Composer  Stephen  Syverud

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Ph.D: University of Iowa. MA/BA: San Francisco State University. Director: Established the Electronic Music Studios at Northwestern University. Composer-in-Residence: Grinnell College, Jackson State University, University of Wisconsin (Parkside). Compositions published: Seesaw Music, Moro Music, American Composers Alliance. Recordings: Brewster Records.

Founding member: Chicago Society of Composers. Member: Society of Composers Inc., Broadcast Music Inc., American Music Center, International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, International Computer Music Association.

Performer: Chaos, Noyes Players, backGammon. Compositions performed: SCI, SEAMUS Conferences; Universities of Alabama, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin (Eau Claire), Wisconsin (Parkside); Bowling Green State University; Memphis State University; Southern Illinois University; Ball State University; Western Illinois University; Radford University; DePaul University; San Francsico State University; Governors State University; Northwestern University; California State University (LA); Roosevelt University; Ithaca College; Grinnell College; Whitman College; Jackson State College; International Festival of the Fantastic in the Arts at Miami; California Institute of the Arts; Tampa Bay Composers' Forum; University of Athens (Greece); Franz Liszt Academy (Budapest) Visiting professor: Franz Liszt Academy, as recipient of J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board grant.

Listed in Who's Who in Music and Musicians' International Directory.

==  Biography, photos and scores are from the composers website  

Since I was a lecturer at Northwestern University for the first few years of the twenty-first century [Introduction to Music, the elective for non-music-majors], I knew Stephen quite well, and he also knew me from my quarter-century [1975-2001] at WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago.

We got together for the interview in his office in the School of Music Building in mid-April of 2004.  Toward the end of the conversation, I double-checked the pronunciation of his name.  He said,
SEE-ver-rood!  I was up in Wisconsin where my grandfather and his brother are buried at Mount Horeb.  I saw my grandfather’s brother’s tombstone, and it is spelled SYVRUD.  I think that’s the original spelling, but my grandfather spelled his name SYVERUD.  I think the E was put in to make it easier to pronounce.  My parents pronounced the name See-vrood, with two syllables, but it’s hard for me to pronounce it like that.  I pronounce it SEE-ver-rood, with three syllables.

As we were setting up to record our chat, the composer was telling me about how a specific piece was constructed . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   When you’re working on a piece, are you more concerned with how it’s constructed, or how it’s actually going to sound to the ear?

Stephen Syverud:   First and last I’m concerned with how it sounds to the ear.  Though the construction of the piece is of the utmost interest to me, at times the two really come together in terms of stressing a particular pitch or particular groups of pitches.  In the piece I was just showing you, it aligns certain notes in the row so that they are heard as particular chords or particular verticalizations.  What happens when that changes, instead of aligning the first four notes of the row and aligning the last two notes to the first two notes of the row, it gives you a different kind of collection.  What happens in terms of the perception is that you hear that as being in a different place.  If you set that up right, it could be very akin to going from the key of B-Flat to the key of F-Sharp major.

BD:   Just using aural memory to enhance something you’ve heard before?

Syverud:   Absolutely right.

BD:   Are you conscious of what the audience can grasp of all of this?

Syverud:   [Sighs]  This has been a long and difficult place for me to be, because I’ve come to the conclusion that I really can’t write music for anybody else.  I have to write music for myself, and if I have in mind that the audience is going to perceive this way or that way, or that a particular person is going to perceive this way or that way, I’d constantly be at a place that I wouldn’t want to be.  I cannot possibly satisfy one person much less an entire audience.

BD:   So, the one person you try to satisfy is you?

Syverud:   It
s me, yes!  Then, if somebody else finds that it’s interesting to them, or that it says something to them, that’s fine.  In a certain sense it sounds very egotistical, and in another sense it sounds very selfish, but the only way that composers can be true to themselves is to write music that they want to hear.

BD:   Are you always successful?  Is the material that you actually get on the paper, something that you are pleased with?

Syverud:   Yes, and no.  It depends upon the particular piece.  Generally, I have found that if the result of the piece from the beginning conception to the end is faster, its seems that I like the piece better.  That has to do with time.  If I work over, and over, and over on the same thing, I may get too close to it.  A lot of times, if it’s put on the shelf for six months, when I come back to it fresh, it helps.  But generally, it seems that the pieces that I’ve written the fastest
within a couple of weeks, or a couple of monthsI’m more happy with those than things which drag on for three or four or five months.

