Composer Dorothy Rudd Moore
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
|Dorothy Rudd Moore. Born
on June 4, 1940, in New Castle, Delaware; married to cellist/conductor
Kermit Moore from 1964 until his death in 2013. Her mother was a singer,
and Dorothy would make up her own songs as child. She knew she wanted to
become a composer at a young age, and took piano lessons as a child. She
learned to play clarinet so that in high school she should join the previously
Education: Howard University, BMus, 1963; received the Lucy Moten
Fellowship to attended the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau,
where she studied with Nadia Boulanger in 1963; private study in New York
with Chou Wen Chung, 1965;
private voice lessons with Lola Hayes, 1972.
Memberships: American Composers Alliance; BMI; New York Singing Teachers
Association; New York Women Composers. [The ACA has raised funds
to make new engraved editions of many works by their composers, and can
be contacted for scores and parts at https://composers.com/.]
Career: Composer; Harlem School of the Arts, teacher, 1965-66 [photo
below]; New York University, teacher 1969; Bronx Community College,
teacher, 1971; private piano, voice, sight-singing, and ear-training
teacher, 1968- ; a co-founder of the Society of Black Composers, 1968; sat
on the Music Panel of the New York State Council of the Arts, 1988-90.
Considered one of her generation's leading woman composers of color,
has received commissions from such orchestras as the National Symphony,
Opera Ebony, and the Buffalo Philharmonic.
-- Throughout this page, names which are links
refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website. BD
Composer Dorothy Rudd Moore was in Chicago in February of 1990, and
it was my privilege and pleasure to be able to spend a half hour with
her. Besides her knowledge and understanding of the topics we discussed,
it was a delightful encounter with much laughter and interesting banter
I was able to use portions of our conversation a few times on WNIB,
Classical 97 in Chicago, and now the entire chat is presented on this
At the time, she had only a couple of recordings, and I asked her
to send them to me for use on the radio. She did this, and included
a lovely note, which is reproduced at right. The jackets of those
two LP recordings (remember that distinctive old format?) are shown on this
webpage, as are some newer ones, which are available on CD.
Bruce Duffie: Tell me the joys and sorrows
of being a composer of concert music as we head into the ‘90s!
Dorothy Rudd Moore: It’s very interesting.
The joy comes in hearing a composition of yours performed well.
As for sorrows, I can’t really speak of any. I’ve been so fortunate
to do the thing that I chose to do, and when you consider everything
else that goes on in the world, to write music is a luxury.
BD: You say you chose to do it.
Did you really choose to do it, or did it choose you?
DRM: That’s another interesting question.
When I was growing up at home, in New Castle, Delaware, I used to
be amazed that all these sounds could come together. When I was
very young, it didn’t occur to me that a human being did that.
It was like sunset, or something that just happened in nature. Then,
of course, you get older, and you understand that this is something that
someone has done. It’s come from someone’s mind. I would go
to my local orchestra, which was the Philadelphia Orchestra, and I thought
that’s the way all orchestras sounded.
BD: It’s a pretty good model!
DRM: They were mostly men playing, and
then it occurred to me that somebody put all that together, so it was
the fascination, really. I was studying piano at a young age, and
it seems as though I’ve sung my entire life. My mother is a singer,
and I thought I could write music as an avocation because writing music
was something that men did. [Both laugh] I was still very young,
and when I was growing up, I felt that all composers were white, male and
BD: That’s the conception most people
DRM: Exactly. So then it occurred
to me when it was near time for me to go to college, that if every pupil
can do this, I can stay and do it just like anybody else. Why
not make it my vocation? This is what I want to do, so when
I went to college, I majored in music theory and composition.
I don’t know which came first, but by the time I went, it was a decision
I had made that that’s what I wanted to do.
BD: You’ve never had any regrets?
DRM: I have never had any regrets.
