Yale Oral History of American Music Interview I (side a)
Interview with Jenny Raymond, Ann Arbor, Michigan, July 31, 1999
This is a transcript of “side a” of Daugherty’s first interview for Yale Oral History of American Music, recorded for the American Music Series.
Le Tombeau de Couperin — Metropolis Symphony –Dead Elvis–earliest musical memories–player piano–family background–band: Soul Company–composing with MIDI–studying piano–teaching at University of Michigan–growing up in Iowa–influence of television and movies–connecting with his past–Yale–touring in Kentucky–his brothers and their music-making–lake books–study at North Texas State–James Sellars–piece played by Anshel Brusilow and Dallas Symphony–working at IRCAM–Manhattan School of Music–Charles Wuorinen–Yale–Equipoise–Boulez–Elliott Carter
JR: This is Jenny Raymond on behalf of the Oral History-American Music Project at Yale University with Michael Daugherty on Tuesday, July 13th, 1999, on the back porch of his beautiful home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Thanks a lot for making the time to meet with me. Are you teaching or performing at any music festivals this summer?
MD: I’m going as a guest composer to the Cabrillo Festival. That’s in August. And then the first week of September I’m going to a festival in Torino, Italy, called Settembre Musica. At the Cabrillo Festival, they’re playing Le Tombeau de Liberace, and then at the festival in Torino, which is early September, they’re playing Metropolis Symphony, Le Tombeau de Liberace, and Dead Elvis. I don’t do this much anymore, but I’m doing a lounge music concert one of the evenings, late at night, playing my demented lounge music, which I did for years to make a living. Played piano bar.
JR: That’s great. Is that in a bar or is it like a concert setting?
MD: It’s going to be in a nightclub or something. It’ll be fun.
JR: I wanted to go back to the very beginning and talk about some of the musical issues of your childhood. What do you remember about music from the time you were a small child? What are some of your earliest musical memories?
MD: The first instrument we had in our house was a player piano. I remember watching the keys move on their own and being fascinated by that. What’s interesting: today I work with MIDI and computers and technology, and in a sense my very first introduction to music was through the player piano, — what I’m doing today, using the current technology, is really just an updated version of the player piano. I feel very at home with that, actually.
My father was a dance band drummer who played on the weekends. I remember going to hear him play. He would play society music of the time, like Satin Doll, Misty, Moonglow, those kinds of pieces. My mother was into Broadway. She was a junior high physical education teacher, but she liked to sing, so she was in, for example, the musical Gypsy. I remember going to see that.
What’s interesting is that I came from a family–actually, my whole background in Cedar Rapids was a non-classical music background. None of my relatives ever went to college. They grew up on the farm in Iowa, in Vinton, Iowa– most of them grew up on my father and his brother’s [farm]. So the music I was trying to buy was either country-and-western music or dance music, big band music, not really even jazz.
I got into rock music then in the sixties, and I formed a band called the Soul Company. I was very interested in black music at the time– soul music, like Sam and Dave, and James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone. That was the middle sixties, and I was in junior high. I started a band called the Soul Company. It was an integrated band, which was unusual for the time. We had two black singers, and then I had a brass section–trumpet, trombone and saxophone–and then I played the Hammond organ with Leslie. We had a guitar, bass and drums.
We would go to small Iowa towns and play homecomings and proms. What was unusual is that I think that the approach, even as I had when I was young, was that I wanted to be in an environment where my music would be presented to a large audience, like a prom or a homecoming–there’s what?–five hundred people there or something. At the same time, I wanted to challenge people, so the music that we would come in and play at Anamosa, Iowa, or Shellsburg, Iowa, or whatever–whatever town we played in, we would be playing progressive music of the time. James Brown was cutting-edge, underground music. It was not commercialized at the time. Blood Sweat and Tears, Sly and the Family Stone–that was all cutting-edge music.
