide if you’re going to spend the time, or just tell them to go
Polifrone: There are two or three things that are
primary in my mind. One is how good the performer is, and how likely
I am to get a good performance. That’s very important. Second
is how many performances, or where it will be played, and what sort of life
might the piece have with this performer. Third is a little money wouldn’t
hurt, but the first two are more important.
BD: I assume the money is extra, and that the
university takes care of your living wage.
Polifrone: Yes. I’m not a goody-two-shoes,
but I feel that there’s a state university that supports me, and if I
have any talent, that talent should be shared, and I should write music.
That’s what I do. So, that’s my life. Yes, I certainly
will take commissions, and the less I like the combination of instruments,
or the less I like the performers, the more the piece is going to cost!
But luckily I have a lot of good friends, and a lot of lovely people
who play well.
BD: Have you written some things especially
for violin solo?
Polifrone: Yes, I have. Since I married Sharon, I’ve
written three violin sonatas, a sonatina, an unaccompanied violin sonata,
and a violin concerto for her. When she was in the Audubon Quartet,
I had to go that route. I also wrote an unaccompanied viola sonata,
and a sonata for piano and viola, an unaccompanied cello sonata, a sonata
for cello and piano, and a cello concerto. I’m now actually considering
a viola concerto for the violist of the Audubon. So, I’ve tried to
cover a lot of ground, as well as five string quartets, a string trio, and
a duo for violin and cello.
BD: Are these things that you have to write,
or do you feel obligated to do them?
Polifrone: No, I don’t feel obligated. It’s
just they’re wonderful players. You sort of get into the swing of
things, and think, “Gosh, I may actually know a little bit about string writing.
I’ve had plenty of practice, and maybe I should write another string piece.”
BD: When you start writing a piece, do you know
beforehand the amount of time it will take to perform?
Polifrone: No. Lord, no. I don’t know
anything when I start, except there’s a piece of paper staring me in the
face with a pencil. I know that nobody threw fruit at me when the last
piece was played, so I wonder if I can write another piece and get away
with it. Can I really write another good piece of music, or even
an acceptable one? There’s always that question.
BD: Are you re-inventing the wheel each time?
Polifrone: Yes, I think I probably do. I’m
a fretful type.
BD: What is it about a piece of music that makes
it great, rather than just acceptable? This can be about yours,
or anyone else’s.
Polifrone: I don’t know. I wish I knew what
the formula was, because if I did, then every piece I wrote would be great.
What makes a person compose like Fauré did? Fauré wrote
a lot of beautiful songs, and he wrote a lot of nice stuff. He wrote
some organ music, but then he wrote the Requiem, and it’s a magnificent
piece. There aren’t many Beethovens around who write a lot of magnificent
pieces. I guess it’s in most of us to write maybe two or three really
pretty good tunes, but what makes them that, I’m not sure.
BD: Should we only be listening to the great
pieces? Should we also be listening to the next level, and the level
Polifrone: I think so, because you can learn a lot.
You can enjoy music at all sorts of levels.
BD: In the music you write or in music in general,
where is the balance between the artistic achievement and the enjoyment
Polifrone: I don’t know. When I clean out my closet,
I generally burn the pieces that I don’t think are successful, and that
I don’t like. I have to think that they’re successful, and I also
have to like them before I don’t burn them. I don’t want some musicologist
sticking his nose into all that stuff, and giggling about it later on.
I’d like them to at least say, “I don’t know who this guy is, and he never
had a career, but this is a critical piece of music.” I would want
that. I wouldn’t want them to look at something and say, “I’ve never
heard of him, and I don’t know who he is, and now I know why.”
BD: Is there anything special that you would
like to say to someone one hundred years from now?
Polifrone: No. I hope that my music might say something
to them. I don’t know that it would, but if it did, wonderful.
