Conductor / Composer Jack Stamp
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
|Jack Stamp is Professor of
Music, Chairperson of the Music Department and Director of Band Studies
at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he conducts the Wind
Ensemble and teaches courses in graduate conducting. He received his
Bachelor of Science in Music Education degree from IUP, a Master's in
Percussion Performance from East Carolina University, and a Doctor of
Musical Arts Degree in Conducting from Michigan State University where
he studied with Eugene Corporon.
Prior to his appointment at IUP, he served as chairman of the Division
of Fine Arts at Campbell University in North Carolina. He also taught
for several years at John T. Hoggard located in Wilmington, North
Carolina. In addition to these posts, Dr. Stamp served as conductor of
the Duke University Wind Symphony (1988-89) and was musical director of
the Triangle British Brass Band, leading them to a national brass band
championship in 1989.
Stamp's primary composition teachers have been Robert Washburn and
Fisher Tull, though he was strongly influenced by his music theory
teachers at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and East Carolina. Other
studies include work with noted American composers David Diamond, Joan
Tower and Richard Danielpour.
He is active as a guest conductor, clinician, adjudicator, and composer
throughout North America and Great Britain. His compositions have been
commissioned and performed by leading military and university bands
across the United States.
In 1996, he received the Orpheus Award from the Zeta Tau Chapter of Phi
Mu Alpha for service to music and was named a "Distinguished Alumnus"
of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In 1999, he received the
"Citation of Excellence" from the Pennsylvania Music Educators
Association. In 2000, he was inducted into the prestigious American
Bandmasters Association. He was awarded the title of "University
Professor" for the 2008-2009 academic year at IUP, the highest award
the university gives to a professor.
Born in March of 1954, it was in March of 1994 that Jack
Stamp was in Chicago. A new piece, written for the 1994 Honors
Band was being conducted by Colonel Arnald Gabriel, and both artists
made time for (separate) interviews with me. This webpage
presents the conversation with Stamp.
Preparing this transcript of an interview from twenty years ago, it is
comforting to know that both the conducting and composing artistry of
Jack Stamp have continued very well. Besides all of his
performances and clinic appearances, he now has a number of pieces
recorded by his own Keystone Winds, as well as several other ensembles
on various labels.
Many of my interview guests over the years have been multi-taskers, so
that is where we began talking . . . . .
You are both a composer and
Yes, and a conductor. My main job is conducting.
BD: How do
you divide your
time amongst those taxing activities?
it or not, most of my composing is
done during academic breaks in the year
— over Christmas
vacation or maybe even a long weekend, like Labor Day weekend. I
wrote a piece over Labor Day weekend once, a seven and a half minute
saxophone piece. I just had the time and I didn’t have the
pressures of teaching, because the school semester had just
started. I compose a lot during the summers and
spring breaks. The composing and the scoring I do
separately. I’ll write the piece, but then
I’ll score it for whatever the instrumentation is later.
Sometimes I do the scoring in the evenings. I’ll
set aside an hour to do
that, because though that is creative, I’ve thought of that in the
composition process. I don’t want to
say it’s busy work. That’s not the word...
transcribing the piece!
Right. You already know what you’re going
to do, and it just takes time to actually orchestrate it. But
it’s not a lot of creative energy that has to go into it at that point.
BD: How much of
the music you write
is for band, how much for orchestra, and how much for ensembles?
JS: That’s a
good question. In fact, the
majority of my music’s been for band. Initially it started
because that’s such an instant medium to get your music played.
If you write a band piece, people will play it. If you write an
orchestra piece, you don’t know. Maybe a brass quintet you can
get around, but a band piece has instant acceptability — if
people like the piece. There’s such a network of band
directors that the piece will get lots of hearings. And if you
have one successful band piece, then the commissions start to be band
kind of what has happened to me. Though I’ve written some other
pieces, the majority of my work in the last seven years has been for
band. In fact, a year from now I’m taking two
years off and I am not going to write another band piece. I’m
going to try to write a piece for chamber
orchestra, a string quartet and some other pieces to cleanse the palate.
