Composer  Phillip  Rhodes

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Phillip Rhodes is Composer-in-Residence and Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities Emeritus at Carleton College where he joined the faculty in 1974.  Born in western North Carolina in 1940, he received degrees from Duke University and the Yale University School of Music.  He has been the recipient of numerous commissions and composition awards, including grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Fund for Music, a citation and award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a McKnight Fellowship, two Fromm Foundation Commissions, and a Bush Foundation Fellowship for Artists.  [Names on this webpage which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on my website.]

Rhodes came through Chicago at the very end of August of 1994, so I knew immediately that he would get a full program about nine months later to mark his fifty-fifth birthday . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You say you don’t imagine yourself being fifty-five.  Why not?

Phillip Rhodes:   I don’t know.  You sort of think of yourself getting older, and I’m sure everybody thinks that and says that.  Sometimes when you’re working outdoors or trying to play golf, you do realize you’re older than you think you are.

rhodes BD:   Does your music get older at all?

PR:   I really not sure what you mean by that.

BD:   Let me break it into a couple of parts then.  Is the technique of composing easier because you have so much experience?

PR:   I think that’s probably true.  You know what you’re looking for, and pretty much how to do it.  Of course you’re always trying something that you’ve never tried before, or doing it in a way you’ve never tried before.  So, yes, you do have some reliable things that you know how to do, and you can count on those things working.  But even so, you’re still trying to experiment with finding new things.

BD:   Then does the musical content of your work continue to grow year by year?

PR:   I would like to think so.  I’m not sure what people who know anything about my music would say.  My research field is traditional Appalachian music, and I teach courses in that as well.  I go to festivals, and all kinds of things that have to do with the culture, so I’m always learning new things about the culture that I then internalize, and it shows up in my music. 

BD:   Does that make your music more American or just a different kind of American?

PR:   Lord knows what American music is, but it certainly relates to a culture that is long-standing in the sense of when we begin to settle this country.

BD:   Does it go back farther than that, to the roots of the people who came over?

PR:   No, mostly it’s Scotch-Irish, so it goes back to the migrations from Northern Ireland shortly after the turn of the Eighteenth Century.

BD:   Is that your heritage also?

PR:   It is.

BD:   Do you go back to the old country periodically?

PR:   I’ve been to Scotland doing research on a particular kind of hymn-singing that one finds among the Baptist sects in Eastern Kentucky, but I have not been to Northern Ireland.

BD:   Do you find a direct link between that music and the Appalachian music, and then your music?

PR:   Certainly between the first two.  Again, in this particular style of hymn-singing the strength of the link is very obvious and very direct.  In my work though, it somehow exhibits itself when it comes in one way, and then turns around and comes out in a not-so-direct way.  But I think it’s related. 

BD:   Do you purposely try to accentuate all of this, or does it just become part of the fabric?

PR:   Sometimes you do try to accentuate it if you’re working with a given tune, for example.  Otherwise, as you say, it exhibits itself in the fabric of how you think about something, or if you have a particular rhythmic feature which may not be obvious, but certainly is a part of my thinking of how the piece is put together.   

BD:   Coming back to my original question, does this continue to grow and grow, or do you find you have gotten a specific way of working with it which you keep using?

PR:   Both!  I hope it continues to grow as I learn more and better things.  But I do know how certain things work, and how to use them, and what’s going to happen when I do use them.  So in that sense I do return to certain aspects of pieces, or remember how things are put together.

BD:   You write music for the concert hall, as well as church music and instructional music?

PR:   I certainly do church music, and have done instructional music.

BD:   How do you reconcile the folk idiom of the Scotch-Irish and the Appalachian into the concert music?

rhodes PR:   [Laughs]  I don’t see why I have to reconcile it at all.

BD:   So music is music is music is music?

PR:   Pretty much!  

BD:   Is the concert music that you write for everyone?

PR:   I should like to think it is.

BD:   Are you aware of the audience when you are writing the music?

PR:   In some cases, yes.  It depends on what kind of particular commission one is working one.  You’re certainly aware of the performers.  I did a commission for the American Orff-Schulwerk Association, and that came about because my children were growing up and were being taught by Orff teachers.  I find the system very attractive as a means to teach students.  So certainly, I was aware of the kinds of student musicians who’d be playing this piece, and in this case, the audience is always their parents.  So, you are aware of who that particular the audience is, but other kinds of things you are aware who the players are, and that’s part of the fun of it.  To me, commissions for certain groups or certain kinds of people
including great playersare lots of fun to do.  A group like Speculum Musicae, for example, is known the world over for being able to play anything and everything.  You think of it, and they can play it.  That particular kind of challenge is very different from writing for school children, for example.

