Composer  Dan  Tucker

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Dan Tucker (1925–2010) was a composer in residence for the Music Institute of Chicago, which premiered many of his works. Tucker was on the Editorial Board for the Chicago Tribune from 1975 until his retirement in 1988. He was one of the very few classical composers since Virgil Thomson to have held a major editorial position with a major metropolitan newspaper in a major American city.

Tucker was born in Chicago, and after service in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946, he continued working as a journalist. Meanwhile, he took bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano and composition from the American Conservatory of Music. He combined two careers as newspaperman and composer from 1953 until 1988, when he retired from the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune to concentrate on music.

Over the last four decades, critics have praised his music for its “flair for melody” (Joseph McLellan, Washington Post), and for qualities they have called “moving,” “impish,” “hallucinating,” and even “sublime.” In all the evolving styles and idioms that Tucker’s music has reflected in that time, melody has always been its mainstay, and remains so now that “melody” is no longer a word of critical scorn.

Living my life in and around Chicago, there were myriad first-class performances to attend, and it was my privilege to meet and interview many of the musicians who came to the city.  There were also several fine performers and composers who lived here, and Dan Tucker was one of those I admired.

Partly because of his other occupation at the Chicago Tribune, his output was not large, and the number of performances was small, but each entry in his catalogue was significant.  I consider myself lucky to have experienced a few of them, and made it a special point to include an interview in my series on WNIB, Classical 97.  A photo of us appears farther down on this webpage.

Now, it pleases me to be able to give our conversation new life in this visual format . . . . .  

Bruce Duffie
:   How many years did you spend as an editorial writer with the Tribune?

Dan Tucker:   Fourteen with the Tribune itself.  Actually, they count my stay with the Tribune from 1956, when the Tribune bought what was then the Herald-American.  I was on the American since 1943, so I spent quite a lot of my life in the newspaper game.

BD:   At what point did music come in, and then get pushed to the side in your life?

Tucker:   It didn’t work exactly like that.  They were always there together.  I’ve been fooling around with music, composing, really, since I was a kid.  The two things work together fairly well.  If you spend a day punching a typewriter, it was nice to come home and get into a non-verbal way of thinking, by dealing with music.  I juggled these two careers together all the way along, but that wasn
t entirely satisfactory, because either one of these careers really deserves all you can give it.  100%.  So, I took an early retirement from the Tribune, and had been concentrating on music.

BD:   You say that after spending all day working with words, it
s nice to be able to get into something completely different.  Did that get you in closer contact with the audience, which has been doing just thatbeating their brains out doing something non-musicaland then coming to a concert and wanting something purely musical?

Tucker:   It might.  I never thought of it, but I understand the impulse.  It works for me, and I hope it works for the audience.

BD:   When you came home after a long day, did you think about the audience that was going to hear this music, or did you just think about the music itself?

Tucker:   No, I don
t think you can think about the audience at that stage.  The music takes a good deal of concentration.  For me, its trying to find out where a given set of notes wants to go, and then trying to follow it.  Its not the process of creating, it’s hunting, and finding, and feeling the tug on the leash, and going in that direction.

BD:   How much control do you have over the pencil, and how much control does the pencil have over you?

Tucker:   The pencil doesn
t quite do it.  Theres an awful lot of changing.  Its mostly crossing out, I find. 

BD:   Putting notes down and then...

Tucker:   Putting notes down and then crossing most of them out.  There is one right one in the group, and that’s the one you need to follow.  I really envy composers like Bach or Schoenberg, who seem to have the ability to see a composition whole in their minds, and just transcribe it.  I can
t do that.  I have to follow it along in a line, sequentially.  I find out where it wants to go, and then help it go there.

BD:   So, you have no idea where it
s going to wind up?

Tucker:   No, except in the case of setting words to music.  In setting a poem to music, for example, there you have the framework already, which is one reason I’d rather prefer specializing in composing for voice, with chorus or solo.  You have that texture.  When you try to create from a vacuum, I find it very hard.  It
s just not my line of country.  It can be done.  What happens is that you get a series of notes that seems to have some kind of life of its own, and then it gestates until it grows.