To me, there’s something so special about it. My minor was voice,
and I liked singing, but I didn’t know if I would like doing that all
the time. There’s something so public about that, and in spite
of what friends might think, I am very private, and I like the creative
end of things. I also wrote poetry.
BD: Do you set your own poetry to music?
DRM: I never have. As a matter of
fact, my husband set five of my poems to music [Five Songs for DRM
for soprano and piano], and it’s a work written for me. He just
went through all of my poems very objectively and professionally, and
chose the five that he liked. Now I’ve written an opera, Frederick
Douglass, and I wrote the libretto, so in that sense, yes, I have set
my own words to music. But that was written with that purpose.
But my poems are entities unto themselves, and I can’t be the one to set
them. For me they’re complete the way they are. Someone else
can set them.
BD: Being a singer yourself, does that
give you a special insight into how to write well for the voice?
DRM: I hope this doesn’t sound immodest,
but that’s what singers tell me. They appreciate the way I write
for the voice, and they think that it may be because I am a singer.
There are other people who write for the voice, though, and they write
well for it. So, I don’t know if that’s the only reason, but
it probably doesn’t hurt.
* * *
BD: We have this general misconception
that musical composition is by white males who are dead. [Both
laugh] How is your music by a black female, who is very much
alive, different from or similar to our conception of music?
DRM: What Schubert and I have in common
is that we both have some manuscript paper, and the desire to write
music. That’s the thing that makes it the same. I really
don’t think that previous times were much different than they are now
when it comes to someone involved in this kind of music. It’s
something that you do. You don’t do it because you’re seeking fame
and fortune. You do it because you really think you have something
that you want to communicate through this medium. It comes from
an inner place that I don’t begin to know anything about, but it’s something
where the music itself and the idea takes precedence over any kind of egotistical
‘I, I, I, me, me, me’ thing. That’s what similar. The only
thing that’s similar is the audience, the people who like concert music.
The audience of 1850 might have just as much in common as the audience
of 1990 in terms of its desire for that kind of spiritual reaching out
in musical terms.
BD: When you’re writing a piece of music,
are you always in control of that pencil, or are there times when
that pencil is controlling your hand?
DRM: This sounds so terribly dramatic,
and I probably shouldn’t even say it, but when something has come
to me, I have to put my head down and cry. That really has happened
to me. It’s a feeling that I cannot verbalize. When I
was writing the opera, Frederick Douglass, which was premiered
in New York in 1985 by Opera Ebony, I’m mentioning it because that’s a
very big thing in my life.
BD: Of course!
DRM: I wrote, as I said, the libretto
and the music. I’m not a religious person at all, but there was
a moment which was as though he were sitting around my shoulder.
It was something just uncanny. When one is dealing with ideas as
represented by words, such as if I’m setting up a poem, they’re images
that are already suggested. But when you’re writing purely instrumental
music, something like that can happen too, and that’s even more mysterious
in a way, because you’re dealing only with the image of music and sounds,
and not with some other thought that contains a poem or text.
BD: When you’re working with these ideas,
and you get them on paper, you know some of them are good and some
of them must be discarded. As you work with the piece of music,
how do you know when you’ve arrived at the finished product? How
do you know when to put the pencil down and say it is ready to be launched?
DRM: That’s another interesting question.
All I can tell you is that you know. Some composers don’t mind
going back and revising what they’ve done after it’s been premiered.
They go back and make changes, but I literally cannot put the double
bar on until I say, “This is it!”
This is why I’m not what I’d call a fast composer. I have to feel
completely satisfied because this is what I’m putting out; this is what
I’m presenting. I’m not going to say whether this is true or not,
but even if later I say, “This wasn’t quite as
good as I might have done it,” I still won’t change
it because that piece is an entity which is done. It has made its
entrance; it has its own life, and I’m always looking forward to the
BD: So rather than tinker with the old,
you’d rather write a new piece?
DRM: Yes, that’s right.
* * *
BD: Do you get commissions for most of the
pieces you write?