BD:   Are there times when you get involved in a piece, and you decide it is not going where you want, so you just scrap it?

Syverud:   Yes, but I don’t throw anything away.  You’ll have to come over sometime, and see my garage!  [Both laugh]

BD:   I was going to ask if you save the pieces and use them in another work.

Syverud:   Yes, absolutely.  In fact, the piece that I just showed you, Fred Hemke and Doug Cleveland are going to record it, so I have to transfer it
or recompose it, reallyfrom alto saxophone and piano, to alto saxophone and organ.  Even though they both are keyboards, the organ’s quite a different instrument.

BD:   The organ will give you a lot more possibilities?

Syverud:   Yes, well, different possibilities.

BD:   You’ve done a lot of teaching here at Northwestern University.  Do you get enough time to compose the music that you want?

Syverud:   [Laughs]  Oh, there
s never enough time!  But it’s a nice place to be because you’re constantly knocking at the students, and they give you fresh ideas.  Hopefully you give them some fresh ideas, but being in a composition community is very important for a composer.  To be isolated is not very good.

BD:   If you won the Lotto, you would still teach?

Syverud:   Oh, sure.  Many times I feel like I learn more from the students than they learn from me, but that’s just my perception.

BD:   Is this learning about composition, or about how to work with a composition, or how to present a composition?

Syverud:   [Thinks a moment]  It’s more about being energized with new ideas.  I don’t think it’s as much the idea of the age group, as just a community of composers.  It would happen no matter who you are with.  Composition is a social endeavor, but at the same time a composer is really by himself when he is writing a piece.  He really has to write a piece for himself, but there is a social kind of thing that goes on, too, and it
s incumbent upon you to place yourself with performers, with other composers, with other creative artists, and not just musicians, because a lot of ideas come from my association with film makers and painters, and others.  It’s a different way of looking at things.  I have a very close friend who is a physicist, and lot of the conversations that we have seem to impact the way I look at the world, and the way I look at sounds coming together.  A composer, or any artist, has to interact with other people.  But when it comes down to creating the work of art, you really have to create something that only you yourself are satisfied with.

BD:   Are you creating these sounds, or are you discovering these sounds?

Syverud:   It’s a little bit of both.  It’s not the discovery of a new sound, but discovering a way that sounds go together, or the result of what sounds will sound like when they go together.  Working in the electronic medium, you’re talking about increasing things not only tenfold, but many, many folds.  If you write a piece for, say, string quartet, you probably have made a lot of decisions.  If you write a piece for electronics, you make no decisions except that it’s going to be produced electronically.  But you haven’t said anything about the attack, the decay, or anything about the timbres, or what happens at different ranges in terms if timbres.  All of those decisions are open.

BD:   Yet, when you get the electronic piece completed, then it is absolutely finished, and always will be the same, whereas a string quartet is going to be a little different and open to interpretation.

Syverud:   That’s true.  That’s why, when I send out any pieces for other performances, I usually try to do remakes just to keep it fresh.  But you’re right, and that’s why a lot of composers have not abandoned the idea of writing only for speakers, but have reincorporated performers into that area.

BD:   Does it please you that we are now getting to the point where you can have the electronics, and still have someone performing the electronics rather than just playing the tape?

Syverud:   Right!  There is an awful lot of interest and activity in doing that in many different ways.  The computer has helped that along a great deal, because certain things can be programmed in.  They can be called
random, but there will be a certain amount of change that occurs within each performance, and that is good.

BD:   Are we getting a new group of electronic performers, just like we have trombone players and violinists?

Syverud:   I don’t know what you mean by
a new group.

BD:   People who are skilled in the use of the electronic machines, and who can take whatever is given to them by the composer and manipulate it the correct way, just like a trombone player will have notes on the page that he has to play.

Syverud:   [Thinks a moment]  As with everything, there is an upside and a downside to that.  One of the upsides is that the technology is more available.  People are getting more used to it, and are feeling more comfortable with it.  We’ve had advances in technology to a particular point that now a lot of bells and whistles are being hung on the end.  A lot of the basic discoveries are settling in.  The downside of all of this is that it’s so easy to go ahead and to do anything in terms of technology, that a lot of the results, a lot of compositions, a lot of the putting-together of sounds and saying it
’s music is done so fast, and with so little thought about how things go together, and how things work, without knowing what is a motif, and what kind of verticalizations do I have with that, and how is this going to be like what was at the beginning of the piece.  It’s so easy to spit those things out very, very quickly to have one level of experience, that there’s a lot of trash coming out.  It’s too easy to do, and that’s a downside.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You bring up a subject that I want to touch on a little bit.  In electronic music, or indeed in any kind of music, what is it that makes a piece of music better, and what is it that is missing that makes it trash?