See my interviews with Lee Hoiby, Libby Larsen, Robert Carl, and Eric Ewazen

BD:   You get to the point where you’ve put down all of these supposed right notes, and you get to a double bar.  Do you then go back and tinker with it?

Tucker:   Oh yes, I am an arch tinkerer. 
Essentially, you come to a point where you think, “Well, that’s it.  Any more and I’ll spoil it,” but it takes quite a while to get to that point.

BD:   How do you know when you hit that point?

Tucker:   I don
t know.  Its a disinclination to go any further.  It’s not a very definite sign, but at some point, you think, “Well, that’s it.  Okay.  Enough.  Let’s go on to something else.”  It’s quite a pleasant and relaxed feeling when you finally get something off your back, which has been bugging you for a long time.

BD:   Do you feel you’re a slave to the compositions you’re working on?

Tucker:   Yes.  Yes, I do.  They won’t let me alone.  They kind of fade into the background for a while, but then they come up and start tugging at my sleeve again.  Then, there is no rest
’till I get one finished.  Then, of course, there’s no rest because another one is coming up.

BD:   There’s always a next one in line?

Tucker:   There’s always a next one in line.  As a matter of fact, I’m in a rest period right now, because I’ve finished one thing for the Choral Ensemble of Chicago.  I’ve sketched out a few notes for another project having to do with the children
s book.  Its an orchestral background for a children’s book, but I’m on top of the rainbow right now.  Nothing is really pushing at me.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You get all kinds of commissions to do various pieces.  How do you decide which ones you
ll do, and which ones you’ll turn aside?

Tucker:   That problem hasn’t come up yet.  Any commission that has come my way, I’ll leap at it with glad cries.

BD:   Have there been any that you’ve regretted leaping at?

Tucker:   There was one, and I can
t even remember what it was.  It was a poem that someone wanted set to music, and I said, “Sure, I’ll try it,” and it turned out to be deadly.  There was no life in it at all.  It just petered out indecisively, and I never finished it.  It never turned into a real commission, so there’s no point in trying to remember what it was about.

tucker BD:   Do you feel that if it had been a straight commission you could have wrestled with it and made it work?

Tucker:   Yes, because there’s no greater incentive than having a performance prospect.  That’s the thing that really digs the spurs into you.  Having the performers all ready to go, and just this vacuum waiting to be filled.  That is a definite incentive.

BD:   What makes you not overfill the vacuum?

Tucker:   Probably my experience as an editorial writer, where you tend to pare things down to the minimum.  I don’t like overstating or overdoing.  As a matter fact, quite recently I
ve found what I think has probably been my ideal all along.  It was a sentence which was in an audio magazine.  I forget which one it was, but it had the beautiful phrase, signal-to-noise ratio.  That is what I want, the highest possible signal-to-noise ratio in my music.  If I can get that, that’s the main thing.

BD:   Are you saying that your music is signal, and everything else is noise?

Tucker:   No, no, no.  In my own music I try to reduce the noise to the minimum, and get mostly signal.

BD:   Then, what is music for you?  What makes it not noise?

Tucker:   Communication.  Let me compare it to a pipe carrying water.  To construct a pipe, you need it to be smooth, with a minimum of curves, bends, and leaks.  You want to deliver the product from the source to the recipient with a minimum of loss en route.  That
s what I try to do with music, and with words, for that matter.  I seek the minimum distraction, delivering the maximum product to the listener.

BD:   Do you ever find that a performer or an interpreter, far from being an intrusion is actually a pump that helps to push it along faster?

Tucker:   Oh, very much so.  Yes.  There are always surprises in a performance.  Sometimes there are very good surprises.  There’s stuff in the music that I hadn
t known was there, and they bring it up.  Sometimes Im a little disappointed, but I recover from it and think maybe it was a good idea after all.  Sometimes, I am disappointed and dont recover from it.  So, that’s part of the game.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You spent a long time writing editorials.  Did you ever try to editorialize, or add into your editorials, the idea that concert music was something that should be taken advantage of, and used more in daily life by the average Joe?

Tucker:   I don
t remember putting it in just that way, but I used to write as much as I could about musical subjectsthe opening of the Lyric Opera season, and commenting on threatened strikes by the musicians’ union.  It actually doesnt come up all that often as a subject for editorial, but when it did, I would write about it.