DRM: I’ve gotten commissions for just about
all of them. It’s very difficult to write music and consider
the possibility that it won’t be performed.
BD: How do you decide which commissions
you’ll accept, and which you might either delay or turn aside?
DRM: First of all, there is the
track record of the performer. I have to respect the performer.
That goes without saying, but then if I believe the performer
will really do the work, that’s another thing. Then, when that performer
tells me that he or she has a date, that’s it. Then I’m really
committed, because I don’t have a romantic idea about writing music
— that I’m going to write all this stuff, and it’s going
to be in a drawer, and then one day it’ll be discovered. To me
music on paper is not music. It’s not until it’s performed that
it’s really realized. I don’t feel that I have the leisure to just
doodle, but sometimes I get ideas for really dumb funny things. It
would be great to do that, like the great brilliant things that Peter Schickele does,
but I don’t have the leisure to do it. Everything is serious with
me. When I sit down and write something, it has to be for something
specific, and it’s not just for fun, generally. But that could
change! Let’s say I get a commission to do something just like
that. That would be different. I don’t mean to say that my
music is all humorless, but I’m just talking about just writing something
that’s just a ditty that you can just throw off and have fun with.
I generally don’t do that.
BD: No parody music for you? [Vis-à-vis
the poster shown at right, see my interviews with Miriam Gideon, and Elliott Schwartz.]
DRM: Right, even though I come up with
ideas for all the time, but I can’t do it.
BD: Have you basically been pleased with
the performances you have heard of your works through the years?
DRM: I’ve basically truly have. I have
been really lucky from that point of view. When I came to New
York, I met the man who was to become my husband soon after, and we
got married very quickly. He’s a musician, named Kermit Moore,
and he’s a cellist, conductor and composer. I met other musicians
through him who were just so wonderful, but really I was spoiled in
the beginning. So, the first time when I had a performance that
didn’t go too well, it was devastating [laughs] and I realized I had to
mature. But I will tell you, purposely I’m serious about my music,
and I seriously do not want someone who’s not a musician but who just plays
a little bit, to go and get my music and try to perform it. I don’t
like that. I think it’s related to why I haven’t written the little
ditty music. I just started a project to write some piano music for
children in the intermediate level of study. I only wrote one piece,
but I like it. It’s just that other things interfered, and I haven’t
gotten around to doing any more of it. But if I’m writing a song cycle,
and I’m setting poetry by Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen, and all
these people dealing with usually serious subjects, they’re not for just
fun and games, an afternoon at home playing music and amusing friends.
It’s music for the concert hall, and I want serious artists to do it.
BD: In amongst all the artistry that
you put into your music, is there an entertainment value at all when
it’s being performed by professionals?
DRM: A long time ago, when Pablo Casals was
invited to the White House by John Kennedy, the president made a statement
thanking Casals for coming to entertain us, and he used that word.
I was in college, and I thought, “Oh, how gross,
the great Casals entertaining.” I went to
school in Washington, by the way, at Howard University. Then later
on I thought about it, and I said, “Well, that is
an element of it.” It’s not that the audience
should sit there and be tortured, or crinkle a brow in thought. Everything
has great moment, but the only problem is the problem with the word
itself, and that’s because of what it’s come to mean.
BD: The connotation?
DRM: The connotation. I’m entertained
by lots of things. I watch television like everybody else.
I like rap music, I like some pop music. I find a lot of today’s
pop music is just so boring because it’s one theme and two or three
words, and then it’s just repeated over and over and over again because
it’s dance music. It’s okay when you’re dancing, but those things
are entertaining, and I like to think that in concert music what we
do is different. I hate making this distinction, but I like
to think there’s another level of involvement that goes beyond just
the entertaining, which is basically a superficial level. It’s
like going to the movies and eating popcorn, and I like popcorn!