It was very different back then because communications weren’t what they are today, so the only way you saw that was by going to see the movie Woodstock or pick up a record. We didn’t have the videos or the MTV or any of that. And there was no music written down. There wasn’t sheet music for any of that, so I arranged all those songs for the band, and I had to do that using my ear. So I learned music almost in reverse fashion. I didn’t really learn music by playing notes, like have a piece of music and sit down at the piano and play notes. I learned it by listening to recordings, and from the recordings figuring out what was going on and writing that down on paper.
It’s interesting that even today as I work, I’m really not a note person. I don’t sit down and write musical notes on a piece of paper. What I do is I tend to work on my computer setup, so as I’m playing my electronic keyboards, I tend to improvise or I come up with ideas. Those are recorded via MIDI. Then I listen to what I’ve done, and then I begin to, as a composer, work with what I have to come up with compositional ideas then. I’m saying it now to tell you how I grew up with music.
I studied piano on the side. I studied with a teacher. I went through a variety of piano teachers, and I really didn’t like it. Then I met a teacher when I was in junior high who said: “Okay, I’ll make a deal with you. We’ll do fifteen minutes classical music and then fifteen minutes pop music.” That was the first teacher I met that allowed me to do crossover lessons. It’s hard to imagine, but in the sixties crossover was really a new thing. It didn’t really exist. There really wasn’t even jazz in high schools at the time. There definitely wasn’t rock. There really wasn’t jazz, even in the universities of the time. So pop music was really something that was on the fringe. It was something that was done in nightclubs or bars or whatever, but it was not involved with education in any way.
I make a segue today at the University of Michigan, where I’m teaching, where I advocate composers writing any way they want to. If they want to write for their doctoral dissertation an avant-garde rock and roll piece, that would be acceptable to me, and that shows how things have changed from the early sixties.
JR: You’re still probably in the minority.
MD: I probably am in the minority, and the University of Michigan is a very unusual place. You couldn’t do that at Harvard; you couldn’t do that at Columbia or Princeton, really, I don’t think. In other words, you couldn’t do it at the Ivy Leagues. Maybe at Yale, but I don’t even think so, even–not now. Michigan is a very unusual place. I’m perfect for this place because I believe in letting composers do whatever they want to do. I guess everybody has an agenda. That’s what my agenda is.
Growing up, I always had teachers telling me: “Don’t do this, don’t do that”–music teachers, that is, because I was always crossing over. When I would play piano bar, I would play weird chords. If I was playing By the Time I Get to Phoenix, I never quite played it the way it was supposed to go. I’d always throw in strange chords and unusual things. And when I was playing classical music, I always wanted to change how it was written and play it differently than how Mozart had written the piece. I know that sounds a little strange, but that’s the way I was. I never fit into a category.
Basically, that’s me. I grew up in the town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which is near Iowa City. It was an unusual city in that education is very important. There was a symphony in the town; the education system was very strong, and there was a great music program in the city, which there still is. There was a painter who grew up in Iowa named Grant Wood. He painted American Gothic–, the farmer with the pitchfork. Actually, he was a teacher at my junior high school–not when I was there, but back in the twenties, and they actually have a couple of murals that he painted which are in the junior high school still, at this time.
So it’s interesting. You were in a town like Cedar Rapids–basically, there are a lot of farmers around the area, but at the same time, there was an interest in education and the arts. I was fortunate to grow up in that town.
JR: I was going to ask if you if you ever felt alienated from what might have been happening on a wider cultural basis on the West Coast and East Coast?
MD: Those places didn’t really exist to me when I was growing up. I just lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And communications weren’t the same. There were only three television stations: CBS, NBC, ABC. If I felt connected to those cities, it was via television. It was Leonard Bernstein doing his New York Philharmonic thing or Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show doing the Vegas/Hollywood thing, having the stars come on, or the Ed Sullivan Show. In a way, through television I was able to be in touch with what was going on in the entertainment world.