BD:   Do you particularly try something that’s uniquely difficult for the Speculum group, just to see if they can get around it?

PR:   No, I wouldn’t say that at all.  It’s just fun to realize that they can do practically anything.  A lot of really fine players like challenges.  

BD:   Is it more challenging to write something for children, and yet make it interesting to you and to the audience?

PR:   That’s a really hard one, and you said it exactly right.  To be able to satisfy what you, yourself want to write, and that children can play is a really tough one, and it’s not easy to do.  But I have enjoyed working with those kinds of things, and we need to do that as composers.

BD:   You’ve had quite a number of recordings.  Are you pleased with the recordings that have been made of your music?

PR:   Yes, without exception.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’ve worked as a teacher for a long time.  Any regret about that?

PR:   Oh, no.  I like teaching.  

BD:   This is college-level at the moment?

PR:   Yes.

BD:   Are your students going to be composers, going to be musicians, or just going to be real people?

PR:   Some of all of that.  One of the courses that really interests me is ‘Introduction to Music for General Students’ because it’s very often those people who will, in their lifetimes, sit on boards of symphony orchestras and ballet companies, and school boards where public school music is debated pro and con.  I get a great deal of pleasure out of having some input to those kinds of people because it does matter.

rhodes BD:   What kinds of influence do you want to have on those young minds?

PR:   That they understand why people write music; why does this sound this way; why does Bach sound different from Stravinsky; how does it affect you when you hear it; what do you think this person was trying to impart in writing a piece of music; and that it matters.  

BD:   That’s one of the most important things
that it matters.

PR:   Right.  Beethoven is talking to you about something that matters as far as our collective human condition goes.  They need to know that, and they need to know why it matters for the future.

BD:   Is Phillip Rhodes talking to you about something that matters in his music?  
[Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my Interivews with Hale Smith, Ursula Mamlok, and Phyllis Bryn-Julson.]

PR:   I certainly hope so.  

BD:   Is it a specific thing, or is it a general thing?

PR:   Again, it might be specific in one instance and very general in another.  These things are sometimes difficult to talk about, but mostly it’s a commonly shared feeling or perception about how one’s life is in relation to other people.

BD:   I realize that I’m asking the tough riddles that you are used to putting into music rather than into words.

PR:   Yes, you ask these questions, and then I’m supposed to respond to them in words, and I don’t put them in words to myself.  So it’s very difficult to do that because I simply don’t sit and ponder these things.  When you’re asked to comment in a radio interview about such things, it’s not easy.

BD:   I understand.  Is it safe to assume, though, that the music has pondered these things for you?

PR:   I hope so.  I like to think so.

BD:   Well, let me hit the big question from a little different angle.  What’s the purpose of music?

PR:   [Thinks a moment as he moves his head and rolls his eyes]  Why do you have to ask me that?  [Both laugh]  I don’t know!  I find many purposes in music.  I’m quoting somebody, I can’t remember who, that the purpose of music is to make one sing and dance and laugh and cry.  It’s all of these kinds of things.  Church music moves one in a certain kind of way.  The opening of the Beethoven Fifth is another thing.  What is this, and why is he so intent on beating me over the head with this idea?  It asks questions that are difficult to answer, but that have to be addressed in some many.  So, that’s certainly one of the purposes of music.  In broad history, music has also been a call to national arms.  There are all kinds of purposes of music, and I pretty much enjoy them all.  I like dancing music.  I like singing music.  I like the human voice.  It’s one of my very favorite means of communication.

BD:   [Pouncing on this particular item]  Tell me the joys and sorrows of writing for the human voice.

PR:   The joys are hearing it sung as you imagined it originally, in all this glorious high register without fault or strain.  There really aren’t that many sorrows in writing for the human voice.  I grew up in church choirs, and when one tries to write for church choir, you have to be aware of what limitations are.  There is but one hour, a Wednesday evening rehearsal, that can bring to the situation!  [Laughs]  But one of my favorite singers was, and is, Phyllis Bryn-Julson.