I like movies, but I don’t really go anymore because, first of all, I’m
always coming out saying, “I could have done that
better, probably!” I don’t mean as the actors
or as the writer or as the director. The movie sort of dissipates
five minutes later, just like the memory of the popcorn, whereas I don’t
have that feeling if I come from a really good play, or the opera, or something
that just engages me more. So, from that point of view, these things
I just mentioned are more than just entertaining.
BD: When you write your music, are you
expecting it to last?
DRM: So long as the paper it’s on lasts.
I don’t really dwell on immortality. Whether there is or there
isn’t, if a person achieves immortality, it is through creations like
this. I do believe that, but I never dwell on, “Oh,
will they remember me when I’m gone,” because
I don’t think I’ll have any awareness of it, one way or the other.
I’m interested in what I’m doing now. If it should last, that would
be wonderful, but otherwise I don’t think about it.
BD: Do you have any expectations of the
audience that comes to hear a concert on which your music is included?
DRM: Only that they’re there by their own
free will. That’s all. I make no demands on an audience.
That would be just absolutely too snooty.
BD: Well, maybe not ‘demands’,
but what about hopes?
DRM: I hope they’ll like my music, of
course! That’s it. Nothing more than that. I hope they
like my music.
BD: You mentioned you like rap music, and other
things too. Because you have accepted other styles of music, should
we try to get those who only know the rap sound into the concert hall?
DRM: Oh, I’d love to. What I’ve
discovered is that on some occasions, especially when we go around to
colleges, there would be young people in the audience who’d never gone
to a concert before, and they would just be dumbfounded because they’ve
been used to hearing this other kind of music, and they didn’t know this
existed. I don’t know how they didn’t know, but they didn’t know.
They would come and ask questions, and they’d be fascinated by whatever
the instrument was. Of course, some would be interested just because
I’m female, or some would be interested because I’m black, but they had
never heard that consummate of sounds and rhythms, so it’s new for them.
No one is born knowing this. It’s all learned reaction. I
probably wouldn’t have the interest that I have if I hadn’t gotten the
interest of my own parents, or if I hadn’t had music in schools. That’s
extremely important. It doesn’t mean that every child must be a
musician, but we have to be introduced to it somewhere. A lot of
what the young kids do today in music is just snap your fingers and shake
your behind by it, and that’s it. I think that’s too bad. I really
do, because that there’s so much more. I like sports. I like
basketball, I like football, I like baseball. The more things I like,
the more I get out of life, and you can only like things if you know something
about them. I used to be exactly the opposite. I hated sports,
and I thought anybody who did sports was dumb jock. It wasn’t until
after I was married that I realized my husband liked sports, so there must
be something to it, and I just started to learn about.
BD: He gave it a credibility for
DRM: He gave it a credibility for me.
That’s really true.
BD: Do you feel you are a pioneer, or
a prophet in giving credibility to music by black women composers?
DRM: No. I feel I am a recipient of
what has gone on before; that I’m benefiting from what happened before.
BD: Are you not crusading, now?
DRM: [Thinks a moment] It really
would be a false thing if I said I was crusading. If the result
is that it seems that way, that’s fine, but I can’t say I’ve done anything
other than write music. I really can’t say any more than that.
I have the unfortunate opinion that I am unique just because I am me,
period. I think that about everybody. Now if it happens
that someone finds inspiration from the fact that I’m a female and that
I’m black, that’s wonderful. There are some women who don’t like
to be categorized as women composers, and there are some people who even
have a problem with being called a black composer. The distinction
for me is not that a person’s music is female or black, it’s past the identification.
So, when people have asked me if I mind, I’ve said, “Number
one, I am female, and number two, I am black and I’m a composer.
All three might as well stick to me, so I don’t mind being called that
BD: But you would rather be just a composer?
DRM: I don’t even discuss it because
there are so many things to think about in the world. I decided
not to worry about this. Suppose I had never known that Duke
Ellington existed, and that he was black? Two of the people who
influenced me when I was young were J.S. Bach and Duke Ellington.
I just thought what they did was just so magical creation-wise.
BD: In very different ways?