Another big influence on me was television and the movies. I remember watching all the variety shows, like the Carol Burnett Show, the Dean Martin Show, the Jerry Lewis Show. We really don’t have those kinds of variety shows anymore. The Ed Sullivan Show. What is was they’d have a variety of entertainers on. They would tell jokes, they’d do a couple of numbers, have a skit, tell some jokes, and so forth. It was a very American format. This is something that never existed in Europe, really. It’s a very original format that came out of American television entertainment. It comes out of Vegas, actually, that whole world.
That’s what I always liked a lot. Again, that’s always been a big influence on my music, not only the way I write, but my pacing of my music and so forth. So television was a big part, having the Soul Company.
JR: How was Soul Company received?
MD: I’ve never wanted people to throw eggs at me. I’ve always wanted the things to be “successful,” with quotation marks around it. In other words, I’ve wanted to make impact that’s positive. This avant-garde notion of people booing–a successful piece in a European avant-garde setting is that if the people hate it, they boo. Trans of Stockhausen–strings hold one chord for thirty minutes. They hate the composer. They audience hisses. The piece is a masterpiece. I actually do like the piece.
One thing that separates me from avant-garde-ism in New York is that the notion that to be cool is to somehow be removed from society in some sort of way. Actually, when you live in New York, you are in a sense removed from society. I’ve always felt New York is an island. It really doesn’t have any connection with mainstream America, whatever that is. But the idea that being cool was to somehow–you want to communicate, but not too much, you see? I’m pushing those boundaries a little further. Again, that goes back to the way I grew up, playing in bands. I was a musician.
It’s funny: if you take composers–let’s say, like a Mel Powell or Donald Martino, for example–people that supposedly played in jazz bands when they were growing up, and then they ended up writing twelve-tone music. In a sense they would describe their experiences, like: “Oh yes, when I played in the big band”–or whatever–then you heard their music, and you would never know that–not only emotionally but musically. It was maybe close to free jazz, but they didn’t grow up playing avant-garde Anthony Braxton, late Coltrane. They grew up playing big band stuff.
So I always thought it was strange to hear these composers who now are probably in their sixties to seventies, in that age group now, to talk about their experiences: “Yes, when I played jazz.” Then, of course, they grew out of that and now they were writing this sort of very abstract, difficult, complex twelve-tone music. When I was going to school, that’s when I heard. I couldn’t quite make a connection with that.
What I’ve tried to do is to make a connection to my past, a direct connection. I can articulate now the things–how my music comes out of the things I grew up with.
Another important thing is that typically, when you’re in Europe, even today among so-called contemporary music composers, is the notion that you must forget your past. This is what your Henze’s say, or Boulez. Even today they say: “Forget your past.” The reason that they have to forget Stockhausen, the reason they have to forget their past is because they had a terrible past. They grew up during World War II. It was a terrible time. So they have to forget their past because, first of all, there’s not very much pleasant there to remember. And there’s really no inspiration. How can you be inspired from the Fascist period, really? There’s nothing there. So they had to forget their past.
I grew up in a very different time. I grew up in the fifties and the sixties, where figures like Elvis or Jackie O., soul music, whatever–those are interesting memories to me. It inspires me. It gives me ideas. So the idea of you must forget–
JR: They’re also probably wanting to deny the western European traditions as well. They didn’t exactly evolve from–you can’t draw such a clear line from Mozart to Boulez.
MD: Well, yes, I suppose they do–the whole idea of how music history has been written–that’s one of the problems today, I feel, is that–first of all, I’m very different. I’m not going to complain about education. I get tired–really, I get sick of composers talking about the failure of the education system. I think that’s a bunch of crap, okay? I was at a conference where I heard Bernard Rands and Davidovsky talk about how the problem with music today is the American education system. They don’t learn anything about culture. I think it’s a bunch of jive.