BD:   Perhaps not even an obvious subject, but maybe just a thread within the fabric?

Tucker:   They do sort of coincide, or intertwine.  I once had some fun analyzing some editorials from the standpoint of sonata form, and they work.  The same form works in both media, so to speak
notes and wordsbecause youre trying to do the same thing in both, which is communication of ideas in the most direct way.  And you come across the same sorts of problems.  That’s one answer.  Ideas fade out on you, and you don’t know how to get from one point to the next.  The words or the notes are just not there when you want them, and the solution to that in both cases is form.

BD:   Is part of this form the technique?

Tucker:   The technique, the method of getting from one to another in the most pleasing way.  Again, it is a little like connecting a water pipe.  It’s just making sure that the joints function, and that the transition is as smooth as possible from one thought to the other.  The main point of it, from the standpoint of technique of composing or writing, is to keep directing your audience
s attention forward.  You try to keep them wanting to know what comes next.  A piece that does that, whether its an editorial or a symphony, is probably a successful piece.

BD:   Is there a balance that you strive for between the inspiration and the technique in each piece?

Tucker:   Yes, sure.  It’s a matter of polishing, and filing, and varnishing. 
You start out with a vague or blurred vision of idea of what you want, and you keep refining that, as well as simply working on the piece.  Youre not simply cutting away things and getting down to the essential shape, youre finding out what is there.  You are exploring and experimenting with this curious substance, or feeling, or tone, or whatever is in your mind, and finding out how it wants to grow.  You learn what it wants to be, and hopefully help it realize the goal.

Are you more than just a musical gardener?

Tucker:   I don
t know.  I wonder about that.  I would settle for being a musical gardener, getting a promising seed and nourishing it until it blooms.

BD:   You had to turn out an editorial every day, and it had to be done correctly.  Do you find any kind of pressure to do music that same way?

Tucker:   No, except when there is a deadline, and the deadline in music I found much more relaxed than those in editorial writing, where it has to be produced by a given time, and, as you say, has to make sense.

tucker BD:   Tom Willis [Music Critic of the Tribune] used to say,
Todays newspaper wraps tomorrows fish.  I assume you want your music to last a few more days?

Tucker:   Oh, yes.  Somebody defined journalism as writing that will be less interesting tomorrow, which is kind of true.  Music should not be like that... at least I don’t want mine to be like that.  I suppose my main ambition, really what I would like is to know that some student of music in the year 2050 would come from a concert and say to a friend, “That piece was a little in the Tucker style,” and his friend would know what he meant.  That’s what I want.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Poor guy might be thinking of an automobile...

Tucker:   He might.  Yes.  [Both laugh]  [The Tucker 48 (named after its model year) is an automobile conceived by Preston Tucker while in Ypsilanti, Michigan and briefly produced in Chicago, Illinois in 1948. Only 51 cars were made including their prototype before the company was forced to declare bankruptcy and cease all operations on March 3, 1949. The 1988 movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream is based on the saga surrounding the car's production. The film's director, Francis Ford Coppola, is a Tucker owner and displays his vehicle on the grounds of his winery.

BD:   Do you want your music to speak not only to this generation, but to another generation that we have no knowledge of?

Tucker:   Oh, yes, sure.

BD:   Will it speak the same way to the generation that will have come through whatever goes on for 50, 60, 70 years?

Tucker:   It seems to me that the better music is, the less it has to do with time, or the date.  To put it another way, it’s always contemporary like Bach.  He speaks as clearly to us as he spoke to his own people... even clearer, if anything.  That’s almost the definition of what’s meant by the term
classical.  It is a thing that is irrelevant to time.  It’s there.  It doesn’t change dialects or idioms.  It is itself, and stays that way.  We understand it, and relate to it, and receive the message as directly as it did at the day of its composition.

BD:   [Somewhat surprised]  Really???  We don’t receive it any differently now since we
ve gone through world wars, and depressions, and explosions, and everything?

Tucker:   I don’t think so.  We might see it as a more three-dimensional way, but that gets better and deeper as time goes on.  Rock music is really contemporary, and ours is old fashioned. 
‘Contemporary is not quite the point.  Its music that does not depend on time that is important.  Contemporary means it will be old fashioned in 10 years.