BD: With the
idea that you’ll
come back to writing for band?
absolutely! There’s a little bit of wanting to stay in
the band field because I’ve had successes in that. In fact, in
the last couple
years I’ve written several pieces for band, and if they’re published
these pieces will come out periodically. So it won’t look
like I’ve stopped composing for band, because they’ve been stockpiled
with publishers. So while I’m not actually writing for band, I
can expand my horizons a little bit.
BD: Are you
purposely holding these back so they do
come out piecemeal?
JS: No, the
publisher actually does that. They used to
publish two and three and four pieces by one composer a
season, but now they do it seasonally. It’s based on the
Midwest Convention that’s held here in Chicago every December.
The pieces are coming out at that time, so they’re advertised and
there’s this one big blitz of publication for school bands at that
time. Now the publisher only wants to bring out usually one
piece a year, and see how that works. I guess it’s kind of
like the carrot out there. The publisher right now
has four of my pieces, but they may bring two
out in the fall because one’s a very short fanfare. The other was
played today by a group from Colorado.
BD: You get
commissions from the various
bands. How do you decide whether you’ll accept them or
turn them aside?
much if I’m not scheduled, or if the group can wait until I can fit
them in, then that’s usually
how I decide. I usually don’t base it on who it is. Some
composers who are a lot more well-known than
myself, can pick and choose their commissions. I really don’t do
that. I say, “I’m booked up until the spring of
’95. Can you wait ‘til then?” They have to decide.
That’s why I’ve said now I’m going to stop it for the
spring of ’95, so if anybody calls me, I can say, “Well, no; in the
summer of ’97 I could start your band
piece.” So I set those deadlines for myself, but pretty much it
has to do with their willingness and their ability to wait for a
piece, or my ability to write it at a certain time.
orchestral works that you’re going to be
doing in the mean time — have these been commissioned or are these just
things you have to write?
interesting you should ask. They’re going to be things I just
want to write, which is kind of fun. I have a friend that
conducts a chamber orchestra outside of
Milwaukee, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and I think I’m going to write a
piece for him because I know it would get one performance. Then
there are some of the faculty at my
university. I’m thinking about writing a piece for brass quintet
and percussion, a combination of almost a percussion ensemble with
brass quintet. And I’d like to write a few more songs. I’ve
written some songs, and I’d like to write a few more of those.
BD: Is it
easier to write for a specific ensemble,
rather than just a band or an orchestra?
JS: I don’t
know. Both are challenges,
and I like both challenges. I like parameters in my writing, and
I like no parameters. This fall I wrote a piece for Louisiana
State University. It’s a 15-minute divertimento, and I could
pretty much write anything I wanted because I knew they could play
it. That freedom is nice. But then when you write
for, let’s say, a high school band from a small town in Michigan
I wrote this Elegy and Affirmation
for that was played today — I ask
them who their strong players are. They said, “We have a good
player this year; we have a good trombonist this year; we have a
good saxophonist, but we only have two trombones and we
don’t have any oboes.” Those parameters don’t bother me.
There’s a challenge to me, and
I try to fit the piece to the band. Occasionally you’ll
double-score or cross cue a part. For instance, they don’t have
an oboe, but you’d like there to be an oboe solo. So you say in
“If oboe available, make it an oboe solo,” so that the piece is more
accessible if it gets published.
it goes to the back to the cornet?
right, muted cornet.
But I don’t mind the parameters that a commissioning part would put on
me, if they say, “It can only be this hard,” or, “We only have this
instrumentation.” That doesn’t bother me. In fact, that’s a
challenge, too, just as the freedom of writing for anybody is.
of freedom, how much freedom do you
allow the conductor to experiment, to expand and contract your music?