By the way, you can print everything I’m saying. I don’t care. It’s a bunch of jive that the American culture has let down people. What are we saying? That basically most of America is white trash? I feel very fortunate that–sometimes I have to pinch myself that with the beliefs that I have, that I’m actually teaching at an institution, that I’m teaching doctoral students at the University of Michigan. Sometimes I pinch myself because I would have never thought I would have gotten here with the way that I think.
But I feel fortunate that–there was a very long period after I left Iowa and then went on to North Texas State and lived in Europe and lived in other places, where I was very much on my own for a really long time. Especially the years when I finished Yale, I was pretty much roaming around for about five years, with no support group of any sort, just completely on my own. I had to come up with my own ideas, and that was a very tough time.
It was a transition time in American music, too, starting back with Jacob Druckman with the Horizons Festival. I was never part of that scene.
JR: That was at the New York Film–
MD: Yes, it was in 1982. And I was never particularly close to Jacob Druckman. I actually went to Yale more because I was interested in the music of Charles Ives. Druckman didn’t like Ives. But I was interested more in Yale because of the environment at the time. It was a place where you could do composition–I enjoyed actually studying in the music department, taking classes with Allen Forte, strangely enough. I liked taking the set theory and the Schenkerian analysis. I thought that was interesting. I was interested in doing a thesis on Ives. And I liked the other composers who were coming there.
Of course, you probably have already talked a lot to those guys, like David Lang, Aaron [Jay] Kernis–Michael Torke came right after I left–Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, Robert Beaser, Scott Lindroth, Betty Olivero [sp?]. That’s somebody you should interview. She’s in Italy now.
JR: I think Vivian has interviewed her.
MD: That’s a good way to go to Italy, right? Anyway, I’m probably forgetting somebody. It was an interesting group of composers, so I thought it was a cool place to be at the time.
What was I going to say? So going back to the idea of education or what it means to be an educated person, I think back that those experiences that I had playing the summer, touring the state of Kentucky with a country-and-western band–I played with Pee Wee King, who wrote the Tennessee Waltz–did a tour with Pee Wee King. That was ’74 I did that. In ’75–let’s see, let me get the years right. Yes, that’s right. It would have been–’72, ‘3, ‘4–’76.
And then one summer I played with the Kentucky Electric Company summer tour. They’d go to these little towns for some reason. I played for a dog act, and I played solo organ. It was very strange.
JR: [laughter] What were you playing for the dog act?
MD: I don’t know, music. But at the same time, I was very interested in the contemporary music. I could take Schoenberg along with me and study or whatever. But I always had both feet in both areas. I would be doing entertainment music, from piano bar music to jazz; rock, to entertainment music–over to doing contemporary music, writing that or being interested in that. So I was always interested in both those roles. I was doing both those at the same time once I went to college.
So basically I had a so-called normal upbringing–playing piano and Hammond organ.
JR: Were you playing with your brothers at all?
MD: Yes, my four brothers. I should mention them. I’m the oldest, Michael. And my next brother down is Pat. He’s two [years] younger. I’m forty-six now, so my brother Pat is forty-four. Pat lives in New York. He’s a pianist with the Martha Graham Dance Company and also a composer and a playwright and a multi-talented sort of guy. Then my brother two years younger than that, who is forty-one, is Tim Daugherty. He has a band called Daugherty Davis. They play weddings and jazz concerts back in Iowa. And my brother, Matt Daugherty, lives in Miami, and he teaches at a high school. He teaches band and has a steel drum band that he plays with. My brother, Tom Daugherty, Tommy D., with a period is his nickname–he actually works with a lot of rap artists. He worked as an engineer. He worked in Dr. Dre’s DRE Studio [sp?] in L.A., and he did Snoop Doggy Dog, and he also did a lot of mixing on that rapper that was killed.
JR: Tupak Shakur?
MD: Tupak Shakur. He did a lot of mixing [for him]. So he’s hung out with the gangsters. Now he’s living in Nashville and doing work in recording studios and so forth. So you can see we have a real wide gamut of things going on.