BD:   You
ve purposely gotten into concert music, rather than rock music or folk music.

Tucker:   Oh, yes.

BD:   Why is that?

Tucker:   Because it
s more interesting.  Theres more to it.  There is more personality, more facets, more dimensions.  It just says more.  This is a little unfair, but rock bothers me a bit because it always sounds like the same piece.

BD:   One can say that of Philip Glass, or Steve Reich.

Tucker:   Yes, indeed you could, but Philip Glass has a nice ear for things.  The main thing about his music is that it’s non-threatening.  It’s sort of pleasant, and it doesn’t fight you.  It doesn’t direct your attention, and it doesn’t tell you to listen to this or think this.  It’s just a more or less neutral background in which you can project your own thoughts.  It seems to be rather pleasant.

tucker BD:   Is the music of Tucker threatening?

Tucker:   Oh, I hope not.  I hope not.

BD:   You write in a tonal style.

Tucker:   Yes.

BD:   Is this by choice or by impulse?

Tucker:   By impulse.  That seems to be the way I hear it.  I’ve experimented in twelve-tone style, and sometimes it works.  Sometimes it’s okay if that
s the sound you want.  But more often, for me, it is not.  It seems like an intellectual exercise, which is not for me.  The thing that stuck in my craw when I was going to the American Conservatory, is that you can see the kids out in the hall doing their composition exercises with all this noise going on, and the piano practicing, and violins squealing in the next room.  I asked one, “What can you do here?  How can you hear it?”  She explained, “I don’t have to hear it.  I’ve got the tone-row, and all I have to do is copy out the notes.”

BD:   That’s little more than a crossword puzzle.

Tucker:   Exactly.  Who needs it?  I gather some people need it, but I don’t.  I want a form of communication that recognizes me as somebody worth communicating with.

BD:   [Momentarily being Devil
s Advocate]  Well, who needs concert music?

Tucker:   Oh, I do!  I suppose a lot of people do.  It is a means of communication that is more direct than words.  Words can be more specific about things, but music is much more specific than words can be about emotions.  Words just give you a general classification of an emotion, into which you fit your own experiences of that emotion.  It
s how you feel, and it works pretty well.  But with music, you can get the exact shade and feel of an emotion that the words are just too clumsy to handle.  That’s what I’m trying to do.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Now, you
ve got a book in progress about editorial and music?

Tucker:   Yes, there is.  In fact, I thought I had it finished once, but I didn’t because events caught up with it, and passed it by.  So, it
s going to need a good deal of re-jiggering, but it’s an interesting subject to me.  I like to get kick it around.  Part of it had to do with this business of left-brain and right-brain thinking.  Speaking very broadly, the left-brain being logical, and sequential, and linear, and the right-brain being whole-seeing and timeless.  It seemed to me an interesting theory.  What I wanted to squeeze as much juice out of as I could, is that the course of Twentieth Century music and art has been, in effect, a shift from the left over to the right, from logical and sequential to seeing the whole thing at once.  This might explain some of the very odd contortions that art and music have gone through in this century.  Anyway, someday I’ll get serious about this, and actually put words on paper.

BD:   What do you expect of the audience that comes to hear a piece of your music?  Are you going to ask them to think left-brain, or think right-brain?

Tucker:   No.  I don’t think I will ask them to do anything complicated, except listen.  Then, if they like it, it would be nice if they applauded.

BD:   And if they don’t like it?

Tucker:   [Thinks a moment]  I was going to say that’s their problem, which is not right.  It isn’t.  It’s mine.  But given the right audience, given the right reflection and feedback, there’s nothing like it.  That’s what it’s all about.  That is the payment and motivation for being a composer.  I don’t really know what my motivation is.  It might be in my genes, or my blood, but it is what I want to do more than anything else, and I am in a very happy position of being able to do it.  Also, the hours are great.

tucker BD:   The hours fit what you want?

Tucker:   Yes.  As a friend of mine said, after he retired,
“Every day is Saturday.

BD:   Do you have any advice for younger composers who want to get into the composing racket?

Tucker:   Yes.  Try everything.  Experiment, but with one proviso... be aware that many experiments fail, and be prepared to recognize the failure.  If it doesn
t work, it doesnt work.  Period.  Try something else.