BD:   She’s made a number of recordings of your music.    

PR:   Yes, and Boulez, and Schoenberg, and everything you can think of.  She is probably the leading soprano of contemporary music of her generation.  She and I have known each other for a long, long time
since our student days at Tanglewoodand it was a particular joy to write for a singer like her.  But for me, one of the most subjective things of all about singing is whether or not one simply likes the sound of the voice.  Her voice was so beautiful, and she could do anything with it.  That was one of the particular joys of writing for the voice.

BD:   When you write, you obviously have her in mind.  Does that preclude other sopranos from doing it, or must they simply rise to her level?  

PR:   No, I wouldn’t say that.  There are many sopranos
many more than one would thinkthat can sing contemporary music, and sing it perfectly and beautifully, and for whom I would be very happy to write.

BD:   Would it be completely different when you’re writing for one soprano as opposed to another soprano?

rhodes PR:   Not completely different.  There might be different aspects of things she might focus on
the range, for example, or kind of thing.

BD:   With vocal music, you have the unique problem of texts.  How do you decide what text you’re going to use?

PR:   Sometimes you’re given texts, and that’s that.  I should think that most composers who write vocal music with text spend a lot of time reading things such as poetry.  I do that, too, probably not as much as I should.  I had a very interesting conversation with Dominic Argento.  He reads an enormous amount of stuff and writes an enormous amount of vocal music.  Usually, if I’m writing a vocal piece, then I start reading and start looking for something specific, but I usually have some kind of thematic thing in mind.  There is a piece we were talking about, called Visions of Remembrance, for two sopranos.  The texts are collected around a theme of how we remember things from our childhood.  So, we talked about how one would go about setting that to music so as to evoke those kinds of hazy childhood memories.

BD:   Once you had it all down on paper, did it work?

PR:   I think it worked.   It seems to work.

BD:   Are you ever surprised by what you hear once the performers get a hold of the music and start playing or singing?

PR:   [Laughs]  If you’re surprised too often, something’s wrong.  But one in a while, yes, you do get surprised
not by what it sounds like, necessarily, but what somebody else does to it, or projects it in a way that you hadn’t thought of.  Very often you’re thinking of detailed ideas about putting all these notes together in this register, in this range.  You know what it’s going to sound like on the clarinet, and you hear the soprano sing that word on this note.  Then, in working out the detailin which I take great delightyou sometimes forget what a singer or a violinist can or cannot actually bring to it from their own background.  This is this enormous lineage of how we make music, and once in a while you get really delightful surprises that the performer himself or herself brings to the thing.

BD:   But at some point, if they’re pulling and pushing your music, is it no longer really your music?

PR:   You mean if they go beyond the limits of what you’ve written down?  Yes, but that’s true of anybody’s music.  

BD:   I’m asking where those limits are for you.

PR:   I’m pretty forgiving with where those limits are, but some things have to be done in a certain way.  I’m very specific in the notation about how they’re supposed to be done, or at what speed, or what dynamic.  Sometimes performers can argue you into an agreement about something.  
“Let’s try this and see what it sounds like, and that’s fine.  But at some point, if it goes beyond the limits of what you think it should be, you have to say, “No, I don’t think we’ll do it that way.  Let’s do it the way I wrote it in the first place.

BD:   So you’re willing to be convinced, but you have to really be convinced?

PR:   I’m certainly willing to hear what a performer has to say about how they want to do something, particularly if it involves a matter of breath.  That’s always tricky business.  I grew up as a clarinet player, and you always have to be aware with wind players and singers.  You have to breathe somewhere, so you try to take that into account.  So, if there’s a problem like this, certainly you listen to them.

BD:   Do you litter your scores with directions, or do you leave them pretty clean?

PR:   One difference at my age now from what I did when I was younger is my directions are becoming fewer and fewer.  [Laughs]  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but you sit and you look at a page, and you write things down, and you finally come to the point of trusting the musicians.  If they have any sense at all, you’re not going to have to write all this stuff down.  They will simply respond to it the way they’re supposed to.  I hope that works, and generally it does.

*     *     *     *     *

rhodes BD:   Obviously, you have grown over the years.  Do you feel that the performers
instincts and abilities have also grown over the years?