My mother passed away in 1974 of cancer. My father, who has been single ever since, continues to play weekends in dance bands. He was a manager of a women’s clothing store. It was one of those old, big department stores in downtown Cedar Rapids. He was the manager of the whole store.
JR: Is he still working?
MD: No, he’s retired now. But those stores really don’t exist [anymore]. It was on Main Street downtown.
JR: The whole town shopped there.
MD: Yes. Well, there was a thriving downtown. I remember, when I was in high school, I spent all Saturday afternoon downtown Cedar Rapids. I’d have a piano lesson around ten A.M., and I just stayed downtown. I would go to a store called Hiltbruner’s [sp?] Music. They had all the sheet music, and I just would take sheet music out of the bin and play through songs. That’s when I started–we talked about a lot of my experience was just hearing and then writing it down. As I got older, like sixteen, seventeen years old, I started looking at music and going the other way, becoming more interested in playing music that was composed.
I was a big fan of all the jazz stuff. At that time, the fake books were really not around. They were illegal. I got a fake book. There were these traveling salesmen who would show up in your town with these fake books. They were illegal, so you’d have to go to some hotel—
MD: Yes, contraband. You’d buy fake books or something like that.
Can you put it on pause for a second?
JR: Did you have any pieces from your high school years that you actually composed that were not transcriptions of popular music?
MD: No. I wrote a piece for choir when I was a senior, a little piece, but not really. The idea of composing was something that I didn’t do in high school. I started that in college. When we get to that, I can tell you what the story was.
JR: So you went to North Texas State?
MD: As a jazz major, in Denton, Texas, yes.
JR: And that was in ’72.
MD: Yes. And at the time there were only two places in America that offered jazz at all, and that was Indiana University and North Texas State. The Berkeley School of Music had just started, but it was not accredited yet.
JR: Did you go to study with a particular teacher you knew?
MD: No, just to study jazz. It was weird. I didn’t know anything about the places. I went down to North Texas–I don’t know if you’ve been down to Denton, Texas, but it’s a very bleak kind of Texas town, very arid, with cacti. It was just so different from growing up in Iowa. But there were music majors from all over the world there. You’d go to the practice rooms. There’d be, like, two hundred guys–at the time, it was all males–playing Coltrane on saxophone simultaneously. It was, like, all these sax players and drummers–very competitive, and a lot of really great players. Many of them have gone on to big things.
JR: Aren’t there a lot of bands? At least I know now there are.
MD: Yes, there were twelve lab bands. The lab bands. I got up to the two o’clock lab band, but the one o’clock lab band, I played piano. The piano chair was held by a guy named Lyle Mays, who went on to play with Pat Metheny. He still plays with Pat Metheny. He was good.
Do you want me to tell you how I wrote my first piece?
JR: Oh, definitely.
MD: What happened is my freshman year, second semester, I was hearing a lot of music, and I heard the Dallas Symphony play Mathis der Maler, and I heard the Samuel Barber Piano Concerto. I really had never heard a great orchestra play. There was an orchestra in Cedar Rapids, but they usually played Beethoven or something. I never really heard contemporary music. So I heard this Barber and Hindemith. I thought: Oh, man, this is, like, wild. I really liked it. I liked the sounds. I was immediately won over by the sound of the orchestra. I like the sound of the big band, which is wind and brass and drums, but then I heard the strings, the whole thing put together, and I just fell in love with it right away.
So then I immediately on my own started to study–of course, I was doing an undergraduate jazz or music ed degree, so of course I was taking Music History 101 or whatever, so I was hearing stuff. But the library at North Texas was very good, and I would spend hours and hours going through scores on my own.