Syverud:   That’s an important question, and a very deep question, and probably a very unanswerable question.  Timing has an awful lot to do with it, along with the idea of having something happen for a particular period of time before something else happens.  Then there might be some kind of development of that material, but that doesn’t always occur.  You’re constantly having new things.  The one that happened with the minimalist movement was that, at the beginning, there was very little development.  The sounds went along, and then you got something else, and then you got something else, and relationships didn’t really happen.  You then got composers who were interested in moving it another step further, using minimal things but doing something in terms of the development.  Let me say that what is trash to one person is the greatest thing since sliced bread to somebody else.  That goes along with individual taste, and the idea that you can’t write music for everybody.  But the thing that makes it work for me, or not work for me, are personal preferences.  One thing that bothers me a lot is to hear tonal elements and then something that is not tonal.  When I say tonal elements, this comes from a viewpoint that all music is tonal.  If you start out with a note, or you end with a note, those notes are going to probably be more important than the notes that are in between.  If one note is higher, or another note is lower, or another note is in between, there’s a priority of how you’re going to hear those things in terms of their importance.  If a note is longer, or shorter than others, it is on this range of what’s important.  All of that speaks towards the idea that some particular tones of a piece are probably more important than others, simply because there’s more emphasis on those notes.  But if I hear something that is mainly seconds, and sevenths, and ninths, and a lot of tritones, and a lot of dissonant chords, and then in the middle I hear a major third, or a triad, it just sounds out of place.

BD:   Even though it’s part of the spectrum that can be called on?

Syverud:   Right, but because of the context, it doesn’t work for me.  Remember, this is personal.  I’m sure there could be people that would say exactly the opposite, but for me personally, this takes me out of the piece.

BD:   If it doesn’t belong there, might it belong someplace else?

Syverud:   It might belong someplace else, but the important thing is that it takes me out of the piece, and when it takes me out of the piece I’m no longer listening to the music, and it’s because this is disturbing.

BD:   Are you trying to figure out how to fix it?

Syverud:   No, it just doesn’t sound right in somebody else
s piece.  In my own music I wouldn’t put that in there.  Early on in electronic music, Forbidden Planet came out.  This was in 1956, and the movie was a story of Shakespeare (The Tempest) only done in modern times, and on another planet.  [A starship crew in the 23rd century goes to investigate the silence of a distant planets colony, only to find just two survivors, a powerful robot, and the deadly secret of a lost civilization.  It was the first mainstream film to have the music performed entirely by electronic instruments.]  Bebe and Louis Barron did an electronic score for it.

Forbidden Planet's innovative electronic music score, credited as "electronic tonalities", partly to avoid having to pay any of the film industry music guild fees, was composed by Bebe and Louis Barron. MGM producer Dore Schary discovered the couple quite by chance at a beatnik nightclub in Greenwich Village while on a family Christmas visit to New York City; Schary hired them on the spot to compose his film's musical score. While the theremin (which was not used in Forbidden Planet) had been used on the soundtrack of Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), the Barrons' electronic composition is credited with being the first completely electronic film score. Their soundtrack preceded the invention of the Moog synthesizer by eight years (1964).

forbidden planet Using ideas and procedures from the book Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1948) by the mathematician and electrical engineer Norbert Wiener, Louis Barron constructed his own electronic circuits that he used to generate the score's "bleeps, blurps, whirs, whines, throbs, hums, and screeches". Most of these sounds were generated using an electronic circuit called a ring modulator. After recording the basic sounds, the Barrons further manipulated the sounds by adding other effects, such as reverberation and delay, and reversing or changing the speeds of certain sounds.

Since Bebe and Louis Barron did not belong to the Musicians Union, their work could not be considered for an Academy Award, in either the "soundtrack" or the "sound effects" categories. MGM declined to publish a soundtrack album at the time that Forbidden Planet was released. However, film composer and conductor David Rose later published a 7-inch single of his original main title theme that he had recorded at the MGM Studios in Culver City during March 1956. His main title theme had been discarded when Rose, who had originally been hired to compose the musical score in 1955, was discharged from the project by Dore Schary sometime between Christmas 1955 and New Year's Day. The film's original theatrical trailer contains snippets of Rose's score, the tapes of which Rose reportedly later destroyed.