DRM: In very different ways, and that’s the
thing that interests me about writing music — the
creative aspect of it, what comes out of my own mind. I think it
made a difference to know that Duke Ellington was a composer, and, by
the way, that’s how he thought of himself. We used to know him,
and he thought of himself not as a jazz composer but as a composer. He
was very much aware of the fact that ‘jazz’
was a derogatory term, and he didn’t consider himself writing something
that was derogatory. He considered himself writing music!
’Jazz’, now, is a respectable
term. It’s gone through the fire and come out to mean something
else. As I’m sure you know, there was a time when people
— black and white — talked about jazz,
they were talking about something that was low down, and not respected.
As to human beings, no matter when they live, or where they come from,
what continent they live on, what century they live in, everything that
we do is as a result of learning something, and having some kind of a
model. So finally, in answering your question, if a young woman is
inspired to become a composer because I am a composer, that’s great.
And if a black person is inspired, that’s great. From that point
of view, I like that, and I don’t mind the terms. But I don’t like
them to be used to set me apart from anybody, and say it makes my music
better, or not better. It’s just a fact of life and nature.
That’s what I am, and that’s what I do.
BD: So you would not be unhappy even
if you inspired a white male composer?
DRM: Absolutely not, though it would
BD: What advice do you have for
young composers coming along?
DRM: The one thing they really must have
more than anything is the desire to write music. I really believe
that. I also think that if they want fame and fortune, then they
should go on to the entertainment side, which is a perfectly fine thing
in the field of music. But if they want to write concert music,
they should not be looking for fame and fortune, which is something I’ve
never looked for myself. I liked having the result of what I do,
and that’s important to me, but in terms of my being famous, I don’t care
about that. But they must first really want to write music because
it’s sounds great. I’ve had people who’ve said to me, “Oh,
aren’t you fortunate God gave you this gift?”
I may be fortunate, but I don’t know what the reasons for that fortune
are. It’s a lonely business.
BD: Too lonely?
DRM: No, not too lonely. Lonely is not
a negative word for me. It just means that it’s something you
do when you’re alone, and some people can’t stand being alone.
I happen to like it. It’s funny... my husband and I are together practically
all the time. This is one time we’re not together, and I really
miss him. But in being together, we can also be alone, and I like
being alone. I like being alone doing what I want to do, and I
like his being able to be alone to do what he wants to do. But at
the same time, we have the cushion of knowing that the other one’s in
the next room. It’s just a lonely business, and there’s no approbation
necessarily. You don’t know what’s going to happen until the piece
is performed, and the whole thing could possibly turn out not at all the
way you wanted it. I don’t know if they still do this, but when
I was at Howard, the National Symphony Orchestra had a contest for the
five universities in the Washington area. You had to use pseudonyms
on your composition, and they would choose ten of them. Mine was
one of the ten chosen, and it was done in a concert. It wasn’t a
formal concert the way they did it, but Howard Mitchell was the conductor,
and here I was! I was twenty-years old, and I wrote this whole symphony,
and something happened. I don’t remember what it was, but something
wasn’t played exactly the way I’d like it, and I got very upset, ran out
crying. [Laughs] But I think that it was just the emotion
of the whole thing. My parents were there, and it was a very big deal
for me to write a symphony — having taken twenty-three
hours of courses, and staying up late copying the parts. Then
the work finally was done, and I guess it was just the emotional thing
that came over me. But that’s the loneliness I’m talking about,
and you have it whether you’re crying out of joy or crying out of frustration,
or crying out of fatigue. It’s a loneliness that’s not negative,
but it’s just something that’s so personal to me when you create something.
Anyone who creates anything has that feeling, and, in a way, it’s
really putting yourself out on a limb. In some ways it’s
easier to be a performer and to be part of a whole group. You’re
cushioned that way. But think of the audacity of saying, “I’m
going to write an opera, and it’s going to be three acts, and there’s
going to be all these people.” It’s just
too much work writing an opera, but it’s still an audacious thing. You’re
setting yourself up one way or the other.