There was a very nice doctoral student there named Karl Miller, who now is one of the head librarians at University of Texas at Austin. But he was from New York. He was one of these guys who knew all the obscure works. He had a huge record collection, one of those eccentrics from New York. Well, he saw me in the library and he said: “Well, go listen to Henze’s Third Symphony or listen to Mahler’s Sixth.” At the time Mahler was still very new, and it was very hard to get a hold of a Mahler score. It’s funny. We’re talking to guys in their seventies, and say: “Yeah, it was hard to get those Webern scores.”
But people didn’t really talk about Mahler much or contemporary music, at least in Texas. It was still underground, really. Of course, you’d hear about Copland or something. So I just started listening to all sorts of stuff: Stockhausen, Boulez, Ligeti, Berio–all that sort of stuff. This was all new things, but the reason I connected to it is I was very much a fan of late Coltrane and Cecil Taylor Art Ensemble of Chicago, which had a lot of elements–at the time, there was a big interest in Europe in this music. Stockhausen was doing improvisatory pieces, which sounded like American free jazz, so there was a certain crossover period. It was a very exciting time in rock music, a lot of experimental stuff going on in rock, with electronics.
I was playing in the practice room and there was a graduate student who now teaches in Hartford, Connecticut, at the Hartt School of Music. His name is James Sellars, a very fine composer. He heard me play, and he said: “Gee, have you ever thought about writing music?” I said: “No.” So I wrote a piece for violin and piano for the composition concert. I wasn’t even a comp major. And it was played. The composition teachers took note, who is this guy? And James Sellars really encouraged me. He introduced me to Elliott Carter. Carter had just written the Third String Quartet. He played that for me, and I really liked it. I thought it was cool. I liked that. And then the Concerto for Orchestra was rather new, of Elliott Carter, and I thought: Wow, this is cool music.
Then my mother passed away, my freshman year. My father said: “We don’t have any money, so you’re going to have to quit school” or whatever. “I don’t have any money.” This was my sophomore year. But I had been working on a piece for orchestra, just on my own. I wasn’t studying comp.
JR: No composition teacher.
MD: No. The conductor–his name was Anshel Brusilow. I don’t know how to spell his name, but he was conductor for years of the Dallas Symphony, and then they went bankrupt, and then he came to North Texas to teach conducting in maybe ’73. Yes, it went bankrupt in ’72. After I heard them in ’73, he came to North Texas State. They’re back together, but at the time there was a big financial problem with American orchestras.
He picked my piece. Out of all the works, he picked a piece by a young composer and a graduate student. Nobody knew who I was. He didn’t really do it through the composition department, so it was played at a big concert, and then the composition department heard it. So then I got a scholarship to go to North Texas. Then I could go back.
JR: Did you have to be a composition major?
MD: I decided I wanted to be a comp major. At that time I decided I wanted to be a comp major. I like jazz, but I found the big band music to be limiting. I wanted to go off into other harmonic areas and rhythmic areas. Then I started writing. And the music, I’d say, of that period–George Crumb was new at the time. Elliott Carter–that was cutting edge. People were very excited about Carter, Crumb, Ted Reskie [sp?], Louis Auskie [sp?]–that was really big.
But I wrote music like Elliott Carter because I like rhythmically complex music. Even today, my music–I still view it– rhythm is a very important element. I try to come up with different ways to think of rhythm, and polyrhythmic music is still something I like, and it carries on today for me.
JR: What kind of instruction were you getting from your professors there?
MD: I started studying when I was a junior, so I studied for a couple of years. It was just the typical sort of thing. But I think I was unusual. I think I was advanced for my age. I really took to it very quickly, and I was writing music with a lot of septuplets and quintuplets, and very angular and dissonant. I don’t think they quite knew what to do with me at the time. Composers were writing more like Hindemith at the time, the other composers.
JR: Who were your professors?