BD:   Is it true that you learn more from something that doesn’t work than you do from something that really does work?

Tucker:   Yes, I imagine it is, because it worries you.  You look at it from all sides, you kick it around, you walk over it, and you learn quite a bit about it.  One of the things that has bothered me about contemporary trends in music is that the word
experimental seems to be a word of absolutely unqualified praise.  There is no question whether the experiment succeeds or fails.  If it’s experimental, its wonderful.  I don’t think it’s the fully-dimensional way of looking at it.  It’s just doodling on the same level as painting.

BD:   Where do you cross the line from doodling into art?

Tucker:   I don’t think you can draw a line.  As some Supreme Court justice said of pornography,
I cant define it, but I know it when I see it.  You can say the same thing about art.  If it speaks, if it seems to have a life of its own, if it has its own profile... wait!  I dont know how to define that, but it seems to have a kind of reality and individuality.

BD:   Is the reality the scribbles on the page, or is the reality the sound in the air?

Tucker:   Oh, wow.  You’re getting it to metaphysics there.   The reality is the interaction of the soundwaves with the mind of the hearer, I suppose.

BD:   So, that’s one more step beyond what I suggested.

Tucker:   Yes, one more step beyond that.  I don’t think you can isolate one thread out of this whole fabric and say this is what it’s all about.  It’s the fabric that matters.

BD:   Do you feel that you’re part of a lineage of composers?

Tucker:   I would like to feel it, so yes, I suppose so.  I join with different people who have had the same sort of values, though not exactly the same.  In fact, the better you get this, or any other job, the more different you are from other people who were good at it.  But yes, it is a lineage.  In fact, it’s a nice thought.

BD:   Who are some of your forbearers?

Tucker:   I started out with Tchaikovsky, and then Ravel was very big for a while.  Both Ravel and Debussy.  It took me a while to discover Beethoven, but now, I think he’s my main man.  Sometimes it’s Brahms.  I have new favorite composers seven times a week, but right now I think it’s Brahms.  He somehow rather came around to a position where he’s speaking to me directly, and waving his finger right into my face.

BD:   Is he pleased with what you’re doing?

Tucker:   [Smiles]  Well, I guess so.  He hasn’t registered any strong objection so far.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Tell me the joys and sorrows of writing for the human voice.

Tucker:   It’s mostly joys.  I like writing for the human voice in choral or solo.  As I said earlier, you have one advantage in writing for the voice in that you start with a text.  Some texts are very productive.  It’s just sort of stick in a fork, and then out comes music.  Garcia Lorca wrote marvelous poetry for setting the music.  Shakespeare is another.  The toughest one I
ve tackled is Gerard Manley Hopkins because that is so close to music in itself.  It doesnt seem to need anything more.

hopkins Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ (28 July 1844 – 8 June 1889) was an English poet and Jesuit priest, whose posthumous fame established him among the leading Victorian poets. His manipulation of prosody – particularly his concept of sprung rhythm – established him as an innovative writer of verse, as did his technique of praising God through vivid use of imagery and nature. Only after his death did Robert Bridges begin to publish a few of Hopkins's mature poems in anthologies, hoping to prepare the way for wider acceptance of his style. By 1930 his work was recognized as one of the most original literary accomplishments of his century. It had a marked influence on such leading 20th-century poets as T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis.

Hopkins studied classics at Balliol College, Oxford (1863–1867). He began his time in Oxford as a keen socialite and prolific poet, but he seems to have alarmed himself with the changes in his behavior that resulted. At Oxford he forged a lifelong friendship with Robert Bridges (eventual Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom), which would be of importance in his development as a poet, and in establishing his posthumous acclaim. Hopkins was deeply impressed with the work of Christina Rossetti, and she became one of his greatest contemporary influences, meeting him in 1864. During this time he studied with the eminent writer and critic Walter Pater, who tutored him in 1866 and remained a friend until Hopkins left Oxford in September 1879.

In the late 1880s Hopkins met Father Matthew Russell, the Jesuit founder and editor of the Irish Monthly magazine, who presented him to Katharine Tynan and W. B. Yeats.