JS: The great
composer Vincent Persichetti — who was
also a great teacher and taught at Juilliard for 40 years — said
conductors are too faithful to the markings on the score. They’re
afraid of offending the composer by putting their own
personalities in the work. [See my Interview with
Vincent Persichetti.] In my works, though
I’m kind of strict about tempi in certain places, I’m not real strict
with the expressive markings. I like to see
interpretations. For instance, I don’t know how this
piece that they’re going to play tomorrow is really going to
sound. I know what it sounds like, sure, but filtered through
Colonel Gabriel, it’s going to take on a whole new picture, and it
might be exactly how the piece should sound. Because the piece
hasn’t been born yet, you could say that
Colonel Gabriel’s kind of a midwife in the process. He’s
going to bring the piece to life. I’ve written it, but he puts
his signature on it with
his personality. If it’s too far off of what I think it
should be, I’ll say something. But I like the freedom. I
have some friends that like certain pieces that I’ve
written, and they actually conduct those pieces better than I do
because maybe I have too much of an analytical attachment to
them. I know how everything goes, and they have more of an
emotional attachment because they learned the piece through conducting
it and just liking the piece.
BD: You say that
Colonel Gabriel is going
to give birth to this piece. Does each conductor who then
conducts this piece from now until eternity give rebirth to it?
JS: I think
Some conductors fall in the trap, though, of listening to a recording
of a piece and then trying to emulate the recording. It’s my
hope that conductors will put their personality into the piece
— as long
as they don’t distort my original intentions. I don’t want them
to mimic me. I want
to see the piece as a reflection on them.
BD: How far
is too far?
JS: It would
have to be specific.
I’d have to say if tempo is changed; if crescendos are done, or
certain expressive markings, like fortepianos are taken when they
really aren’t; if accents are different; if they
put a big ritard when I haven’t written any ritard.
Stretching is fine, but whenever it goes to the
extreme, I might say, “Wait a minute. Poetic license is
BD: Have you
basically been pleased with the
performances you’ve heard of your music over the years?
much, yes, especially with the
commissioning parties, because usually I’m involved somewhere in the
process of the performance. For instance, I just ran into Colonel
in the hallway, and he said, “Please come in tomorrow morning, first
thing, and listen to the piece. Then let’s talk about it.”
Obviously he wants my input. There have been occasions when I
haven’t had input — usually that hasn’t been the
premiere, but it’s
been other performances — where I say, “If I
only had an hour with the
group, I could have given them a better concept of the work, and
they probably would have enjoyed playing it more.”
BD: Is your
score basically clean, or do you litter it with
lots of directions?
JS: I don’t
litter it at all. The
beginning of this piece says “Hazy,” which
conjures up a lot of imagery. I don’t want to say, “Quiet, with
blurring, or shifting lines.” I don’t want it to be so
specific. In some cases, I think more in terms of an
artistic approach rather than specific directions. There’s a
piece I wrote — in fact it was played at the
Midwest Clinic this year — called
Chorale and Toccata, which
says at the beginning, “Dreamlike.”
BD: Then you
do also give specific tempo markings?
absolutely. In this piece a quarter
note equals a certain thing. Now, if it’s a bit to one side or
don’t mind that. I’ve had pieces where there have been
sometimes 32 metronomic markings different.
BD: That’s a
not poetic license, that’s a little
bit of distortion. However, if it says 76 and they want to go
80, or they want to go 70 and the proportions are right as to what
next, that doesn’t bother me. A perfect example of this is a
piece I wrote called Divertimento.
The third movement is
dedicated to Joan Tower, who is a wonderful composer. [See my Interview with Joan Tower.
Note: Each movement is dedicated to various
people — Fisher Tull; In Memorium William Schuman; Joan
Tower; Mike, Gary, Bud, and David; David Diamond. See my Interview with William
Schuman, and my Interview
with David Diamond.] I got to take
some lessons with Tower this summer. The movement is called Fury, and
it’s a very angry piece. I wrote it on a computer so the
printout looks very much like it’s published. That’s mainly the
reason I do it, because usually I’ve
written for student groups, and I’ve found that
they read printed parts that look
like they’re published better than manuscript parts, even if the
manuscript’s very clean. Part of it’s psychological.
Absolutely, absolutely. So I write at the
computer. Also the computer with a MIDI card can play back
this music. So this Fury
is furious and it’s very fast, and the computer just nailed it.