MD: A professor–He still teaches there–Martin Mailman. He’s made quite a reputation in band music. Another man was named Latham. I’m sure if you look it up–he taught at North Texas for years. But most of my interest came from checking out new stuff in the library. I was kind of self-taught, just as I taught myself pop music by myself. I didn’t have a teacher. I learned jazz from recordings, I learned all the songs I wrote for the Soul Company–all this was taken off recordings. I never had a teacher. I was self-taught. That’s how I’ve done everything. I taught myself French just by living in France. I taught myself German alone, just on my own. Even MIDI, the stuff I do now with electronics and synthesizers–all that I taught myself.
When I got to IRCAM in 1979–for example, I got there and they gave me a manual and said: “Here’s your desk, here’s a manual, see you later.” So I basically had to teach myself. But I felt okay about that because that’s how I’ve done everything. I’m totally self-taught. A certain advantage to that is that I find it helpful in teaching other people. I’m not a Wunderkind. Nothing came easily to me. I have to work very hard, and I have learned things kind of the hard way. I have a natural ear. I think I can hear things very easily. I think music instincts come natural to me. But I do not have perfect pitch or I can’t play anything on the piano. I think I can work well with students because I understand where they’re coming from.
JR: Between Paris and North Texas, though, you were at Manhattan School of Music.
JR: So you made the big move to New York.
MD: Right. After North Texas–I went as far as I though I could go at the time. At the time, Nonesuch was putting out recordings of, like, Donald Martino, Davidovsky, Charles Wuorinen. This music seemed very abstract, very foreign, very exotic to me. There really wasn’t anybody in Texas writing like that. You never heard it on the radio. But if there’s something I don’t understand, then I want to figure out how it works. That’s the way I’ve always been. I felt like in jazz I had gotten to a point where I could play in any style. I thought I’d learned everything that I needed to know, and then I had to make a decision, “Do I really want to go in that field?” But I felt that I had pretty much explored all the rhythmic and harmonic and improvisational aspects of all styles of jazz, from big band all the way through to avant-garde jazz.
So I felt another reason I wanted to go, was writing for the orchestra. The music that was coming out of New York at the time–it’s kind of hard to imagine, but that music was what like Bang on a Can was, let’s say, five years ago. That was very exotic music. It was very new. There was a group for contemporary music. Those guys were the age the Bang on a Can people are now.
I either wanted to study with Elliott Carter or Charles Wuorinen, who was teaching in New York. I had about as much in common with Charles Wuorinen as–
JR: As a fly.
MD: I can’t even think of an analogy. The Hell’s Angel in me is sitting in the opera house. I didn’t audition at Juilliard for some reason; I don’t know why. I guess I felt too intimidated by Juilliard. So I auditioned at Manhattan, and I got into Manhattan. Of course, it’s no big deal–well, I shouldn’t say that. Of course, I got into Manhattan. It was not a big deal.
I studied with Charles Wuorinen. He was teaching there. He was very negative. I remember the first thing he said. I said I came from Iowa. He said: “Oh, that’s too bad.” No, he said: “Well, you can’t help that.” You can’t help that you came from Iowa. But not as a joke, but seriously. He was very condescending, very arrogant. But it was good for me. It was like going to Marine boot camp. I was exposed to a condescending, negative intellectual who believed that pop music was evil. In other words, he was like Darth Vader. Charles Wuorinen was Darth Vader. Now, you’ll put this in, right?
JR: Oh, sure. You can edit whatever you want.
MD: I don’t care. Is this ever going to be made into a book?
JR: I’m not sure. We have a collection that Vivian has maintained, and also she is working on a book, Voices of the Twentieth Century. I don’t know what she’s doing.
MD: I should be in there. Put me in there.
JR: Okay! I’ll put the word in. Darth Vader is a current thing.