* * *
BD: You’ve had a couple of recordings made
of your music. They carry a little more universally because
the performances can then be heard at any time. Is this pleasing
DRM: Totally because they are two of my favorite
pieces. The Cello Sonata is called Dirge and Deliverance
[shown immediately below] and it’s the second work that I’ve written
for my husband. Actually, I wrote From the Dark Tower for
him, too, and for Hilda Harris [shown farther down on this webpage].
It’s for mezzo, cello and piano, but the very first piece I wrote for
him is called Baroque Suite for unaccompanied cello. I
was influenced by two things — meeting him, and
loving the Bach Suites. That eventually became his wedding
present, and he has played that piece several times. It’s a three-minute
work, but the Dirge and Deliverance is very close to me, also,
as is From the Dark Tower. So, I am very pleased that those
two works are on the recordings. I’d love it if everything were
recorded, but it’s difficult.
BD: You said earlier that you were a
very private person. Isn’t the act of writing
a piece really exposing the inner self, perhaps in a different way than
a performer shows himself or herself?
DRM: Yes, I think I show myself in my
music. It’s like the difference between the director of the movie
and the actors. I’d want to be the director or the writer.
BD: Be a writer/director together?
DRM: [Laughs] Why not? I like the
creative end of things. It probably has something to do with
being bad at taking instruction. I’ve been in some opera scenes,
and whenever the director was doing something that didn’t make sense,
I would always tell him... which you’re not supposed to do! [More
laughter] I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t get along
with people. When I do perform, it really is something that I’ve
decided to do, and that I’ll have some control over. It’s not something
that somebody else has control over. I prefer performing my own music.
Don’t get me wrong, I like performing Schubert, but I don’t generally
do the standard recital things anymore because I don’t really perform
BD: When you do perform, are you
the ideal interpreter of your pieces? [Vis-à-vis the
recording shown at right, see my interviews with Lowell Liebermann,
and Mary Jeanne van
DRM: Actually, the only works of mine I perform
are songs for voice and oboe, and the text is called Twelve Quatrains
- Songs of the Rubáiyát. [Settings of
12 poems from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, in the
English translations by Edward FitzGerald.]
I only performed those, and that was due to the fact that my husband
put on a concert of my music in Carnegie Recital Hall. There were
ten musicians involved, and I was looking forward to sitting in the audience.
That’s what I love to do, just sit in the audience! He said,
“No, you should really be on this program.”
I said that I didn’t want to be, and the only thing that I’d written that
I could perform were these songs for voice and oboe. So he twisted
my arm, and I ended up being a nervous wreck just because I had to perform.
They were premiered in France, by the way, in Fontainebleau. The
other work that I wrote which I could perform is Sonnets on Love, Rosebuds
and Death for soprano, violin, and piano. That work was written
for a wonderful soprano, Miriam Burton, and for Sanford Allen, who was
a violinist. He used to be in the New York Philharmonic, and that
premiered in the Alice Tully Hall in 1976. At that time, I wouldn’t
have even thought of touching those songs, because I couldn’t. I thought
technically I could not have sung them. But by 1980 I was a little
better. I worked on them just the same way as I would work on Schubert
or any other composer. I had to be a different person. I wasn’t
the composer here, because it’s one thing to know every single note
— which, obviously, I do in those songs — but
it’s another thing to sing something and get into your instrument.
I said, “God, these songs are hard!”
[Both laugh] Miriam kept telling me that, but I said, “Oh,
no, Miriam, they’re not hard at all!” But they
really are. They’re a group of eight songs altogether.
BD: So it’s a whole cycle then?
DRM: It’s cycle. So, to answer
your question, I don’t know if I am the ideal interpreter, but I have
sung them now since 1980, and every time I work on them, I do them the
way I’d like them to be done. I don’t know if it’s the best singing,
but interpretively I do know that I like them the way that I do them.