The Barrons finally released their soundtrack in 1976 as an LP album for the film's 20th anniversary; it was on their very own Planet Records label (later changed to Small Planet Records and distributed by GNP Crescendo Records). The LP premiered at MidAmeriCon, the 34th World Science Fiction Convention, held in Kansas City, MO, over the 1976 Labor Day weekend, as part of a 20th Anniversary celebration of Forbidden Planet held at that Worldcon. The Barrons were there promoting their album's first release, signing all the copies sold at the convention. They also introduced the first of three packed-house screenings that showed an MGM 35mm fine-grain vault print in original CinemaScope and stereophonic sound. A decade later, in 1986, their soundtrack was released on a music CD for the film's 30th Anniversary, with a six-page color booklet containing images from Forbidden Planet, plus liner notes from the composers, Bebe and Louis Barron, and Bill Malone.

A tribute to the film's soundtrack was performed live in concert by Jack Dangers, available on disc one of the album Forbidden Planet Explored.

But every time the rocket ship took off, we had this sound going out [demonstrates a rocket ship in an upward glissando], so if anybody else wanted to write anything electronically, they really had to avoid that because it had such a context.  After that movie came out, there were a lot of other science fiction movies, and they all had this synthesized sound that went upward.  Also in the late
50s or early 60s, that sound was used in a commercial for a coffee percolator.  All of this completely destroyed any idea of ever using that sound in a serious piece of music.
BD:   They were musical catch-phrases?

Syverud:   Yes, and they engender something that takes you outside the piece.

BD:   In your music, do you try to find little things that will be musical catch-phrases that are just you, so when they’re heard people will remember you?
Syverud:   Oh, no, no, no, not from piece to piece.  But within a piece I will use motifs, and these motifs might be pitched, or they may be timbral.  My interest in electronic music probably stems from an interest in different kinds of timbre more than anything else.  But certainly, there will be certain catch-phrases, or just motivic kinds of things.  They might be timbral, and they might be a verticalization that comes back.  I wrote one piece for percussion, and it had a particular verticalization that came in between particular sections of the piece.  Every time it would come back, it would mean to me that we were at the same place in the piece, but we were venturing out on another tangent.  It was like a bicycle wheel, and all of the spokes are different tangents.  So you come back to the center, and then you go out.
BD:   Is it like a signpost that you come back to, and then go a different direction?

Syverud:   Yes.  Form is something that has intrigued me for a long time.  There was a piece by Archie Shepp, the saxophone player, that I heard.  It was the whole side of a record, and it’s started out with something very abstract.  Then it came down at the end, and you started hearing changes to The Shadow of Your Smile.  Finally it ended with the tune, and I thought, “That’s a great idea!”  There was a whole series of pieces, and in fact I’m still playing around with this, where the piece starts out very, very developmental.  Let me say that my pieces don’t work in a linear manner.  I don’t start here, and then progress along from the beginning, and work towards the end.  I work all over the piece.  So, this came fairly easy to me, because I could take my main material that I had developed, and put that at the beginning of the piece, and then work down from that into something, so that it would finally arrive at the essence of what the piece was about.

BD:   It sounds like it would be almost like an archaeological dig.  You keep taking stuff away until you get to the gem in the rubble.

Syverud:   Right, and that way of progressing really attracts me, and is something that speaks to the form for me a lot.  I find other things, too...

BD:   Can we read anything psychologically into this
that you want people to discover all your complexities, and then, little by little, eventually get down to the real you?

Syverud:   It’s more that I’ve just tried to find ways to put pieces together.  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   We’re dancing around it, so let me ask the real easy question.  What’s the purpose of music?

Syverud:   [With a good-natured smirk]  That
s an easy question???  [Both laugh, then he thinks a moment]  For me, listening to music is one thing.  In terms of creating music, it’s something maybe related, but a little bit different.  But the purpose of music for me in terms of creating it, is that I couldn’t conceive of a time that it wouldn’t be like that.  It’s a compulsion.  If I don’t go ahead and write music, if I’m not involved in creating music, if I’m not involved in doing some kind of improvisation, then theres something missing in my life.  Don’t get me wrong...  Improvisation is very different than composition, so the purpose of music in that context is that it’s so important, that without that musical element, my life really wouldn’t be worth it.  I thought at times that it might be fun to start over and be a film-maker, or be a sculptor, or something like that...