PR:   Oh, without question!  There is no question about that!  Even in the whole field of contemporary music, certainly, but there are a couple of examples in my own work that show the players are getting better and more experienced.  The singers are probably the last ones because their instruments are so hard to control, and to get to produce a certain note unless they have perfect pitch.  But certainly, the whole area of performance has grown in its ability and its familiarity with contemporary music.  It’s very exciting.

BD:   The technical abilities of performers have grown.  Has the musical understanding grown?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my Interviews with Robert Erickson, and Harvey Sollberger.]

PR:   Yes, I think it has.  Their musical understanding is taught to them on the basis of the past not the present.  For example, you can go back to the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, or to any of these pieces that could not be played, and now they are common fare for auditions of graduate students.  Their musical and technical understanding of those pieces at the level of a good player is really outstanding.  We’re almost out of the Twentieth Century, but there’s enough understanding of Twentieth Century music under the belt of performers now that they can claim considerable understanding to contemporary music.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the whole future of where music is going?

PR:   These are really questions that lets oneself ponder.  I’m not sure what the outcome would be, but I don’t think either optimistically or pessimistically about it.  I guess if I were pushed on it, I would not be terribly optimistic.  It’s not a matter of good performers or great composers; it’s a matter of where is our audience that is interested in keeping music alive.  That question’s been going on for many, many years, and that’s why I’m interested in teaching.  That’s why I’m also interested in the parenting of public school music, because that’s where a lot of this is grounded, and where it has to come from.  I would not even be in music if it were not for public school music.  I grew up in bands from the fifth grade on, and I had great teachers.

BD:   Where was this?

PR:   In North Carolina.  I’m proud of that, and I’m optimistic about the state of the profession because the professionals are really astounding, and getting better all the time.  I guess if I had to put it crudely, I’m not so optimistic about the market place.

BD:   Let me ask a slightly different question.  Are you optimistic about where contemporary music is going, and the unique directions that composers are taking?

PR:   As far as I can tell.  Sometimes I pay a lot of attention and go to a lot of concerts in different parts of the country, and it strikes me as pretty much a free-for-all as to what’s going on.

BD:   Is that a good thing, or a bad thing, or just a thing?

PR:   I have no idea whether it’s good or bad.  It just seems to me to be a fact that what’s happening in contemporary music composition is that there are so many influences from so many directions.  Since I have been composing, there’s always been a jazz influence, and some of the younger composers show a rock influence which they manage to incorporate into their work very convincingly.  There are other cultural influences.  There are all kinds of things going on.  There’s also the effect of electronic media of all sorts, be it computer-generated or synthesized.  There’s so much information that’s available to use, or to incorporate, or build on, or to ignore, that it does strike me as literally a free-for-all.

BD:   Is it getting to be like cable television where there are too many choices?  

PR:   [Has a huge laugh]  Possibly!  I could not make a definitive statement about that.  It’s hard to tell. 

BD:   You teach and counsel young composers.  What advice do you have for the young composer coming along today?

PR:   Most of my teaching with younger composers is at a technical level, acquiring the necessary skills to be able to do what you want to do, and say what you have to say.  How they choose to do that, or what language they choose to use, they generally develop later.  Most of the younger composers that I get are basically interested in some kind of advanced tonal language which shows the influence of all kinds of Twentieth Century and popular music.  So unless I’m asked the direct question, I do very little counseling about what one should do, or how one’s music should be.  That really is up to the person.  My responsibility as a teacher at the undergraduate level is to develop skills and insights and analysis into how other music works, and how one might use that, or adapt that particular kind of technique in one’s own music.  

rhodes BD:   Is there a point where they balance the technique and the inspiration?

PR:   Sometimes you can say that, yeah.

BD:   What about in your own music?

PR:   Again, it depends on what kind of piece it is, and what circumstances you’re working under.  What I have always hoped to do is at least produce a competent piece, and to do that you have to rely on your skills, and your craft, and your imagination.  I’ve always been very gun-shy trying to describe with any precision what inspiration is.  Inspiration may be a good idea, or something that wakes you up in the middle of the night
which does happenand you have to get up and write it down, or you have to keep singing it all night and keep yourself awake so that you won’t lose the idea.   

BD:   Sing it into a tape recorder and hope that you can understand it when you wake up!

PR:   [Laughs]  That’s a better thing to do.

BD:   When you’re writing a piece, and you’re putting the notes down on the page, are you always in control of where the pencil goes, or are there times when the pencil controls your hand?