When Louisiana State tried
to do it, it was physically impossible to really make it work on the
instruments. The computer could do it. You push a button
and there’s no problem. I realized that the tempos were all
wrong because it didn’t fit the group. Technically the computer
should be able to play it. It’s like a
suit. When they tried on the suit, it didn’t fit because I
didn’t have the right measurements.
BD: But the
tempos weren’t wrong because you liked
it when the computer played it properly!
BD: So which
is right, then — the band that plays at a
little different tempo, or the computer that plays it the way you
and there’s the rub. Obviously, if I
want it played right, we had to back the tempo down a little bit.
But we didn’t change the proportions, so the relationships of tempos
all where the same, and then the same feeling was gotten from the
music. The energy level that the computer could play at is all
one sound, versus when you have actual live musicians playing it, they
can create a whole other sense of energy, which made up for the
change in tempo.
BD: Do you
then put a note in the score that when
it’s possible to play it at the original tempo, they should do it?
JS: No, I
didn’t. Actually I backed all
the tempos because when piece was played again the same problem
happened. So it’s my fault.
BD: But fifty
years from now, someone’s going
to listen to this tape [or read this transcription], find that piece,
and decide it should be
played at a different tempo.
JS: And fifty
years from now I’ll be dead, so I guess
they can do that! [Laughs]
BD: So this
is my question — which do you
want? Do you want the practical way that it was done now, on ‘original’
instruments, or do you want it done their way later on, on
JS: I don’t
even think about that. That doesn’t
concern me. I want people to enjoy the music, and they weren’t
enjoying it at what I had written. I realized I hadn’t
written something that was feasible. I guess they could play it,
but the piece didn’t sound. The tempo
restricted some of the resonant quality and the energy and the volume
of the piece. Because they were having to play so fast that it
other parameters of the music — the sound, the
timbre, the volume,
and just the sheer energy. So by backing back the tempo, all
those qualities came through the music. I don’t say I’m
sacrificing tempo, but technically I could sacrifice tempo so that
these other elements would rise to the top. So sure, if a band
could play it faster, that would be nice. But these are great,
great players, and I’m not sure it can be played at the volume and
energy level I want at that tempo.
it just a little bit — and then I
promise we’ll get off of it — would you perhaps
want to make this a
purely plastic performance, only on a record made by the computer, so
that it sounds the way you imagined it?
BD: Why not?
JS: Because I
think it’s artificial. What the
computer does for me is let me know what I’ve done harmonically, and if
my counterpoint works because the counterpoint I write is far advanced
from my keyboard skills. That’s what I use the computer for.
BD: But it
sounded the way you wanted it there,
and had the furiousness.
JS: It had
the rhythm sound the way I wanted, sure,
and the tempo sound the way I wanted. But when I heard it with
real instruments that were supposed to play it, that was what I
envisioned, not the computer. It
wasn’t written for computer; it was written for band. I realized
didn’t work with computer. So I guess if somebody said, “We’d
do a computer arrangement of your band piece,” then I’d say, “Well,
fine. Then kick up the tempo.” But if you’re going to do it
with the instrumentation that it was intended for, it probably works
better at this tempo.
BD: Would you
be happy if another computer
program could play it at the right tempo and put in all the
colors and textures that you want?
because that’s not live musicians. There’s
no feeling in that. There’s just technical computer chips that
are going to make it right. I’m not Edgard Varèse, who
said, “I don’t want people to play my music if a computer can do it,
because it can play exactly what I want.” I haven’t gotten to
you think you’ll ever get to that point?
never get to that because the problem with
the computer is that it’ll play it the same way every time.
That’s not what we’re looking for in music. There’s no feeling in
doing it the same way every time. If you feel a piece differently
and you experience the piece, you’re going to have a different response
to it. Or a different group’s going to have a different response
than another group, so the performance is going to be different.
That’s the beauty of live music. Why do we have umpteen
recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth
Symphony? Because they’re
all different interpretations and different experiences.
BD: So none
is right, and all are right?