In 1884 he became professor of Greek and Latin at University College Dublin. His English roots and his disagreement with the Irish politics of the time, as well as his own small stature (5 feet 2 inches), unprepossessing nature and personal oddities meant that he was not a particularly effective teacher. This, as well as his isolation in Ireland, deepened his gloom. His poems of the time, such as "I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, not Day", reflected this. They came to be known as the "terrible sonnets", not because of their quality but because according to Hopkins's friend Canon Richard Watson Dixon, they reached the "terrible crystal", meaning that they crystallised the melancholic dejection that plagued the later part of Hopkins's life.

Several issues brought about this melancholic state and restricted his poetic inspiration during the last five years of his life. His workload was extremely heavy. He disliked living in Dublin, away from England and friends. He was also disappointed at how far the city had fallen from its Georgian elegance of the previous century. His general health deteriorated as his eyesight began to fail. He felt confined and dejected. As a devout Jesuit, he found himself in an artistic dilemma. To subdue any egotism which would violate the humility required by his religious position, he decided never to publish his poems. But Hopkins realised that any true poet requires an audience for criticism and encouragement. This conflict between his religious obligations and his poetic talent caused him to feel that he had failed them both.

After suffering ill health for several years and bouts of diarrhoea, Hopkins died of typhoid fever in 1889 and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, following his funeral in Saint Francis Xavier Church on Gardiner Street, located in Georgian Dublin. He is thought to have suffered throughout his life from what today might be diagnosed as either bipolar disorder or chronic unipolar depression, and battled a deep sense of melancholic anguish. However, on his death bed, his last words were, "I am so happy, I am so happy. I loved my life." He was 44 years of age.

Christopher Ricks called Hopkins "the most original poet of the Victorian age." Hopkins is considered as influential as T. S. Eliot in initiating the modern movement in poetry. His experiments with elliptical phrasing and double meanings and quirky conversational rhythms turned out to be liberating to poets such as W. H. Auden and Dylan Thomas.

BD:   Would it be at all possible to set some of your own editorials to music?

Tucker:   You know, that
s a real challenge.  I would have to go back over the files and see which ones.  It probably would, because it has struck me that the most singable lyrics are written by poets who were also singers who write unconsciously.  It’s words that appeal to the tongue and jaw muscles, as well as the mind, and I have probably been writing editorials with some kind of unconscious musical background in my mind.  You might have an idea there.  Barber wrote Essays for Orchestra, so why wouldnt I write Editorials for Orchestra?  [Both laugh]  There was a close congruence between politics and music once.  I wrote a piece for a chorus called Songs from the Pentagon Papers.  Kenneth Sanson was the conductor, and they did it in St. James Cathedral.  They got a nice review from the Sun-Times, but not from my paper.

BD:   You worked for a newspaper, and you write music.  What do you expect of musical criticism, and what should musical criticism be?

Tucker:   Musical criticism should be intelligent.  That’s all I ask.  I don’t really know what to expect.  The reviews I have had so far, have been very flattering.  I keep them, and I would like to have them bronzed.  I haven’t had all that much reviewed... a song, a choral piece, and stuff they did in Washington.  There was the overture to the opera, Many Moons, which was done by the National Symphony with Rostropovich.  In 1988, he did a piece he’d commissioned for the 4th of July.  It was called American Variations, or E Pluribus Unum, which was for orchestra, chorus, and barbershop quartet.  Unfortunately, it turned out, after I sent it, that he didn’t have time enough for the whole thing.  So, I had to chop it down, which was oddly no more painful than cutting off my left leg with a rusty ax.  [Laughs]  But anyway, they did play it.  The National Symphony plays out in the lawn of the capital, with an audience of about 350,000.  I’m not sure how many of them were listening to the music, but in that case, it was gorgeous.  They topped it off with fireworks, too.  [Portion of review follows in the box below.]

Hundreds of flags were waving, and a few who lacked flags found other things to wave. Somebody in the middle of the crowd had a jolly, green, giant Gumby toy, so he waved that. Others simply waved their hands at the television cameras, and a few had their images carried to a nationwide television audience of millions via PBS.

It was grand for other things, too. Music conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich and fireworks by the Santore family, as well as a day perfect for picnicking on the Capitol grounds and the Mall, attracted a record-breaking crowd.