BD:   [Gently protesting]  But those are all creative outlets.

Syverud:   Oh, yes.  I wouldn’t want to do anything that was not creative.  I’m talking about first-hand creative.  I’m not talking about being in economics, and being able to create systems and all that.  I’m talking about work where I can mold things, and see the results of those things that I have done.

BD:   You’d be miserable as a bookkeeper?

Syverud:   [Laughs]  Oh yes!  I’ve always liked doing things with my hands, whether it’s woodworking, or auto mechanics.  Right now I’m rebuilding an Austin-Healey, and that’s great fun, but it’s the idea of doing something with my hands, that I see something concrete.  It’s the same thing with music.  I can put these things together, and I can see how they work together.  In terms of getting back to your question, music is really probably the most abstract art that we have.  If we talk about dance, you look at a bunch of dancers going through movements.  You can always get some sort of story out of that.  You can do some kind of a linear progression about that.  With any art you can do that.  With film, it’s in there all the time.  There are very few film-makers
some very good film-makerswho try to avoid that, and try to get outside of that.  This is not to say that getting outside of it makes the film any better.  I’m not saying that at all, because there are some very, very nice linear films, but they tell the story over.  In regard to this, music is really the most abstract kind of art, because you can do it without having any kind of linear relationship at all.  It can just be sounds that are out there.  It can be like a Jackson Pollock painting, or something like that.

BD:   Yet the music starts, and goes, and stops.

Syverud:   Right.  It does have a time-frame, that’s true, but you don’t have to make up a story for how it’s a lady walking through a garden, and then she discovers this bird...  You don’t have to do that.  You can just go ahead and listen to the sounds, and somehow or another those sounds will put you in a better place.

BD:   Does it upset you if one of the audience members comes up to you and says, “I heard the bird when the lady was walking through the garden, and then I saw the gate, and I walked out into the forest!”?

Syverud:   I was very involved with the anti-Vietnam War movement, so I wrote a whole series of pieces called Vietnam I [for clarinet, reverb unit, optional modifiers], II [for oboe, clarinet, percussion, double bass], III [for spoken male voice, piano, electronics], and IV [for piano and electronics].  One reason why, for a while, I didn’t title my pieces any more was because that happened to me.  But the reason that I titled these pieces is that it’s coming to the point where people don’t know about the Vietnam War anymore.  But if these pieces are played, or any of the anti-war pieces are played, they’ll be on a program and will remind people of what that was about.  They’re dedicated to all the dead children, too.  The piano piece is for piano and four-channel tape.  There are parts in it where there is a prepared piano, and there is one part where I do have sounds that go upwards.  Somebody came up to me afterwards and said, “That sounded just like planes coming in for bombing runs!”  That had nothing whatsoever to do with it.  In fact, the piece was written, and it was named afterwards.  It didn’t have anything to do with Vietnam.  I also prepared the piano in such a way that it was muted in particular places, and it was played very rapidly.  That same person said that it sounded like people putting bamboo shoots under people’s fingers nails to torture them.  I don’t know where that came from, but everybody experiences anything differently.  Any kind of art form is observed in a different way, and if that’s the way that it speaks to them, who am I to say that’s wrong?

BD:   Are you just glad that it’s played occasionally?

Syverud:   That’s what it’s there for, but no, it’s not only there for that.  It was there because I had an idea, and I wanted to put it down.  If somebody plays it, that’s great.  If somebody likes it, that’s fantastic, but those are by-products.  The main thing of writing a piece for me is to get it on tape, or on a CD so I can listen to it, or get it on score paper if it’s something that’s acoustic, so I can see it and go through it.  I can see what it sounds like in my mind, but that’s a secondary product.  The first product is to actually go through the process of doing it.  That’s what the purpose of it is.  When you ask me about the purpose of music, as far as listening to music that’s a different kind of thing completely.  I want to hear things that are in context.  If things are out of context, then it takes me out of the piece.  I love jazz.  I’ve made a lot of money playing jazz, and that’s really something that I enjoy a lot.  So I listen to a lot of jazz, but at the same time this infrequently comes into the way that I create my music.

BD:   Would you rather have your pieces played on a contemporary concert, or on a mixed program?