Okay. We’re hitting it from a funny angle,
but let me ask you the big question. What is the purpose of
JS: I think
music reflects life, and some of what I try to do with music is
not necessarily to be programmatic with that. I’ve always had
a problem with band music — at least as it’s
been composed for schools — in that it always
reflects a major chord. It always respects all the
beauty, or everything is nice and wonderful, and life is not
like that. If you ever listen to some of the school pieces that
have been written for band, they don’t delve into
anything that’s very technical. It’s very superficial music, and
the students aren’t experiencing the
power of music when it is written at such a superficial
level. A perfect example that has been played here in Chicago
recently is the Corigliano Symphony
Number One, which is a
powerful piece. [See my Interviews with John
Recently I was working with a regional band in Pennsylvania, and I said
to the students,
“You’ve got to realize that music is more than just pretty chords all
the time. Music is supposed to reflect life.” I played
for them the tarantella
movement of that symphony on a boom box I held in my
hand on the podium, and you should have seen the horror on these kids’
faces when they
heard that movement. I told them that the piece was dedicated
in memory of AIDS victims. I had kids coming up to me and
saying, “How do I get that CD?” They had never played a piece
like that before, but because it had been presented to them in a
particular way, their whole world opened up. I think that’s what
music is supposed to do. It’s supposed to open up some of these
worlds to musicians, student musicians, and to audiences that may not
be opened up. Why is this piece so popular? It was on
Billboard charts because it spoke to people.
BD: Do you
try to write this into your music — something
that will speak to the young children?
do. I try to write music that doesn’t
sound like anybody else’s. It’s programmatic, but I don’t think
my music is derivative. In the beginning, sure, my music sounded
like my teachers. It
sounded a little bit like William Schuman. It sounded like all
these influences from music I had listened to. But I think
my music now sounds like my music. You were talking about the
commissions for band, and what catapulted me into
having people really being interested in my music for band was a piece
Gavorkna Fanfare. I
wrote that for the Cincinnati Conservatory as a gift
to Eugene Corporon, who is one of the clinicians here this
weekend. People heard that, and it didn’t sound like anything
else they had ever
heard. They had never heard a fanfare for full band. A
usually brass and percussion. So it was a fanfare for
full band, and it used some minimalistic techniques, but was not overly
minimalistic. It had a fugue in it, and there are lots of other
little things in it. It was very individualized. I was
trying to was write a fanfare that
didn’t sound like the great Copland Fanfare.
sounded different, but yet it’s very accessible. I think you do
write for an audience. I’m not a person that
believes that you don’t write with an audience in mind, or players in
mind. But you also have an obligation to educate your audience
and your players with your music, not just give them some sort of
pabulum or pacifier.
back to the
idea of the Corigliano work, would that stimulate you to get the rights
to make an arrangement for band of it?
JS: I don’t
think I’d do it. I’m a real purist with that, and of course I’d
ask Corigliano. But I don’t think that piece would work with
winds. I think about all the string harmonics that are in
it that you probably couldn’t replicate in the wind writing.
composer at University of Texas who has suffered from the HIV
virus has written a symphony for band based on that. But
personally I don’t enjoy some of the recent orchestral works that
have been transcribed for band. We’re not talking about Romantic
pieces. If the composer walked in, would he go, “Oh,
man! What a great version of my symphony!”
or would he or
she say, “That’s awful! Why did you do that? This is
supposed to be for orchestra!” So I’d rather John Corigliano
write a piece of the same magnitude and the same power for winds,
because I know he could do it, and it would be great.
BD: So if the
Romantic composer could mystically walk in, you don’t feel that he
would be pleased to have this band bridge
the gap, and get students to then want to explore the original version?