[Everyone] was in a holiday mood, ready to applaud generously on the slightest provocation and plunging whole-heartedly into traditional holiday activities: children getting lost, couples nibbling picnic lunches and sipping a variety of beverages, occasional individuals listening to portable radios on headphones, balloons escaping and hurrying off in the general direction of Union Station.

The concert, titled "A Capitol Fourth," featured a mixed bag of European classics conducted by Rostropovich, American popular songs sung by Tony Bennett, and ceremonial musical tributes to the American dream, sung by Sherrill Milnes. Rostropovich also conducted a six-minute world premiere: the "Differences" Overture from the "American Variations" suite by Dan Tucker. This turned out to be appropriate outdoor music for a relaxed crowd. The form was loose, the style eclectic almost to the point of lost identity, but in six minutes it managed to pay tribute not only to the classical tradition brought over from Europe but also to such specifically American sounds as big band jazz, Latin American dance rhythms and country fiddling.

==  From the review by Joseph McLellan in the Washington Post, July 5, 1988  

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Should the audience that comes to a concert pay attention to your music?

Tucker:   Well, it would be nice.  I don
t expect them to be riveted to every note.  They should do with it what audiences generally do with musicthey listen to it, and then they float on it for a while and think about other things.  But it gives the shape or direction in a temporary sense.  They color it to their own thoughts, which have nothing to do with me, and have to do with them.  It is communication on a level somewhat beneath conscious thought, but I don’t mean beneath in an inferior sense.  I don’t know how to say this...

BD:   Digging deeper into the structure?

Tucker:   Yes, digging deeper in the structure.  That’s right.

BD:   Would it be a good idea for composers to take a stab at writing editorials?

Tucker:   I don’t think it would hurt at all.  A lot of them are too damn prolix [containing too many words; tediously lengthy].  They don’t go into stop-mode.  One thing you learn on a newspaper is how to cut things down to the essentials.  I don’t mean in a stripped-bare, lifeless prose; I mean figuring out exactly what you mean, and finding the words
or the notesthat represent their meaning as closely and directly as possible.

BD:   Conversely, would it help editorial writers to compose a little music, or at least regularly attend a few concerts?

Tucker:   Oh, yes.  I would advise that.  Actually, they do.  Jack Fuller at the Tribune is more of a fan of jazz, as is Clarence Page, but they’re very knowledgeable about music.

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BD:   Are you optimistic about the future of music?
Tucker:   Yes, I think so.  It’s a very exciting time right now.  After 70 years or so, the very theoretical approach to music
the intellectual, highly governed, and planned and programmedis fading.  You could trace a rather interesting parallel of what’s happening to music and what’s happening to Eastern Europe.  There is a sense of liberation now, getting away from all the rules, the intellectual approach, which has ended up, I think, a bit lifeless, a bit dead.  Now, you can do anything.  There is enormous variety, and difference between what’s being done by, say, Ralph Shapey and Philip Glass.

BD:   [Musing]  Two more distant poles you can’t find.

Tucker:   No.  But that’s fine.  I think that is great.

BD:   Should there be room for both Ralph and Philip?

Tucker:   Oh, yes.  Absolutely.  I don’t want to be compelled to appreciate them on an equal level, but as long as you have this choice, as long you have this enormous smorgasbord to choose from, that
s great.

BD:   Are you consigning most of the music of the last 70 years to the ash heap?

tucker Tucker:   No, not the ash heap, but I do think it has dug itself into a blind alley.  It was, in a sense, a negative, in that it was getting away from things rather than creating things.  It was getting away from order, and sequence, and melody, and tonality.  It was a desperate effort to find some substitute for tonality, and in general, I don
t think it succeeded.  There were some intriguing experiments along those linesBoulez and Stockhausen, for examplebut it was an attempt to find some rational principle which will solve all problems, very much like Marxism.  [Wistfully]  I really have to be careful about this, because some clown will think I am saying that serial music is communistic, or something like that.  I dont mean that, but they do seem to come from some common sourcean idea that at last weve found the formula that will solve everything, and anyone who disagrees with it should be done away with, or hushed, or ignored.

BD:   They both seem to be arbitrarily imposed strictures.