MD: Darth Vader. I think an interesting book would be to take all those people from Yale. There should be a book on those people. It’s very unusual–that class, that three- or four-year span at Yale, all those people have gone on to major careers. I can’t think of any other time in American–there was a time in Michigan when George Crumb, Roger Reynolds–a group of composers; they were all at Michigan at the same time. Oh, I can’t remember his name–oh, he does a lot of avant-garde opera, lives in New York, downtown–Robert Ashley. They started the ONCE Festival. There was a very small window where all these composers at Michigan went on to big careers. That’s the way that time at Yale was. That was a pretty unusual time. I’m suprised somebody hasn’t written a book.
JR: I’ve interviewed Aaron, and I’m interviewing Michael Torke in a few weeks.
MD: So you’re getting around now to the–we’re forty-five. We’re in our forties now.
JR: I know.
MD: All right, so anyway, he was like Darth Vader. But he was extremely intelligent and very professional. Basically, he challenged everything that I believed in. I was with him for a couple of years, and I decided: Okay, I’m going to master time point. That’s what he did: he wrote in a so-called time point system, coming out the extension of Serial, twelve-tone techniques. I said: Okay, I’m going to learn this stuff. I’m going to nail all the twelve-tone stuff. I’m going to nail all this. No one is going to call me stupid, okay? So I’m going to nail this stuff.
And I did. I wrote a piece my second year for Speculum Musical called Equipoise. It’s not a work that I have now, that I really want to be played. It was a piece, kind of in that uptown New York style. I said: Okay, I’m going to nail this thing. And I nailed it. I wrote this piece. I got this fabulous tape for Speculum Musical, and then I won every award a young composer could win, and I got accepted to every graduate school I wanted to go to.
JR: That was as an outcome of that piece?
MD: Yes, it was that piece, yes, yes. So I said: Okay. If somebody puts up a roadblock, I’m very determined to get around it. No one can get in my way. And I think Wuorinen was surprised when he heard this piece. I think he couldn’t believe it. This guy from Iowa, who went to Texas, came in here and wrote this piece. What’s going on? That was good. That was my Darth Vader experience.
Then, at the time Boulez was in New York–and that was a very exciting time. He was conducting all his music with the New York Philharmonic. I would go down to the rehearsals. They would be doing a world premiere almost every week. I’d go with the score. I remember I sat with Elliott Carter when the Symphony for Three Orchestras was played. He didn’t know who I was. I just sat there, following the score. Not many people would show up. Even today, if a composer has a piece played, very few young composers will show up and say: “Hey, can I look at the score?” “Yeah, sure.”
That was cool. And Boulez was starting his IRCAM thing.
JR: When did he start that?
MD: Well, he was just talking about it. I was there ’76, ’78–yes, and then I went there in ’79. So he was talking about it. I think I was there his last year, ’76–I can’t remember exactly. But he was talking about the IRCAM thing. It was ’76. It was going to start, I guess, in ’77. It was computer music. I thought: Well, that’s kind of interesting, computer music. Again, it was another challenge. I wanted to know what’s going on. I wanted to figure out what this is. I want to understand it.
It probably goes back to my father, who’s a real hard worker. If he has a problem, he will sit down and figure it out. A very intelligent guy, a very common-sense sort of person. He can fix anything and figure it out. That’s always been a challenge for me, but more these intellectual puzzles that I want to figure out.
In the meantime, as I lived in New York, I had no money. I was on my own. Basically since I was eighteen, I’ve been on my own, just because my family didn’t have much money, and I grew up in a big family. My father was always supportive, but I knew I had to make my own money to live and pay my own way through school. In the meantime, when I went to Manhattan School of Music, I worked as an usher at Carnegie Hall, so I got to hear all these great concerts. Again, all the sound soaking in, hearing Horowitz play one of his final concerts, hearing the Berlin Philharmonic with von Karajan, hearing Concertgebouw with Haitink. Usually those concerts were sold out. My job actually was to carry the sign. I would be the person who, once a concert started, I would take the signs out from the front and carry them to the basement. That was my job. I had to wear a uniform.
JR: The postings.
MD: Yes, in the front. So I just moved those down. That was my job. It was what was considered a plum–
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