I think you have to draw a fine line
between what idiomatically works for your instruments. So if
playing violin parts on clarinets, that that may not work
idiomatically for a Beethoven
symphony or a Tchaikowsky symphony. You have to weigh
the two options. There are pieces by both composers that work as
educational pieces and work in the medium. But to play it so
you can have an opportunity to play Beethoven’s Fifth may not
be the best reason. Maybe study Beethoven in a session,
talk about his symphonies, and find the best piece that’s
transcribed for band to teach the music of Beethoven. Anyway we
have wind pieces by Beethoven. We have the Octet and the
Rondino, and we have wind
pieces by Strauss. We also have wind pieces
by Mozart, the Three Serenades,
which are wonderful. So with those pieces you can
experience some of these composers in their original medium.
you’re writing a piece, be it for band or
orchestra or any other combination, I assume you don’t compose
only at the computer?
I sketch at the computer now. I
didn’t used to, but I found that when sketching at the computer, I
save what I had. Also with the cut-and-paste feature, I can move
around a lot quicker than actually doing it by hand.
But I’ll get ideas and I’ll sketch them on manuscript paper.
the notes are getting from your
mind to either the page or the keyboard or the printout or
something. Are you always in control of where those notes go, or
are there times when the notes are leading you?
JS: I think
I’m in control of them, but
sometimes they take different shapes than they originally
started out to be. Maybe that’s the idea that the music
starts to have a life of its own. Once I’ve composed enough of
it, it starts to tell you the direction it should go. It’s
interesting. Sometimes I’ll begin
writing a part and realize that’s not the beginning of the piece at
all. This would work better in the middle of the
piece, and I’ve got to compose backwards. There are some
composers that say you shouldn’t do that. Joan Tower said to me,
“Start at the beginning and work towards the end of the piece, because
organically, you need to have that fusion.” I think she’s
works for her.
but theoretically that’s right,
because it’s hard to compose backwards and thread something that
hasn’t been written yet to something you already wrote. But some
composers can do that. In some pieces, I’ve written the end of
the piece first, and had to really work backwards.
BD: Then are
you working to create what’s behind
it, or are you just finding what’s already there?
JS: What I do
is try to develop the
ideas. If it doesn’t happen, then I have to go to another
idea and decide if that’s even going to fit in this piece. There
have been some times when I’ve been composing a piece of music that I
come up with an idea and I go, “This is a whole different piece, so
I’ll save it and put it aside.” Or that becomes the piece and
the stuff that I originally worked on gets set aside. I don’t
know if many composers work
like that, but I work like that. I get to some ideas —
they be motivic, harmonic, or even rhythmic — and
expand on those and try to compose a
piece around them. A perfect example is the piece that’s going to
tomorrow. I came up with just this simple opening chord.
It’s just a B flat major 9 chord, but the way I built it
is intervallically from top, inside out so you never hear it
played like a jazz B flat 9 chord. That’s all I had, and I
struggled with where I was going to go from there.
Well, the piece did take a little bit of its own, and by shifting some
these notes these sustained chords became different chords that bleed
into each other in this opening. I still didn’t have a tune; I
just had the harmonic idea,
but I knew I could keep coming back to this harmonic idea in different
shapes, whether it be articulated or just in a block
form. Then I was able to compose a very short
fanfare-type theme around these chords. That’s how
that piece developed, but for a long time, I was just struggling
with this chord and what to do.
BD: Are you a
because you are also a working conductor?
JS: Yes, and
because I’m a practicing
musician. I still play. I’m a percussionist by trade, but I
conduct. I teach and I also compose. Part of
it is just your psyche. If I’m really tired of composing, it’s
fun to get out in front of a group and conduct. Or if I’ve
been conducting these honor bands, which they have at this time of
year and they’re having here, if I’ve done three or four of those in a
row, it’s real nice to get behind a marimba or a set of tympani and
play. This is just to keep shifting your focus, but it’s not a
shift out of
music. It’s not like going fishing. Although I like
sports and things like that, I can just shift my musical emphasis, and
it’ll recharge my batteries. I think
composing makes me a better conductor than conducting makes me a
composer, because of the composition of the knowledge of the
instruments, the transposition, the textures. As a conductor,
when you look at a score you can read a score a lot better having been
a composer, and having written that manuscript on a score page.
BD: Do you
then help to interpret music that’s not
written by you differently because you are a composer yourself?