PR:   I like to think I’m in control of what’s going on and where I’m going.  Sometimes things happen that still astound me at the age of fifty-five, and I’m not quite sure how they happen.  It
s probably some kind of sub-conscious working out of pieces of a puzzle.  These things happen because they are in your grasp, and you know what they are.  You just haven’t put them down in order yet, and sometimes this putting down in order seems to occur quite by itself.  Then you end up in a spot you’d envisioned months ago, but weren’t quite sure how you were going to get there.  These things happen, and you’re delighted when they do.  So, you look up and say, “Thank you very much, and go on.

BD:   Before you start writing the piece, are you aware of how long it will take to perform the piece when it’s finished?

PR:   No, not always, but sometimes commissions can be very specific.  They want a piece between 13 and 16 minutes long, so you respond to that by thinking in such a scale, or in so many movements, or variations, or whatever that will produce a work of the required length.  This is, of course, if you’re interested in taking that kind of commission. 

BD:   I just wondered if you ever get started on something, and you know it’s either going to be much too short or much too long, so you leave that for something else and start again?

PR:   I guess that happens sometimes.  Sometimes it’s hard to make something longer than it wants to be.  Either you have to be satisfied with that and the context you’re in, or save that for another piece.  At least in myself and in my work, I’m not aware of not having made things longer than they need to be.

BD:   When you’re writing a piece, and you’re working with it, you’re revising and you’re tinkering.  How do you know when to put the pen down and say it’s done?

PR:   I try at some point to devise an end for the piece.  This is how I want the work to end, and this is what I want it to sound like.  In some case these are the notes, and the distribution of those notes that I want the end to be, especially on a piece that has a text.  You pretty much know where the end is, and then you go about creating the aura that you want for it.  So, you set that out, and then you start working on the rest of the piece.  That’s what I was talking about a minute ago.  Sometimes, in working towards that end that you had described for yourself, interesting and mysterious things happen.  In your mind, the notes you’re working with end up being connected in a perfect way to the notes that you had set out for the end of the piece.  It’s this working of the mind through these various possibilities that eventually gets you there.  But sometimes you do decide on the end of the piece ahead of time, and when you’re working through, the material says, 
No, this is not the end of this piece.  This piece has to end in this way!  So you throw that idea away, and you work your way through to a new end.

BD:   Do you throw it away or do you save it for another piece?

PR:   [Laughs]  I throw very little away.  Waste not, want not!  I keep stacks of things.  If I thought it was a really good idea, then I’ll keep tabs on where it is and where it might be useful.

BD:   Do you know before you start the piece about how long it will take to construct it?

PR:   Ah, yes!  I’m a slow worker though.  I ponder a lot, and I like to have an uninterrupted time to work on a piece.  I guess we would all like to have uninterrupted time to work on whatever it is we’re working on, but I generally would have to set aside something like six months or so to work on a piece that’s over ten minutes long.  I just need time to sort through the material, what it means, how it’s connected, where it might go, all those kinds of things.  I don’t do it in a hurry.  I wish I could be faster, but I’m not.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   When you give your piece to a chamber group, or to the conductor to rehearse, are you one of these guys that keeps nudging them and making corrections, or do you stay the hell out of the way?

rhodes PR:   Making corrections of what I’ve written?

BD:   Or influencing the interpretation.  That’s really two questions.

PR:   No, I don’t mess with the piece until they’ve done it, and usually I won’t do anything to it anyway.  Once in a while I’ll revise things, but I’m given to, as you put it, staying the hell out of the way.  If they have questions, I assume they’ll ask me.  Generally, performers are kind enough to invite you to a rehearsal before they play the piece.  Then they ask what you have to say, or would you like them to do this or that?  You do get a chance to have your say, but generally I prefer to stay out of it until they ask me something.  I
ve always been this way, and that works pretty well.

BD:   We were talking a moment ago about time.  You’re teaching and you’re composing.  Do you get enough time to compose?

PR:   During the school year?

BD:   Yes.

PR:   Not really, unless it’s a fairly limited project that I have saved time for, or that I could do during the school year.  If it were to be a revision, then that’s a fairly limited project and I could work on that.  But you try to isolate enough time during the school year to do some work.  It’s not always easy.  I teach at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and the schedule we’re all on helps somewhat.  Our first term is over before Thanksgiving, and then we don’t start again until after the New Year.  So I can get five weeks or so that I can work specifically on a project in the middle of the year, which helps.  Then we have the summer, and you get sabbatical years.