BD: When other people are performing your
music, are there times when they find things you didn’t even know you’d
DRM: That’s the wonderful thing about
that kind of collaboration. On the page, music is nothing but black
stuff on white paper with lines. As I mentioned before, it’s not
music until it’s performed. Another composition I want to mention
is called Weary Blues, and it’s a setting of Langston Hughes.
My setting is for baritone, cello and piano. I’ve heard
by now by probably eight baritones sing that work, and I’ve heard something
different in all of them. The funniest thing is that I had to sing
it once, and I’m a lyric soprano! It was due to the fact that the
Langston Hughes Library in New York was opening a music section. They
were dedicating that part, so they wanted me to speak because I’ve set
his poetry. It was a busy time for me, and every baritone I knew
was out of town. As it kept getting nearer the date, I kept thinking
that I would find a baritone. Well, the day came and my husband
was playing cello, and so I just worked with my teacher and found these
chest notes. I sang Weary Blues, and it almost killed me!
[Both laugh] Music is a living thing for me. I mentioned
to you earlier about not listening to tapes because they’re just like
a film. A tape is a record, and that’s the finish to it. If
I have to use it for reference, I will, but I know my own music already,
and if I was there to perform it, it’s already in here [points to her
head]. Each tine something is done, it’s a live, living thing.
That’s why I don’t listen to records much, as a matter of fact. A
recording cannot do for you what sitting in a hall, hearing a symphony
orchestra can do, because the vibration comes through the floor, and
goes up through your body. There’s just nothing that a recording
can duplicate. Even the most advanced CDs can’t do that for me.
BD: So they’re second best?
DRM: For me, yes. I’m glad they exist,
and it’s not that I never listen to records. But if I do, it’s
generally for some reason other than just listening. Some people
like to read while they’re listen. I’m either going to be listening
to the music, or I’m going to be reading. So when I’m reading, I
have to turn off the radio. It’s not background music for me.
* * *
BD: We were talking about interpretation.
How much do you expect of the performer when they get a piece of your
DRM: Oh, I’m glad you asked that question.
I go to great trouble to edit my music very much, so what I expect
from the performer is yes, I did mean to write that note; yes, I did
mean to write that it was that tempo; leeway can be discussed; and yes,
I did mean that decrescendo. So, I just ask that they get the
notes right and get the rhythm right, and they observe my markings.
It’s a blueprint, that’s all it is. The other things comesfrom
them. But if I say in my music that I want this to be such and
such a tempo, and then the person decides no, it shouldn’t be 96,
it should be 66, I’d be very upset. That kind of leeway I don’t
get, because to me that’s part of the creative thing. But if he
thinks that 84 would be better, that’s okay.
BD: That’s close enough?
DRM: Yes, because what often happens
is you don’t know until the first performance. It takes me a
long time to edit because you’re making decisions there. I can spend
two hours trying to decide on just a metronome marking, and then you hear
the things out and realize that isn’t it at all! You can discover
things that way. For example, Weary Blues is a concert piece.
It honors the idea of ‘the blues’, and certain musical aspects of ‘the
blues’, but it’s not meant to be taken by a person who sings ‘the blues’,
and interprets it in his own way. It’s meant to be done exactly
as it says. I don’t want to get technical, but I have a lot of rhythmic
things — triplets with quarter and eighth, for
example — and that is not to be done in some other
way. And if I have two straight eighth notes, I don’t want that
done as though they are a quarter and an eighth. In other words, there’s
a reason for this creative thing that I did, and it really works immensely
if these things are adhered to. But if someone decides that he’s
going to just swing it, or just do it in his own style, that’s going to
ruin the integrity of the piece. You’ve got the baritone, you’ve
got the cello, and you’ve got the piano, and they really are three soloists,
and they’re really telling a story about this wonderful old, sad, black man
sitting there playing ‘the blues’ under a gaslight. Then he starts
singing, and this is Langston Hughes’s poem ... [begins singing] ‘I’ve got
the weary blues, and I can’t be satisfied!’ If you’re going to set
those words, you’re not going to use something like John Cage, or Schubert, or
anything like that. You’ve got to make it sound right, and that’s
where I use ‘the blues’ thing.