Syverud:   It really doesn’t matter at all.  I’ve been on mixed concerts, and they probably appeal to a wider group of people.  You probably get a bigger crowd at a concert like that, but that’s all in the programming, and I’m not into arts management.  That’s not why I do this.  Mixed concerts are good for getting pieces across to a greater percentage of people, but that goes beyond why I’m interested in writing my music.  But in terms of listening to music, that’s a very different thing than what I’m interested in.  When I listen to Beethoven, or Haydn, I’m very interested in seeing how the music is put together.  Form is extremely important for me, and I’d like to hear particular themes come back.  I like to hear what they’ve done with the themes, and how they’ve been changed.  Every time I hear a melody of Mozart, and he repeats it, I look at how he changes it, and why he does it.  He doesn’t just write repeat marks, he writes it again.
BD:   Are you part of this lineage, a continuing line of composers?

Syverud:   I hope so.  This is not to say that all music exists in its own time-frame, and you have to listen to it with those kinds of ears.  It also doesn’t mean that music written yesterday is better than what was written the week before.  It’s not getting better and better, but it’s just changing.  That’s what is happening.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   Let me ask for a personal assessment.  Is your music any good?

Syverud:   I think so, otherwise I wouldn’t do it!  Any artist that creates has to have some kind of an ego, however it doesn’t have to be pompous.  It doesn’t have to be antagonistic, or anything like that.  It’s just a fact of life.  Of course I like my music!  I think that my music is very good.  That doesn’t mean it’s better than anybody else’s.  It’s not a comparison.

BD:   Is it for everyone?

Syverud:   I’d like to think so.

BD:   Six billion?  [That was the estimated total global population at the time.]

Syverud:   Perhaps, but at the same time, I’m not writing for all of those people.  I’m writing something that’s satisfies me.

BD:   When did you come to Northwestern?

Syverud:   1971.  It’s a long time ago.

BD:   I’m glad you’re here, and I hope your students are also glad you’re here.

Syverud:   I’m glad I’m here, too.

BD:   Are you pleased with where you are at this point in your career?

Syverud:   Yes, but you look back and wonder if I would have done that, and I would have done this.  When we went to Budapest and spent four months there, at the time I probably experienced things differently than I would have twenty years earlier.  But it was just as worthwhile, and it was a fantastic experience, and I’d like to repeat it.  As far as if I would have settled in New York instead of Chicago, or if I would have accepted a job there.  I really wanted to find a way to get back to San Francisco, and I’ve wondered many, many times if they could move Northwestern to San Francisco, but that hasn’t happened.  [Both laugh]  If you find yourself in the right place, things can happen to you in terms of your career.  But if my career would have gone differently, would I have been the same person?  Would I be in the same place that I am?  I don’t think I would be.

BD:   Would your music be different, also?

Syverud:   Oh, yes.  That became very, very clear to me.  When I first came to Northwestern, there was the possibility of my writing some music commercially for a program called Computer Football.  Every night the computer would make a choice of which football team was going to win, and I was supposed to write the music for the computer while it was thinking.  So, I wrote this thing, and I thought it was pretty good.  Then I got this call from where they were putting it together, and they said, “It’s okay, but it doesn’t sound like a computer talking.”  So I went back and added a rhythm track to it, and sent it to them and they loved it.  I spent a lot of time on this, and I felt that this was really junk.  I did do a couple of other commercials, but I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”  It was very good money, but it just changed the way that I was looking at everything.

BD:   Being lucrative and being artistically satisfying were diametrically opposed?

Syverud:   Well, in this case... [has a hearty laugh].  I keep asking my students, “Where are you going to be in five years?” and they say, “I’m going to be doing such and such!”  I tell them, “Yes, and you’re probably have somebody looking over your shoulder.  If you’re in music, they’re going to say they want this to sound like this and that, and so forth.”  Then I remind them, “This is a very special time in your life.  You can do anything you want!  Nobody’s going to say that you can’t do this.  Nobody’s going to say that you can’t put these two sounds together in a certain way.  You should really take advantage of that while you can.

BD:   Savor it while it’s there.

Syverud:   Yes.

BD:   One last question.  Is composing fun?

Syverud:   If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t do it!  [Both laugh]

BD:   Good. Thanks for the conversation.  I appreciate it.

Syverud:   Oh, thank you.


© 2004 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Syveruds office at Northwestern University on April 14, 2004.  Portions were broadcast on WNUR six months later, and again in 2012 and 2019.  This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time.  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.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.