Tucker:   Yes, exactly.  I think the arbitrarily imposed strictures are just not going to work anymore.

BD:   So, now we have freed ourselves from that?

Tucker:   Yes, which is wonderful, but it depends on what we do with the freedom.

BD:   Now that we have unleashed this torrent, where is it headed?

Tucker:   Almost by definition, the torrent is headed in a lot of directions at once.  I don
t know how to define where its headed, but it probably is in the direction that has been felt as a lack over the last 70 years, and that, I’m afraid, would be melody.  That would be appealing to the audience, instead of regarding the audience as an irrelevant adjunct to what composers were trying to do.  The audience might surge to the fore, now, instead of the composer, and before the composer might come the performer.  Maybe theres a shift among these three, or a cycle, but my guess is that what’s coming will be the age of the audience, rather than of the composer.

BD:   Is that a dangerous thing?

Tucker:   No, that’s fine with me.

BD:   Will the audience be dictating what is heard?

Tucker:   No, not dictating.  I don
t think anybody can dictate, but they will be expressing a choice, and having their choice listened to.

BD:   But is the audience not expressing its choice by mostly going to rock concerts, and buying rock records?  I think the statistic is that only 6% are buying classical records, and 2% are going to concerts with any regularity.

Tucker:   Yes, it is expressing a choice, but I don’t think those who make their choice are really aware of the alternatives.  One thing that bothers me about rock is that it has not only a deafening volume, literally, but also a sense of deafening responses to anything but rock.  I don
t know how you can hear the finesse, the skill, the gifts, the genius, whatever it is that goes into a beautifully composed and performed piece of music if all you have been accustomed to listen to is volume, is loudness, is the direct impact on the nervous system.  Im not a fan of rock...

BD:   ...then we won
t look for you at the next Rolling Stones concert.

Tucker:   [Laughs]  No, don’t look for me there, but I’m certainly not saying that people who want to hear it should be deprived of that choice.

BD:   Should we try to get some of the people who go to rock concerts into the concert halls?

Tucker:   Yes, I suppose so, but I don
t know how to do it... probably not by advertising.  It will be a slow and very iffy process of education, which sounds so patronizing.  Maybe it could be accomplished by opening their ears, and exposing listeners to more varieties of music, and showing what they do, and what they’re about.  Perhaps it could start by just being aware of all these shelves full of all these different flavors.  It would seem to me that would appeal to anybody, rather than just being limited to one flavor.

BD:   Is composing fun?

Tucker:   Yes.  Actually, no, it isn’t!  Having composed something is fun, but the process of composing I find very frustrating, and it doesn
t let you alone.  Theres worry connected with it.  You are always afraid of coming up against the final wall, the final gap that cant be jumped, the blind alley.  It is very pleasant when you do make a break, and spark leaps across the gap, so to speak.  That part is great.  Then, I can cover a whole page in a day, or something like that.  I think I’m Peter, the Great, and thats a wonderful feeling.  But, most of it is drudgery.  However, it is the kind of drudgery I would rather be doing than any other kind I can think of.

BD:   So, rather than Peter the Great, you
re Daniel in the Lion’s Den?

Tucker:   Exactly.  Yes, with very hungry lions leering around.

BD:   I hope you can always tame them.

Tucker:   Well, I hope so.  We get along reasonably well, most times.  One thing I’m excited about at present is that there is the prospect of a performance of my opera Many Moons in Budapest in March.

BD:   Around your 65th birthday.

Tucker:   Yes, that’s right.  In fact, it might even fall on it.  My birthday is the 31st.  We’re still not sure of the date, and it sort of keeps fading into the future while they continue to try to raise more funds from citizens of Budapest.  But that will be nice.  It is being done by the students and faculty of the Franz Lizst Academy.  The plan is to do it in English several times in the capital, and then take it on tour here and there in different towns and do it in Hungarian, which sounds rather challenging.  All I know about Hungarian is that the title, Many Moons, translates to Sok Hold, which doesn
t sound all that mellifluous.

BD:   I wish you lots of continued success, and lots more performances of your music.

Tucker:   Thank you.  There is nothing I would like more.

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© 1990 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on January 17, 1990.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB six weeks later, and again in 2000.  This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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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.