BD: And yet you wouldn’t want B.B. King
to take it and make it into his own arrangement?
DRM: No, I really wouldn’t because that would
be B.B. King’s piece. This is my piece! [Laughs]
That’s where my ego comes in. I know there’s a philosophical thing
about this. Some composers really just give blueprints, and then
it’s up to the performer to interpret... here you can do this for so many
minutes, and here you can do that for so many seconds, aleatoric music
and all that. Maybe this is my own ego that makes the difference,
but if I’m going to call myself a composer, then I have to be the one
who wrote it. Jazz, as we all know, is very close in many ways
to what Bach did with the figured bass, and everybody creating their own
lines. A lot of times I wonder how the real jazz composers who just
write eight bars, can let everyone do his own thing. I would feel
funny saying I composed this piece and when there are six other people
on stage really creating the sounds.
BD: [With mock horror] Your score
is more than just a lead sheet???
DRM: Yes! [Laughs] For me it is, and
that’s just my own personal feeling for it. But that doesn’t
mean a person shouldn’t be acknowledged for contributing an idea.
Growing up in New Castle, Delaware, liking all the musicals by Rodgers
& Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart, when I first went to New York it
was really something to find out that Richard Rodgers didn’t literally sit
down and do all that stuff! And then to find out that somebody’s
called a composer and someone else is the orchestrator... I found out a lot
of things. In the Rock ’n’ Roll field, they didn’t
know how to read music, and they didn’t know how to play the piano.
I asked how is it that he or she’s the composer, and was told that it was
because he came up with the idea! I thought, “Hey,
I could write music all night long!”
[Much laughter all around]
BD: Maybe we should have a new title
BD: Thank you for sharing your time with me today.
DRM: This was very nice.
If I may . . .
At the time this interview is being posted,
in February of 2018, I am happy to report that about half of the interviews
which I have done over the years have been transcribed and presented on my
website. While I am no longer doing fresh ones, during the period 1978-2006
I had approximately 1600 conversations with about 1450 musicians - some of
whom I met more than once. In looking at the entire group, I am pleased
to note that of the 496 composers, 62 were woman (12.5%) and 16 were African-American.
Besides Tania León (who is originally from Cuba), only Dorothy
Rudd Moore falls into both categories.
Of those which have been transcribed and posted thus far, let me call
your attention to the other Afreican-American composers: George Walker (winner
of the Pulitzer Prize in music), Ulysses Kay (who also wrote
an opera entitled Frederick Douglass), Olly Wilson, and Hale Smith and T.J. Anderson.
For the other women composers, see the current list of my posted
For the full list of all my interview guests, click HERE.
Naturally, besides composers, my interview guests also included conductors,
as well as vocal and instrumental performers. Again, let me call
your attention to just a few which have been transcribed and posted: conductor
(nephew of Marian Anderson), violist Marcus Thompson, soprano
soprano Alpha Floyd,
mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry,
Verrett, mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar, tenor
tenor George Shirley,
baritone William Warfield
(husband of Leontyne Price), bass-baritone Simon Estes, and basses
Mark S. Doss,
and Terry Cook.
While I have very rarely had my picture taken with my guests, in 1994
I was the emcee for the Opening Night Concert of the Chicago Sinfonetta at
Orchestra Hall. Below are two photos taken backstage that evening:
with conductor Paul Freeman
(left), and pianist Leon Bates (right). Natually, I have done interviews
with both musicians (Maestro Freeman three times), and one with Bates will
be transcribed and posted at some point in the future.
© 1990 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on February 10, 1990.
Portions were broadcast on WNIB that June, and again
in 1995 and 2000. This transcription was made in 2018, 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.
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.