BD: What advice do you have for young composers
Polifrone: Go into medicine. But if they absolutely
have to go into music, and they absolutely have to compose, then go to
a lot of concerts, and listen to a lot of music, and be patient. Unless
you’re Mendelssohn or Mozart, maybe when you’re forty or fifty you will
write something worthwhile if you really work at it.
BD: Without mentioning any names, do we have
in this generation a Mendelssohn or a Mozart?
Polifrone: I don’t know.
BD: I assume this [twentieth] century has a
few Mendelssohns and Mozarts.
Polifrone: I’m sure. I have some composers
that are very near and dear to me, but other people might not agree. But
yes, we’ve had a lot of wonderful composers in this century. It’s
about to end... [Remember, this conversation was held in March of
BD: Where do you see it going in the next century?
Polifrone: I don’t know... More good composers, I
BD: That’s a positive statement. I like
that. Are you at the point in your career now that you want to
Polifrone: Of course, no one is, I don’t think, but I am
resigned to be what I am, and I’m also sure enough of myself. Rather
than say that I’m happy, I would say contented.
BD: Is composing fun?
Polifrone: It’s work, but yes, it’s fun. Sure, it’s
fun. When I was about sixteen, I was working on some damn Beethoven
sonata. My teacher was a real taskmaster, and had studied with Boulanger
[who herself had studied with Fauré], and was a Paris Conservatoire
graduate. But in a way, that was nice because she was aware that there
was something else in the world besides just practicing the piano.
I turned to her one day and said, “I’ve decided that I do not want to be a
piano player. I want to be a composer. I don’t want to take it
anymore, I want to hand it out.” I remember that very clearly.
BD: Did she agree with you?
Polifrone: Yes. She had heard me stumble through
enough Beethoven sonatas.
BD: Was she confident at all of your ability
to create something?
Polifrone: I don’t know. She seemed to be.
She was well-trained in theory, and solfège, and all those things,
so the lessons changed a bit to reading scores, and ear training, and
that sort of thing. It was a big help.
BD: You have no regrets about being a composer?
Polifrone: No, not really.
BD: You shouldn’t have been a doctor?
Polifrone: No, I don’t like the sight of blood. I
can’t even watch him take blood, or give me a shot. I’m not squeamish
about it, but I just don’t want to look. [Pauses a moment to think]
Composers work really hard to get people to do their music.
People don’t really want to do it sometimes, and I’ve often wondered what
would happen if a generation or two of composers would just burn everything
they wrote when they died. After a couple of generations, I wonder
if anyone would care. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it?
BD: It seems to be a scorched-earth policy.
Polifrone: It’s a scorched-earth policy. I
don’t think I’ve had enough nerve to burn everything. I could probably
burn nine out of ten pieces that I’ve written and feel pretty good about
it, but it’s that 10th one...
BD: Is there anything that can be done to get
more enthusiasm on the part of the audience for new pieces?
Polifrone: I don’t know. People just need to
have the experience of hearing. People love what they know. I’ve
heard many people say, “I really like that piece, but I’m not really too
sure of it. After all, when I really stop and think about this, I’m
not sure if I really like it, or if I’m just getting used to it.” That’s
human nature. If more music could be played and have us not lose our
audience, in the meantime that would help. But I don’t know how to
BD: You’d rather just be writing music?
Polifrone: I’d rather be writing music.
BD: Would your music be any different if someone
tapped you on the head and said you’re now a billionaire?
Polifrone: No, it wouldn’t. It might be a little
bit better known because I could afford to organize a few concerts
— not only of my stuff, but some other people’s,
BD: You’d be a patron of the other composers.
Polifrone: Absolutely. Sure.
BD: Thank you for
being a composer.
Polifrone: Thank you very much.
---- ---- ----
© 1987 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago in March of 1994.
Portions were broadcast on WNIB two months later, and again
in 1997 and 1999. This
transcription was made in 2022, 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. To
read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as
a few other interesting observations, click here.
* * * *
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.