JS: I think
so, though it’s
hadn’t conducted this Divertimento
that I composed for LSU until about three weeks ago. I went to
Ohio, because the band wanted to do it, and I told them I
had to practice! I had to actually practice conducting it,
because my brain knew it as a composition that I had written, and it’s
a totally different thing to have to conduct it.
Obviously there is the physical side of it, but it’s just a whole
approach than the composer would take. So that’s an interesting
concept that I just realized because I couldn’t just walk up and
conduct this piece.
It’s hard enough that I had to actually practice it and mark the score
like I had never seen it before, because it requires some of the same
musical abilities, but also different musical
BD: Are there
ever times when Jack Stamp, the
conductor, screams at Jack Stamp, the composer?
absolutely! I screamed when I had that
tempo wrong. I said to myself, “You idiot! It doesn’t
work!” It took a band trying it on. Boulez said this at a
wonderful workshop at Carnegie Hall last
year. He said, “A piece is like a set of clothing. You
try it on, and if it doesn’t fit you have to adjust it.” That
doesn’t mean it’s not a good suit. It was a beautiful suit
hanging on the rack, just like that was a beautiful section sitting on
that piece of manuscript paper. But until it was tried on by
whoever was going to perform it, he didn’t know if it would work.
What if we had to do some alterations?
here’s the big question. Is it
better to alter the suit, or wait until someone comes along who fits
JS: I can’t
say what’s better. For me
personally, I say you alter the suit. I think it was Schoenberg
who said he could wait. Someone had said there was
a note that was unplayable on an instrument, and he
said, “Well, eventually...” So he could wait. I
you want it to be played, you realize it’s not an incompetence of the
an expectation that though on the page it looks like it can be met, in
reality it can’t be. So for me, if I want to hear the piece it’s
my job to make the adjustment, and I do that willingly.
BD: How long
have you been directing bands?
JS: I started
teaching public schools in 1978, so
since then. I was graduate assistant, so really ’76
is when I started conducting.
BD: So that’s
quite a bit of experience. Has the raw talent that you’ve seen
JS: I’m not
sure it’s gotten better. We’re talking about the public
schools and colleges, and the very best players are as good as they
have been. I’m not sure the depth is quite what it was twenty
years ago when I was in college.
BD: In other
words, there were more good players?
JS: I think
there were more players, but maybe the
best are still as good, or better than they were.
BD: Is this
technically, or musically?
Both. I think part of it is just the
experiences. With many of the cut-backs and the budget
problems of public schools, sometimes the arts programs are the
first to go and then you worry about the background of these students
what kind of background they’ve gotten. When you hear
about Revelli and his high school band and the kind of training that
kids got, it’s a world of difference. [See my Interview with William
Revelli.] There weren’t the
problems back then that you have now. So I think part of it’s
just the background that the students have when they get to a certain
age and they decide to pursue music. They don’t have the depth
of experiences that they may have had twenty years ago.
BD: Are you
optimistic about the future
of music in America?
JS: Well, I
am. It’s interesting. Mr.
Corporon is going to be at our
school on Sunday and Monday doing a conducting workshop. I have
these student interns that are going to conduct for him, and then we
have a bunch of public school educators that are going to come in the
next day and conduct. Seeing these kids work, they’re so much
better at conducting than I was when I was their age. I tell
them my job as a teacher is to make them better musicians than I was
when I was their age. If I can do that, then hopefully when
they’re my age, they’re going to be better musicians than I am
now. That’s my philosophy. I’m hoping it works.
BD: You just
hit the big 4-0. Are you at the point
in your career now that you expected to be at this age?
[Laughs] When you’re in your
thirties and you write something, people go, “Man did he write
that? How old is he?
He’s only 30-something???” Then you get to be 40 and they say,
“Is that all you’ve done?” That’s how I feel right now. I
don’t know; I think it’s just a phase. I’ll get over it.
Thank you for all your music. I appreciate
your coming in and chatting with me.
-- -- -- -- -- -- --
© 1994 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on May 28,
1994. Portions were broadcast on WNIB three days later.
This transcription was made in 2014, and posted on this
at that time.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
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
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.