BD:   But basically you do your heaviest work in the summer?

PR:   Yes, because it’s just too many things going on at once.  There are always people to see, all those papers to write, all those concerts to go to, so it takes your time.

BD:   One of your biographies says you were composer-in-residence in Cicero, Illinois.  I was unaware that Cicero had a composer-in-residence.

PR:   During the late
50s and 60s, there was a program funded by the Ford Foundation which was administered by MENC [Music Educators National Conference].  It was a program actually devised by the composer Norman Dello Joio, and it was called ‘Composers in the Public Schools’.  Composers from all over the country were invited to apply for these grants.  They listened to your music, and you were interviewed, and the school systems were interviewed, and they tried to match up composers and really excellent school systems throughout the country.  They’ve been all over the countryin Cicero, in Anchorage, Alaska, in California, or anywhere these is a good school system program.  So I was sent under this Ford Foundation MENC program to be composer-in-residence for the J. Sterling Morton School System in Cicero.  [The school district is named for Julius Sterling Morton, Grover Clevelands Secretary of Agriculture during his second term, who is best known for founding Arbor Day.]

rhodes BD:   Was that a satisfying experience?

PR:   Yes.  I really enjoyed that because I did teach public school music for a year after I finished graduate school as a band director.  I enjoyed the young players.

BD:   Would that kind of thing work today, or are we just too far removed from it?

PR:   There has been a falling off of good public school music programs because of cut-backs and school budgets.  So, it could work, but it would not work in so many places.  There would still some places left where it would work, and some of the states
Arts Councils and Arts Boards have taken programs like that.  They’ve done it with poets for a while, but some of them do it with composers.  I think there’s a program in Minnesota run by the Minnesota Composers Forum.  [The MCF was established in 1973 by a group of graduate students from the University of Minnesota, led by Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus, with a $400 grant from the Student Club Activities Fund.  Its name was changed in 1996 to the American Composers Forum.  There are now about 2000 members in all 50 states, and over 500 titles have been released on Innova, their recording label.]

BD:   Is composing fun?

PR:   [Laughs]  Yes, it can be an awful lot of fun.  Sometimes it can be an awful lot of work, especially if you’re banging your head on a problem that doesn’t seem to want to be resolved.  But it’s becoming less physical hard work than it used to be because of some of the aids with the computer music copying programs.  It used to be simply an enormous amount of physical work.  If you hand-copy a thirty-eight-stave orchestra score, and then copy all the parts in ink by hand, being left-handed, as I am, you’re talking about an enormous amount of physical labor... and that’s not to mention the four or five times you’ve written a piece down in pencil while you’re working on it.  That’s changing now.  Although my wife, bless her heart, is trying to move me into the computer age, I resist the idea of composing other than with pencil and paper.  So I’m still using pencil and paper, and then she gets to copy it on the computer!  But some of the younger composers have mastered the idea and the technique and feel of composing at the computer, so the amount of physical hard work is less than it was.  But it’s still mental hard work to get some of these things.  From thirty-some years of doing it, I’ve learned that if you get to four o’clock in the afternoon, and you’re up against a problem that just won’t go away, it works for me to say,
“OK, I quit.  I’ll look at it tomorrow, and tomorrow’s always better.

BD:   Really???

PR:   Yes, and tomorrow it gets fixed.  You think about it all night, but tomorrow it gets fixed.

BD:   That gives you confidence to let it go for a while?

PR:   Well, you don’t let it go.  You have to keep enough notes around you to restructure the problem, but you can just let go and say, 
I’m not going to work that now.  I’ll fix that tomorrow.  And if it doesn’t get fixed tomorrow, you say, “OK, I’ll go beyond it and come back.  You learn how to deal with how you work in thirty years.  [Laughs]

BD:   But eventually all the problems do get solved?

PR:   Pretty much.  I would say yes, that’s true.

BD:   I wish you lots of continued success as a composer and as a teacher.  We need good teachers and good composers.

PR:   I certainly would like to continue working both.  Thank you for having me.  I’ve enjoyed this.


© 1994 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on August 29, 1994.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year, and again in 2000.  An unedited copy of the audio was placed in the Archive of Contemporary Music at Northwestern University.  This transcription was made in 2017, and posted on this website early in 2018.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

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

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.

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.